Brigid of Kildare
Saint Brigid of Kildare
Naomh Bríd Chill Dara
|Virgin, abbess, inspirer|
Faughart, Dundalk, Ireland
(in modern County Louth)
|Died||c. 525 (age 72)|
|Venerated in||Eastern Orthodox Church|
Roman Catholic Church
|Attributes||an abbess with a shepherd's staff and flames over her head, with a lamp or candle, sometimes with a cow, ducks or geese|
|Patronage||County Kildare; babies; blacksmiths; boatmen; brewers; cattle; chicken farmers; children whose parents are not married; children with abusive fathers; children born into abusive unions; Clan Douglas; dairymaids; dairy workers; Florida; fugitives; infants; Ireland; Leinster, Mac Brádaigh family, mariners; midwives; milk maids; nuns; poets; poor; poultry farmers; poultry raisers; printing presses; sailors; scholars; travellers; watermen|
Saint Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland (Irish: Naomh Bríd; Latin: Brigida; c. 451 – 525) is one of Ireland's patron saints, along with Patrick and Columba. Irish hagiography makes her an early Irish Christian nun, abbess, and foundress of several monasteries of nuns, including that of Kildare in Ireland, which was famous and was revered. Her feast day is 1 February, which was originally a pagan festival called Imbolc, marking the beginning of spring. Her feast day is shared by Dar Lugdach, who tradition says was her student, close companion, and the woman who succeeded her.
The saint shares her name with an important Celtic goddess and there are many legends and folk customs associated with her.
The saint has the same name as the goddess Brigid, derived from the Proto-Celtic *Brigantī "high, exalted" and ultimately originating with Proto-Indo-European *bʰerǵʰ-. In Old Irish her name was spelled Brigit and pronounced [ˈbʲrʲiɣʲidʲ]. In Modern Irish she is called Bríd. In Welsh she is called Ffraid (lenited to Fraid), as in several places called Llansanffraid, "St. Brigit's church"). She is sometimes referred to as "the Mary of the Gael".
There is some debate over whether St Brigid was a real person. She has the same name and many of the same attributes as the Celtic goddess Brigid, and there are many supernatural events, legends and folk customs associated with her. Like the saint, Brigid the goddess in Irish mythology is associated with poetry, healing, smithcraft, protection and domestic animals (according to Sanas Cormaic and Lebor Gabála Érenn). Furthermore, the saint's feast day falls on the Gaelic traditional festival of Imbolc. Some scholars suggest that the saint is a Christianization of the goddess; others that she was a real person whose mythos took on the goddess's attributes. Medieval art historian Pamela Berger argues that Christian monks "took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart". Professor Dáithí Ó hÓgáin and others suggest that the saint had been chief druid at the temple of the goddess Brigid, and was responsible for converting it into a Christian monastery. After her death, the name and characteristics of the goddess became attached to the saint.
Probably the earliest biography, Vita Sanctae Brigitae (Life of St. Brigid), was written by Cogitosus, a 7th century monk of Kildare. A second, Vita Prima Sanctae Brigitae (First Life of St. Brigid), by an unknown author, is sometimes attributed to St. Broccán Clóen (d. 650). The book of uncertain authorship is occasionally argued to be the first written biography of St. Brigid, though most scholars reject this claim.:63
A Vita sometimes attributed to St. Coelan of Inishcaltra in the early 7th century derives further speculation from the fact that a foreword was added, ostensibly in a subsequent edition, by St. Donatus, also an Irish monk, who became Bishop of Fiesole in 824. In his foreword, Donatus refers to earlier biographies by St. Ultan and St. Ailerán. The manuscript of Vita III, as it has come to be known, was preserved in the Italian monastery of Monte Cassino until its destruction during World War II. As the language used is not that of St. Coelan's time, philologists remain uncertain of both its authorship and century of origin.:537
Discussion on dates for the annals and the accuracy of dates relating to St. Brigid continues.
