Vadstena Abbey (Monasterium sanctarum Mariæ Virgìnis et Brigido in Vatzstena) was the motherhouse of the Bridgettine Order, situated on Lake Vättern, in the Diocese of Linköping, Sweden. The abbey started as one of the farms donated by the king, but the town of Vadstena grew up around it.
The daughter of Saint Bridget, Saint Catherine, on arriving there in 1374 with the relics of her mother Bridget, found only a few novices under an Augustinian superior. They chose St. Catherine as their abbess. She died in 1381, and it was not until 1384 that the abbey was blessed by the Bishop of Linköping. The canonization of St. Bridget in 1391 and her translation in 1394 added greatly to the fame and riches of her abbey. In 1400 Eric of Pomerania was invested at Vadstena by his aunt, Queen Margaret, with full royal rights over Denmark, Norway, and of Sweden.
The Bridgetine literature consisted mostly of translations into Swedish of portions of the Bible or of the legends of the saints. Such writings as are extant have been published for the most art by the Svenska fornskriftsällskapet (Old Swedish Texts Society) of Stockholm. Of these authors the best known belonging to Vadstena are perhaps Margareta Clausdotter, (abbess 1473, died 1486), author of a work on the family of St. Bridget (printed in "Scriptores Rerum Svecicarum", III, I, 207-16), and Nicolaus Ragvaldi, monk and general confessor (1476-1514), who composed several works. When he died, end of the abbey was near at hand.
It was plundered by Gustavus Vasa in 1523, and lost most of its lands after the reformation in 1527. The reformation abolished the convents in Sweden by not allowing them to accept new novices, though, in reality, they are examples of novices accepted at Vadstena Abbey during the ban of novices. The nuns and monks were allowed to stay or leave if they wished; the Abbess Birgitta Botulfsdotter left the convent and married in 1539. In 1543 the larger part of the books and valuables were taken. The little community struggled on in spite of persecution. The male section of the convent lasted until 1555, when the king made the monks leave the convent and made them teachers, priests and doctors, but the female section was to last until 1595.
During the reign of John III (1569-1592), the abbey was restored and enriched, and Antonio Possevino, as papal legate, reformed it in 1580. King John was influnced by his Catholic queen, Catherine Jagiellon, who much benefited and often visited the convent. In 1575, Vadstena Abbey, as well as other Catholic convents still active in Sweden, was allowed by the king to receive novices again, which had been forbidden since the reformation; in 1580, they were twenty sisters in the convent, as well as novices, and the Abbess Katarina Bengtsdotter Gylta (r. 1551-93), was on very good terms with the king and queen.
In 1594 it was seized and destroyed by Charles, Duke of Södermanland, afterwards Charles IX of Sweden. The abbess, Katarina Olofsdotter, and most of the nuns, fled to the Bridgetine nunnery at Danzig the year after. When Magnus Vasa, Duke of Östergötland, died in 1595 he was buried in the abbey church. His sarcophagus can still be seen today.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Catholic Encyclopedia noted that only the chapter house and a few cells of the convent of the sisters remained as part of a lunatic asylum. A general hospital occupied the site of the convent of the brothers. The abbey church is still standing; it contains a few memorials of St. Bridget.