On 1 February, the beginning of Celtic Spring, the western Church, particularly in the Celtic lands, is celebrating the feast of St Brigid of Kildare – c. 451–525 (also called Brigit or Bridget). A controversial feature of her life, to which the staff in the picture above alludes, is that she might have been inadvertently ordained as a bishop. This may have not been true, but historians agree that Brigit enjoyed tremendous authority in the Celtic Church of her time.
Most probably, the Celtic Church chose this day to celebrate one of its most venerated women saints, in order to Christianise the traditional Celtic festival called Imbolc.
In the old Celtic tradition, ‘Imbolc, also known as the Feast of Brigid, on February 1 celebrates the arrival of longer, warmer days and the early signs of spring. It is one of the four major “fire” festivals (quarter days), referred to in Irish mythology from medieval Irish texts. The other three festivals on the old Irish calendar are Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. The word Imbolc means literally “in the belly” in the Old Irish Neolithic language, referring to the pregnancy of ewes. In ancient Irish mythology Brigid was a fire goddess.’ (Source, HERE).
St. Brigid is ‘patron of babies; blacksmiths; boatmen; cattle farmers; children whose parents are not married; children whose mothers are mistreated by the children’s fathers; Clan Douglas; dairymaids; dairy workers; fugitives; infants; Ireland; Leinster, mariners; midwives; milk maids; nuns; poets; poor; poultry farmers; poultry raisers; printing presses; sailors; scholars; travelers; watermen’, and beer makers.
Samuel Barber has composed one of his Hermit Songs, Op 26, on poetry attributed to St. Brigid, which I will post separately (see HERE).
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Very little is known of Brigid’s real life. Here is one of the summaries I could find:
St. Brigid was born in AD 450 in Faughart, near Dundalk in Co. Louth. Her father, Dubhthach, was a pagan chieftain of Leinster and her mother, Broicsech, was a Christian. It was thought that Brigid’s mother was born in Portugal but was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave, just like St. Patrick was. Brigid’s father named her after one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion – the goddess of fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge. He kept Brigid and her mother as slaves even though he was a wealthy man. Brigid spent her earlier life cooking, cleaning, washing and feeding the animals on her father’s farm.
She lived during the time of St.Patrick and was inspired by his preachings and she became a Christian. When Brigid turned eighteen, she stopped working for her father. Brigid’s father wanted her to find a husband but Brigid had decided that she would spend her life working for God by looking after poor, sick and elderly people. Legend says that she prayed that her beauty would be taken away from her so no one would seek her hand in marriage; her prayer was granted. Brigid’s charity angered her father because he thought she was being too generous to the poor. When she finally gave away his jewel-encrusted sword to a leper, her father realised that she would be best suited to the religious life. Brigid finally got her wish and entered the convent. She received her veil from St. Macaille and made her vows to dedicate her life to God. Legend also says that Brigid regained her beauty after making her vows and that God made her more beautiful than ever. News of Brigid’s good works spread and soon many young girls from all over the country joined her in the convent. Brigid founded many convents all over Ireland; the most famous one was in Co. Kildare. It is said that this convent was built beside an oak tree where the town of Kildare now stands. Around 470 she also founded a double monastery, for nuns and monks, in Kildare. As Abbess of this foundation she wielded considerable power, but was a very wise and prudent superior. The Abbey of Kildare became one of the most prestigious monasteries in Ireland, and was famous throughout Christian Europe.
St. Brigid also founded a school of art, including metal work and illumination, over which St. Conleth presided. In the scriptorium of the monastery, the famous illuminated manuscript the Book of Kildare was created. (Source, HERE.)
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There are many stories told about her life. Here are two of them.
St Brigid’s Cross
A pagan chieftain from the neighborhood of Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful. Brigid sat down at his bedside and began consoling him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he converted and was baptized at the point of death. Since then the cross of rushes has been venerated in Ireland.
St Brigid’s Cloak
St. Brigid went to the King of Leinster to ask for land to build a convent. She told the king that the place where she stood was the perfect place for a convent. It was beside a forest where they could collect firewood. There was also a lake nearby that would provide water and the land was fertile. The king laughed at her and refused to give her any land. Brigid prayed to God and asked him to soften the king’s heart. Then she smiled at the king and said “will you give me as much land as my cloak will cover?” The king thought that she was joking and because Brigid’s cloak was so small he knew that it would only cover a very small piece of land. The king agreed and Brigid spread her cloak on the ground. She asked her four friends to hold a corner of the cloak and walk in opposite directions. The four friends walked north, south, east and west. The cloak grew immediately and began to cover many acres of land. The king was astonished and he realized that she had been blessed by God. The king fell to the ground and knelt before Brigid and promised her and her friends money, food and supplies. Soon afterwards, the king became a Christian and also started to help the poor. Brigid’s miracle of the cloak was the first of many miracles that she worked for the people of Ireland.
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A Prayer for St. Brigid’s Feast
we rejoice today in the fellowship of your Blessed servant Brigid,
and we give you thanks for her life of devoted service.
Inspire us with life and light, and give us perseverance to serve you all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, world without end.