According to tradition, Brigid was born in the year 451 AD in Faughart, just north of Dundalk in County Louth, Ireland. Because of the legendary quality of the earliest accounts of her life, there is debate among many secular scholars and Christians as to the authenticity of her biographies. Three biographies agree that her mother was Brocca, a Christian Pict slave who had been baptized by Saint Patrick. They name her father as Dubhthach, a chieftain of Leinster.
The vitae says that Dubthach's wife forced him to sell Brigid's mother to a druid when she became pregnant. Brigid herself was born into slavery. Legends of her early holiness include her vomiting when the druid tried to feed her, due to his impurity; a white cow with red ears appeared to sustain her instead.
As she grew older, Brigid was said to have performed miracles, including healing and feeding the poor. According to one tale, as a child, she once gave away her mother's entire store of butter. The butter was then replenished in answer to Brigid's prayers.:13 Around the age of ten, she was returned as a household servant to her father, where her habit of charity led her to donate his belongings to anyone who asked.
In both of the earliest biographies, Dubthach is portrayed as having been so annoyed with Brigid that he took her in a chariot to the King of Leinster to sell her. While Dubthach was talking to the king, Brigid gave away his bejeweled sword to a beggar to barter it for food to feed his family. The king recognized her holiness and convinced Dubthach to grant his daughter freedom.
It is said that Brigid was "veiled" or received either by St. Mac Caill, Bishop of Cruachu Brig Ele (Croghan, County Offaly), or by St. Mél of Ardagh at Mág Tulach (the present barony of Fartullagh, County Westmeath), who granted her abbatial powers. It is said that in about 468, she and a Bishop MacCaille followed St. Mél into the Kingdom of Tethbae, which was made up of parts of the modern counties Meath, Westmeath and Longford.
According to tradition, around 480 Brigid founded a monastery at Kildare (Cill Dara: "church of the oak"), on the site of a pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid, served by a group of young women who tended an eternal flame. The site was under a large oak tree on the ridge of Drum Criadh.
Brigid, with an initial group of seven companions, is credited with organizing communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland. She founded two monastic institutions, one for men, and the other for women, and invited Conleth (Conláed), a hermit from Old Connell near Newbridge, to help her in Kildare as pastor of them. It has often been said that she gave canonical jurisdiction to Conleth, Bishop of Kildare, but Archbishop Healy says that she simply "selected the person to whom the Church gave this jurisdiction", and her biographer tells us that she chose Saint Conleth "to govern the church along with herself". For centuries, Kildare was ruled by a double line of abbot-bishops and of abbesses, the Abbess of Kildare being regarded as superior general of the monasteries in Ireland. Her successors have always been accorded episcopal honour. Brigid's oratory at Kildare became a centre of religion and learning, and developed into a cathedral city.
Brigid is credited with founding a school of art, including metalwork and illumination, which Conleth oversaw. The Kildare scriptorium made the Book of Kildare, which drew high praise from Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis), but disappeared during the Reformation. According to Giraldus, nothing that he ever saw was at all comparable to the book, every page of which was gorgeously illuminated, and the interlaced work and the harmony of the colours left the impression that "all this is the work of angelic, and not human skill".
According to the Trias Thaumaturga Brigid spent time in Connacht and founded many churches in the Diocese of Elphin. She is said to have visited Longford, Tipperary, Limerick, and South Leinster. Her friendship with Saint Patrick is noted in the following paragraph from the Book of Armagh: "inter sanctum Patricium Brigitanque Hibernesium columpnas amicitia caritatis inerat tanta, ut unum cor consiliumque haberent unum. Christus per illum illamque virtutes multas peregit" (Between St. Patrick and St. Brigid, the pillars of the Irish people, there was so great a friendship of charity that they had but one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many great works.)
