Sari Katajala-Peltomaa: Experiencing the Sacred: Acculturation by Vadstena Sermons

Associate professor and project leader Sari Katajala-Peltomaa works as a university researcher at the Academy of Finland’s Centre of Excellence in the History of Experiences. She is also the director of the Research Centre Trivium – Tampere Centre for Classical, Medieval and Early Modern Studies. Her subproject focuses on experiencing the sacred and creating experience in the late medieval sermon material. 

The Vadstena Abbey was an essential Nordic learning centre and pilgrimage site. Similarly, its religious acculturation program was central to the Finnish side of the kingdom, and the theology of the Bridgettines was also promoted by and within the Naantali Monastery. From the extensive sermon material produced in Vadstena, sermons of the feast day of Saint Birgitta (approx. 120) are selected for closer analysis. The sermons on the feast day of the patron saint were socially and emotionally meaningful moments, in which skilful rhetoric increased the impact of the situation through experiential, sensorial and emotional metaphors. Theoretical starting points of her research are the understanding that the intended audience is always present in the text, as well as the direct link between the senses and their linguistic and cognitive expression. Vocabulary and passages in the text contributed to the experience: by depicting Saint Birgitta as a small cloud that rains comfort over her followers and making the Church fertile, the preacher evoked emotions and imagined sensory experiences, creating a bond between himself, the devotees who heard the sermon and the heavenly protector herself – creating an experience of the sacred.