This summer we are criss-crossing around Sweden for little more than a week, the plan was to visit relatives and friends and try and see some of our home country. We packed our car and hit the road, we were heading north, to the small village of Gävunda in Dalarna, but decided to cut the trip with a stop in Vadstena, a city full of history and cultural heritage. It would be a little of a detour, but a chance to see some interesting sights.
Our idea was to take it easy and do leisure stops along the way, we decided to stop in the city of Gränna, situated by the lake Vättern, that is renowned for the making of the red and white “polkagris” candy-canes, that happens to be one of Johans favorite candies. However, after a stop to refill our car with oil and another stop to tank our gas-tank, we realized we were running a bit short on time. Well in Gränna we had only time to eat a quick lunch meal and spend 10 minutes in a polkagris shop to buy some candy.
We tried to hurry to Vadstena, since we had a guided tour of the palace booked, but it seemed that when driving legally, it would not be possible to make it in time, still, the scenery along the way was fantastic and the weather was at its best.
We missed our guided tour, but we were rescheduled for the next day, so we went for a small walk in the town, where there are several medieval buildings and interesting historic sights. The 15th century town hall, is one, for example, the oldest town hall in all of Sweden. There is also a park along the coast where we took a pleasant walk. There were lots of families sunbathing and swimming in the lake or having a picnic on the grass.
We had booked the so called “Cultural package” at the Vadstena Klosterhotell, that is a hotel situated in the buildings that once were the Vadstena Monastery, the first monastery of the Bridgettine Order, founded in 1350, by Saint Bridget of Sweden, who seemed to be a very intelligent and hard working woman. The monastery became quite powerful and rich, almost like a large business, owning quite a lot of land both around Vadstena and in other places in Sweden. The monastery housed at the most 60 nuns and around 10 monks.
We started our cultural package with a drink in the wine and beer cellar and a three course meal at their restaurant. It was the same cellar that the nuns and monks used. Due to the low quality of the water around Vadstena, the monastery produced beer and each nun was given around 2,5 liters of beer a day.
The next day we took the guided tour of the Vadstena Castle, included in our hotel package. The Vadstena Castle, that was a former Royal Castle, was originally built as a fortress to protect Sweden from enemies, such as the Danish in the south but especially from enemies within the country.
It was quite an interesting guided tour, where we were shown into the Queens chambers and told about the daily life at the Castle, including the rules of etiquette surrounding the court. The interiors have not been altered to look as they once did when they were first built, but preserved as they might have looked in the 19th century, with the original colors bleached by the sun. I found the rough and simple atmosphere of these interiors to be quite beautiful.
The other guided tour included in our ticket, was of the Vadstena Monastery museum, at which we were told the interesting story of the monastery. The main building, in red brick, had once been a Royal Castle where King Magnus IV of Sweden and his Queen Blanche of Namur had quite a lot of parties. They donated the castle to Birgitta Birgersdotter, Saint Bridget of Sweden, and quite a bit of land, so she could found the monastery. Birgitta Birgersdotter was a close friend of the Royal couple since she had been Queen Blanches teacher when she first came to Sweden from Belgium. Birgitta was a devote catholic and had disliked the Royal couple’s constant partying, but the donation became a way for the couple to “pay for their sins” and make it to heaven more quickly, if I’m allowed to simplify the story a bit. The monastery was active from 1346 until 1595 and with the reformation of Sweden into a protestant country, the monastery lost more and more power and the last 5 nuns were literally dragged out of the monastery and given the chance to either convert or leave Sweden. They chose to leave for Poland were they stayed until their death.
Our last stop before we left Vadstena, was the Vadstena Abbey Church, that is a magnificent building and now works as congregational church after being only opened to the nuns, monks and pilgrims of Vadstena. During our stay in Vadstena there were lots of priests in town, it seems that it was during the so called “priest week” when a lot of priests came to Vadstena to visit. Still today, Vadstena seems to be an important place for the catholics of Sweden and the world, and today there is a new Bridgettines monastery in Vadstena, just a few steps from the old monastery.