The monk Ultan of Ardbraccan, who wrote a life of Brigid, recounts a story that Darlugdach, Brigid's favourite pupil, fell in love with a young man and, hoping to meet him, sneaked out of the bed in which she and Brigid were sleeping. However, recognising her spiritual peril, she prayed for guidance, then placed burning embers in her shoes and put them on. "Thus, by fire,"Ultan wrote, "she put out fire, and by pain extinguished pain." She then returned to bed. Brigid feigned sleep but was aware of Darlugdach's departure. The next day, Darlugdach revealed to Brigid the experience of the night before. Brigid reassured her that she was "now safe from the fire of passion and the fire of hell hereafter" and then healed her student's feet. So devoted was the student to her teacher that when Brigid lay dying Darlugdach expressed the wish to die with her, but Brigid replied that Darlugdach should die on the anniversary of her (Brigid's) death.
St. Brigid is said to have been given the last rites by St. Ninnidh when she was dying. Afterward, he reportedly had his right hand encased in metal so that it would never be defiled, and became known as "Ninnidh of the Clean Hand". Tradition says she died at Kildare on 1 February 525.
Upon St. Brigid's death, Darlugdach became the second abbess of Kildare. Brigid's prediction has traditionally been considered to have been realized inasmuch as the Catholic Church records Darlugdach's date of death as 522 and Brigid's as 521 and has assigned 1 February as the feast day of both saints. (The name Darlugdach (also spelled Dar Lugdach, Dar Lugdacha, or Dar Lughdacha) means "daughter of the god Lugh".):41
Miracles associated with Brigid
Brigid is celebrated for her generosity to the poor. In her case, most of the miracles associated with her relate to healing and household tasks usually attributed to women.
- Brigid, who had a reputation as an expert dairywoman and brewer, was reputed to turn water into beer.
- The prayers of Saint Brigid were said to still the wind and the rain.
- When Brigid was of marital age, a man by the name of Dubthach maccu Lugair came to woo her. Since Brigid had offered her virginity to God, she told the man that she could not accept him but that he should go to the woods behind his house where he would find a beautiful maiden to marry. Everything that he said to the maiden's parents would be pleasing to them. The man followed her instructions and it was as she said.
- In one story, Brigid protected a woman from a nobleman who had entrusted a silver brooch to the woman for safekeeping but then secretly had thrown it into the sea. He charged her with stealing it, knowing that he could take her as a slave if a judge ruled in his favour. The woman fled and sought refuge with Brigid's community. By chance, one of her fishermen hauled in a fish which, when cut open, proved to have swallowed the brooch. The nobleman freed the woman, confessed his sin, and bowed in submission to Brigid. A similar story is told of Saint Mungo.
- On an occasion when Brigid was travelling to see a doctor for a headache, she stayed at the house of a Leinster couple who had two mute daughters. The daughters were travelling with Brigid when her horse startled, causing her to fall and graze her head on a stone. A touch of Brigid's blood healed the girls of their muteness.
- When on the bank of the River Inny, Brigid was given a gift of apples and sweet sloes. She later entered a house where many lepers begged her for these apples, which she offered willingly. The woman who had given the gift to Brigid was angered by this, saying that she had not given the gift to the lepers. Brigid was angry at the nun for withholding from the lepers and cursed her trees so they would no longer bear fruit. Yet another woman also gave Brigid the same gift, and again Brigid gave them to begging lepers. This woman asked that she and her garden be blessed. Brigid then said that a large tree in the virgin's garden would have twofold fruit from its offshoots, and this was done.
