Europe was ravaged by political and religious conflicts when Christina 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.
As 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 and dressed, hunted and rode horses like a man. She was an intelligent and gifted student, eagerly learning history, religion, other sciences and eight languages.
Imposing her will on powerful chancellor Axel Oxenstierna and the Royal Council, the young queen signed the Westphalian Peace in 1648 which ended the terrible Thirty Years War. She founded hospitals, schools and universities in her territories and invited famous scholars and artists to her dynamic court in Stockholm.
In 1654, on top of power and fame, at the age of 27, Christina shocked her subjects and the whole of Europe by abdicating from the Swedish throne, going into exile and soon converting to Catholicism. During 18 months she travelled extensively, greeted as a Queen of Peace with festivities incl. fireworks and operas in Hamburg, Antwerp, Brussels, Innsbruck, Spoleto and other cities. Her final destination was Rome, where Pope Alexander VII welcomed her with magnificent processions.
The most prominent woman of the 17th century mainly devoted the rest of her life in Rome to the arts and sciences, although she still pursued political ambitions. Christina founded Rome’s first public opera theater, held academies at her court, wrote maxims and thousands of letters. She was a patron of artists and scientists. Bernini and Corelli dedicated immortal works to her. Palazzo Riario became famous for its exquisite collections of paintings, sculptures, manuscripts. In Italy, the 17th century is sometimes called Il secolo della Regina. As the first woman ever, she received a sovereign’s burial in St. Peter’s Basilica upon her death in 1689. Since then, her fascination and influence on scholars, authors, artists and movie makers has never faded. New books about her, fiction and scientific, movies, dramas and operas are published each year around the globe.
What can modern citizens learn from this remarkable queen? A century before Diderot and Voltaire she advocated Enlightenment, tolerance, peaceful coexistence and equality. She lived independently, never married and refused to accept the traditional feminine role of the 17th century. Many consider her a prototype of the modern woman. Her courage, complex life and destiny show us how cultural values in the end are stronger than armies. She transcended divisions of nations, languages and religions, embodying European identity and peaceful integration 300 years before the European Union. Christina sets an indisputable example to all citizens of Europe, specially important for the younger generations, as a symbol of culture and peace.