Europe was ravaged by political and religious conflicts when Christina of Sweden (1626-1689) grew up. At the age of six, she witnessed the funeral of her father, Gustavus Adolphus, fallen on the battlefield in Germany as Commander of the Protestant armies in the Thirty Years War against the Catholics.
Christina was the only heir to the throne of Sweden, at that time a Great Power including Finland, Estonia, Latvia and parts of today´s Lithuania, Germany and Russia. Christina was raised as a future king, dressed, hunted and rode horses like a man. She was an intelligent and gifted student, eagerly learning history, religion, sciences and eight languages.
Imposing her will on powerful chancellor Axel Oxenstierna, the young queen ended the terrible Thirty Years War by signing the Westphalian Peace in 1648. She founded hospitals, schools and universities in her territories and invited artists and famous scholars to her dynamic court in Stockholm.
In 1654, however, on top of power and fame, Christina shocked her subjects and the whole of Europe by abdicating from the Swedish throne, going into exile and converting to Catholicism. During 18 months she travelled extensively, greeted as a Queen of Peace in Hamburg, Antwerp, Brussels, Innsbruck, Spoleto and other cities. Her destination was Rome, where Pope Alexander VII welcomed her in 1655 with magnificent processions and ceremonies.
The most prominent woman of the 17th century mainly devoted her new life to the arts and sciences, although she still had political ambitions. Christina upheld a huge correspondence, founded academies and was a patron of the arts. Bernini and Corelli dedicated immortal works to her. She received a sovereign´s burial in St. Peter´s Basilica. Since then her influence and fascination never faded. New books about her appear every year, even movies and operas.
What can citizens of modern Europe learn from this remarkable woman? A century before Diderot and Voltaire she advocated Enlightenment, tolerance, peaceful coexistence and equality. She refused to accept the traditional feminine role of the 17th century.
Her complex life and destiny show us how cultural values in the end are stronger than armies. She transcended divisions of nations and religions. She embodied European integration 300 years before the European Union, setting an indisputable example of European identity.