- One of the more commonly told stories is of Brigid asking the King of Leinster for land. She told the king that the place where she stood was the perfect spot for a convent. It was beside a forest where the members could collect firewood and berries, there was 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 and asked God 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 agreed. She told four of her sisters to take up the cloak, but instead of laying it flat on the turf, each sister, with face turned to a different point of the compass, began to run swiftly, the cloth growing in all directions. The cloak began to cover many acres of land. "Oh, Brigid!" said the frightened king, "what are you about?" "I am, or rather my cloak is about covering your whole province to punish you for your stinginess to the poor." "Call your maidens back. I will give you a decent plot of ground." The saint was persuaded, and if the king held his purse-strings tight in the future, she had only to allude to her cloak to bring him to reason. Soon afterward, the king became a Christian, began to help the poor, and commissioned the building of the convent. Legend has it, the convent was known for making jam from the local blueberries which were sought for all over Ireland. A new tradition is to eat jam on 1 February in honour of this miracle.
- After Brigid promised God a life of chastity, her brothers were annoyed at the loss of a bride price. When she was outside carrying a load past a group of poor people, some began to laugh at her. A man named Bacene said to her, "The beautiful eye which is in your head will be betrothed to a man though you like it or not." In response, Brigid thrust her finger in her eye and said, "Here is that beautiful eye for you. I deem it unlikely that anyone will ask you for a blind girl." Her brothers tried to save her and wash away the blood from her wound, but there was no water to be found. Brigid said to them, "Put my staff about this sod in front of you", and after they did, a stream came forth from the ground. Then she said to Bacene, "Soon your two eyes will burst in your head", and it happened as she said.
- She is associated with the preservation of a nun's chastity in unusual circumstances. Liam de Paor (1993) and Connolly & Picard (1987), in their complete translations of Cogitosus, give substantially the same translation of the account of Brigid's ministry to a nun who had failed to keep her vow of chastity, and become pregnant. In the 1987 translation: "A certain woman who had taken the vow of chastity fell, through the youthful desire of pleasure and her womb swelled with child. Brigid, exercising the most potent strength of her ineffable faith, blessed her, causing the child to disappear, without coming to birth, and without pain. She faithfully returned the woman to health and to penance."
Brigid is said to have been buried at the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, and a costly tomb raised over her "adorned with gems and precious stones and crowns of gold and silver". Over the years her shrine became an object of veneration for pilgrims, especially on her feast day, 1 February. About the year 878, owing to the Scandinavian raids, Brigid's purported relics were reburied in the tomb of Patrick and Columba. In 1185, John de Courcy had their remains reburied in Down Cathedral.
St. Brigid's popularity made the name Brigid (or its variants such as Brigitte, Bridie, and Bree) popular in Ireland over the centuries. One writer noted that at one time in history "every Irish family had a Patrick and a Brigid". In the nineteenth century as many Irish women emigrated to England seeking jobs as housemaids, the name Brigid became virtually synonymous with the word "woman".
According to Denis Murphy, when the relics of the saints were destroyed in the sixteenth century during the deputyship of Lord Grey, Brigid's head was saved by some of the clergies who took it to the Neustadt, in Austria. In 1587 it was presented to the church of the Society of Jesus in Lisbon by Emperor Rudolph II. Since 1587 a skull said to be Brigid's has been preserved in the Igreja São João Baptista (Church of St. John the Baptist, ), on the Lumiar in Portugal (near Lisbon Airport), where it is venerated on 2 February (not 1 February, as in Ireland). St. Brigid's head was reputedly carried to King Denis of Portugal in 1283 by Irish knights travelling to the Aragonese Crusade.
The inscription on the Lumiar tomb reads: "Here in these three tombs lie the three Irish knights who brought the head of St. Brigid, Virgin, a native of Ireland, whose relic is preserved in this chapel. In memory of which, the officials of the Altar of the same Saint caused this to be done in January AD 1283."
