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Monday, 4 November, 2002, 18:40 GMT
DNA tests for Swedish saint
DNA tests
The DNA tests will take a few months to complete
A shrine to Saint Birgitta, considered as Sweden's patron saint, is to be opened on Tuesday so that DNA tests can be carried out to determine whose remains it contains.

Birgitta, a widow and mother of eight, is highly popular in northern Europe, Germany, Hungary and Poland.

The shrine, at the Vadstena church in central Sweden, is dedicated to Birgitta Birgersdotter (1303-1373), who was canonised in 1391.

It contains the remains of three people - Birgitta, her daughter Katarina and Saint Ingrid - but only two skulls.


If the two skulls have the same DNA, it would suggest that they belong to Birgitta and Katarina

Marie Allen
Researcher
Birgitta's remains were placed in Vadstena a year after she died in Rome, while those of Katarina, Vadstena's first abbess, were added in 1389.

The remains of Saint Ingrid, who founded a nearby convent, were placed there in the early 1500s, but a skull was removed from the shrine during the 17th Century and taken to a Dutch convent.

"We will know if Birgitta is here or in the Netherlands," said Marie Allen, a researcher at the Uppsala laboratory north of Stockholm.

"There is a strong chance of finding DNA on ancient materials," she told Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.

"If the two skulls have the same DNA, it would suggest that they belong to Birgitta and Katarina."

If they do not have the same DNA, "it would push us to more closely examine the skull in the Netherlands."

A study conducted on the Vadstena skulls about 50 years ago concluded that they belonged to two women who died aged 70 and 50.

Pope's visit

The study did not determine if they belonged to mother and daughter.

Pope John Paul II, who visited Vadstena in 1989, chose Birgitta as Europe's patron saint in 1999.

The pontiff has said he would like to return to Vadstena on 1 June 2003 for celebrations of the 700th anniversary of her birth.

Sweden, a Protestant country since the beginning of the 16th Century, has about 160,000 Catholics, the largest such population in northern Europe.

See also:

15 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
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