The ruins of the oldest and most important Cistercian monastery of medieval Sweden preserve a part of local history from before the Protestant Reformation, when people donated land or money to gain easier access to heaven after their deaths.
This monastery was founded in 1143 when King Sverker the Elder and his queen, who wanted to gain favor with the church, donated land to the French Clairvaux monks and invited them to come and build the sanctuary.
Monks, who belonged to the influential Cistercian Order, brought from Clairvaux modern methods of administration, technology and architecture to the province of Östergötland in Sweden.
The district around Alvastra played an important role in the development of the Swedish Kingdom during the Middle Ages. The powerful dynasty of Sverker resided here. In fact, Sverker the Older has been described as the king of Sweden’s East Geats as well as the ruler of the Swedes.
After the king was murdered, his body was buried in the monastery grounds.
The monastery church, the heart of the vast establishment, was inaugurated in 1185 and, for nearly 400 years Alvastra monastery prospered.
A century later, Saint Bridget of Sweden stayed at the monastery.
While there, she had various visions and revelations, which were written down and later helped her become canonized as a saint.
Saint Bridget (1303-1373) is world famous for her revelations of the monastic order that she founded and for his long pilgrimage.
She went off to Spain, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Rome. But it was in Alvastra monastery that she received many of his most famous revelations, and that was where she felt called to be “the bride of Christ and spokesperson.” Her husband and one of her sons are buried in its chapel. One of her most devoted friends and her confessor was the prior, Peter Olavi (d. 1390), who recorded most of her revelations from her own dictation.
Alvastra monastery was dissolved and appropriated by the Crown at the time of the Protestant Reformation in accordance with the Reduction of Gustav I of Sweden. The king ordered a reduction in church property and the return of land to the crown, making the national church dependent upon the monarch and effectively ending Swedish monastic life.
After its last abbot became ill and resigned, a knight gained control of the old abbey.
Conditions at the monastery declined and the monks moved out, leaving the sanctuary to crumble into ruins.
The property then became farmland, and King Gustav Vasa ordered that the monastery’s stones would be used to build his castle in the city of Vadstena.
Later, a nobleman named Brahe used some of the stones for his castle in Visingsö.
Only a few volumes remain from the old monastic library, but parts of the buildings and of the church are still preserved. Layers from fires in 1312 and 1415 have been of importance for the dating of the many articles found during excavation projects carried on at the site since the end of the 19th century.
Images from web – Google Research