In 1884 Cardinal Archbishop Moran of Sydney obtained a relic of the saint's tooth from the parochial church of St. Martin of Tours in Cologne, Germany and gave it to the Brigidine Sisters in Melbourne. The Cardinal wrote about the circumstances in which he obtained the tooth in a letter to the Rev.Mother of this Convent dated 13 March 1906:
I went all the way to Cologne on my return from Rome in 1884, on my appointment of Archbishop of Sydney to secure a portion of the precious relic of St. Brigid preserved there for over a thousand years. It is venerated at present in the Parochial Church of St. Martin to which in olden times was attached a famous Irish monastery….. The relic is, if I remember aright, a tooth of the Saint. At Cologne, I found great difficulty in securing a portion of this relic. It was at first peremptorily refused. The Pastor of St. Martin's declared that his parishioners would be at once in revolt if they heard that their great parochial treasure was being interfered with. I then had to invoke the aid of an influential Canon of the Cathedral of Cologne, whom I had assisted in some of his literary pursuits and he set his heart on procuring the coveted relic. One of his arguments was somewhat amusing: It was the first time that an Irish Archbishop of the remote See of Sydney had solicited a favour from Cologne. It was the new Christian world appealing to the old for a share of its sacred wealth. At all events our pleading was successful and, and I bore away with me a portion of the bone, duly authenticated, which is now the privilege of you good Sisters to guard and venerate….
In 1905 Sister Mary Agnes of the Dundalk Convent of Mercy took a purported fragment of the skull to St. Bridget's [sic] Church in Kilcurry. In 1928, Fathers Timothy Traynor and James McCarroll requested another fragment for St. Brigid's Church in Killester, a request granted by the Bishop of Lisbon, António Mendes Belo.
The city of Armagh had several associations with St. Brigid. In the twelfth century, the city had two crosses dedicated to Brigid, though, according to the Monasticon Hibernicum, purported relics of the saint reposing in Armagh were lost in an accidental fire in 1179. In the seventeenth century, Armagh also had a street named Brigid located near Brigid's church in the area called "Brigid's Ward."
In liturgical iconography and statuary Saint Brigid is often depicted holding a reed cross, a crozier of the sort used by abbots, and a lamp. Early hagiographers portray Brigid's life and ministry as touched with fire. According to Patrick Weston Joyce, tradition holds that nuns at her monastery kept an eternal flame burning there. Leitmotifs, some of them borrowed from the apocrypha such as the story where she hangs her cloak on a sunbeam, are associated with the wonder tales of her hagiography and folklore. Cogitosus' circa 650 Vita Sanctae Brigidae portrays Brigid as having the power to multiply such things as butter, bacon and milk, to bestow sheep and cattle, and to control the weather.:86
Plant motifs associated with St. Brigid include the white Lilium candidum popularly known since medieval times as the Madonna Lily for its association with the Virgin Mary, and the Windflower Anemone coronaria, called the "Brigid anemone" since the early 19th century. Kildare, the church of the oak Quercus petraea, is associated with a tree sacred to the druids. The colour associated with Brigid is white, worn not only by the Kildare United Irishmen during the 1798 rebellion, but also by Kildare sports teams in more recent times.
- Kilbride ("Church of Brigid") is one of Ireland's most widely found placenames, there are 43 Kilbrides located in 19 of Ireland's 32 counties: Antrim (2), Carlow, Cavan, Down, Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Kilkenny (3), Laois, Longford, Louth, Mayo (5), Meath (4), Offaly (4), Roscommon (2), Waterford, Westmeath (2), Wexford (4), and Wicklow (8) as well as two Kilbreedys in Tipperary, Kilbreedia and Toberbreeda in Clare, Toberbreedia in Kilkenny, Brideswell Commons in Dublin, Bridestown and Templebreedy in Cork and Rathbride and Brideschurch in Kildare. A number of placenames are derived from Cnoic Bhríde ("Brigid's Hill"), such as Knockbridge in Louth and Knockbride in Cavan.
- In Wales, the villages of Llansanffraid Glan Conwy, Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain, Llansantffraed and Llansantffraid, Ceredigion are named after her; "llan" meaning "church of" and "Ffraid" or "Ffraed" being the Welsh for "Bride".
- In Scotland, East Kilbride and West Kilbride are called after Brigid. Lhanbryde, near Elgin, Scotland is thought to be Pictish for "Church of Brigid".
- In the Isle of Man, where the first name Breeshey, the Manx form of the name is common, the parish of Bride is named after the saint.
- In Toryglen, on Glasgow's southside, there is a Chapel and a Primary School named for St. Brigid; the stained glass windows of the chapel depict St. Brigid's cross.
- St. Brigid Island in Antarctica is named after Brigid of Kildare.
Biddy's Day Festival, Killorglin
The Biddy is honoured every year at the weekend closest to the feast day of St. Brigid, 1 February in the mid-Kerry region, with Biddy groups visiting rural and public houses. They carry a hay-stuffed Brídeóg doll with them to ensure evil spirits are kept away from humans and animals for the coming year. The Biddy heritage is a mixture of Christianity (St. Bridgid) and ancient Celtic traditions (Imbolc). Imbolc is one of the four Celtic festivals, along with Lá Bealtaine (Mayday), Lughnasa (1 August) and Samhain (1 November).:2 Traditionally, a visit from the Biddy guaranteed good luck, fertility, prosperity and to not receive a visit was considered a slight. In 2017 a festival was created in Killorglin, Co.Kerry to celebrate the age-old Biddy tradition. The highlights of the festival is the torchlight Parade of the Biddys, Traditional Irish music sessions and the King of the Biddies competition.
Judy Chicago's epic feminist artwork The Dinner Party features a place setting for Saint Brigid on the triangular table's second wing, designated for iconographic women from the beginnings of Christianity to the Reformation.
An 11th-century hymn, "Brigit Bé Bithmaith", exalts St. Brigid's character.
Links with Glastonbury
St. Brigid has long been linked to Glastonbury. Sites that depict her include Glastonbury Tor, where the stone carving of her milking a cow can be seen above one side of the entrance, while she is also shown in a Fresco painting that adorns the interior of St. Patrick's Chapel, Glastonbury that can be found within the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey and depict the saint with a spindle, a bowl of fire and a cow in the background.
It is also documented by William of Malmesbury that ‘Wherefore the report is extremely prevalent that both Saint Indract and Saint Brigid, no mean inhabitants of Ireland, formerly came over to this spot. Whether Brigid returned home or died at Glastonbury is not sufficiently ascertained, though she left here some of her ornaments; that is to say, her necklace, bag, and implements for embroidering, which are yet shown in memory of her sanctity, and are efficacious in curing diver's diseases.’
The Benedictine Monk John of Glastonbury wrote in the mid-fourteenth century that the chapel which was excavated in Beckery (Little Ireland) was named after her; 'Saint Brigid made a stay of several years on an island near Glastonbury, called Bekery or Little Ireland, where there was an oratory consecrated in honour of Saint Mary Magdalene. She left there certain signs of her presence—her wallet, collar, bell, and weaving implements, which are exhibited and honoured there because of her holy memory—and she returned to Ireland, where, not much later, she rested in the Lord and was buried in the city of Down. The chapel on that island is now dedicated in honour of Saint Brigid; on its south side there is an opening through which, according to the belief of the common folk, anyone who passes will receive forgiveness of all his sins.’
Brides Mound in Beckery is also linked to St. Bridgid and in 2004 'Brigadine sisters, Mary and Rita Minehan, bring the perpetual Brigid flame (restored in 1993) from Solas Bhrde, in Kildare, during a Glastonbury Goddess Conference ceremony on Bride's Mound.'
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Brigid of Ireland, or of Kildare, has been venerated since the early Middle Ages, along with Patrick and Columba, as one of the three national Christian patron saints of Ireland. By the end of the seventh century, at least two Latin biographies had been written describing her as a nobleman's daughter who chose to consecrate her virginity to God, took the veil as a Christian nun, and became the leader of a community of religious women—or perhaps of both women and men. Certainly, by the 7th century, there was an important double monastery at Kildare that regarded her as its founder.
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