Brigid of Kildare

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This article is about Saint Brigid of Kildare. For Saint Birgitta Birgersdotter of Sweden, see Bridget of Sweden. For Brigid the goddess, see Brigid.
Saint Brigid of Kildare
Stained glass, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Macon, Georgia, 1903
Virgin, abbess, inspirer
Born c. 453
Faughart, Dundalk,[1][2] Ireland
(in modern County Louth)
Died c. 524 (age about 70)
Kildare, Ireland
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Anglican Communion
Feast 1 February
Patronage 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; fugitives; infants; Ireland; Leinster, 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,[3] 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, whom tradition says was her student 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. Some scholars suggest that the saint is merely a Christianization of the goddess. Others suggest that she was a real person who took on the goddess's attributes.


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 Irish".


There is some debate over whether St Brigid was a real person. She has the same name, associations and feast day as the Celtic goddess Brigid, and there are many supernatural events, legends and folk customs associated with her.

Some scholars suggest that the saint is merely a Christianization of the goddess. Others suggest that she was a real person who 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."[4] Professor Dáithí Ó hÓgáin and others suggest that the saint had been chief druidess 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.[5][6][7]


Probably the earliest biography (Life or Vita) of St Brigid is that by St Broccán Clóen (d. 650). A second Life was written by Cogitosus, a monk of Kildare in the eighth century, and is a fine example of Irish scholarship in the mid-eighth century. The Life attributed to Coelan dating ca. 625, derives further significance from the fact that a foreword was later added to it by St Donatus, also an Irish monk, who became Bishop of Fiesole in 824. St Donatus refers to earlier biographies by St Ultan and St Aileran. These differing biographies, giving conflicting accounts of her life, have much literary merit in themselves.[8]

In the controversy about the historical existence of Brigid that erupted in the last third of the 20th century, researchers noted that eleven people with whom Brigid is associated in her Lives are independently attested in annalistic sources, sources that place her death at AD 523 (in the Annals of Tigernach and Chronicon Scotorum) and her birth at 451 (calculated from the alleged age of 72 at death).[9]

Early life[edit]

Brigid was born in the year 451 AD in Faughart,[10] Dundalk,[1][2] Ireland, County Louth. Because of the legendary quality of the earliest accounts of her life, there is much debate among many secular scholars and even Christians as to the authenticity of her biographies. Three biographies agree that her mother was Brocca, a Christian Pict and slave who had been baptised by Saint Patrick. They name her father as Dubhthach, a chieftain of Leinster.[11]

The vitae say that Brigid's mother was a slave and that Dubthach's wife forced him to sell her to a druid when she became pregnant. Brigid herself was born into slavery. From the start, it was clear that Brigid was holy. When the druid tried to feed her, she vomited due to his impurity. A white cow with red ears appeared to sustain her instead.[11] As she grew older, Brigid performed many 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 .[12] Around the age of ten, she was returned as a household servant to her father, where her habit of charity also led her to donate his belongings to anyone who asked. In two Lives, Dubthach was so annoyed with her 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 jewelled 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 her freedom.[13]

Religious life[edit]

Saint Brigit as depicted in Saint Non's chapel, St Davids, Wales.

It is said that Brigid was "veiled" or received either by St. Mac Caill at Croghan, or by St. Mél of Ardagh at Mág Tulach (the present barony of Fartullagh, County Westmeath), who also granted her abbatial powers. It is said that in about 468, she and St. Maughold (Macaille) followed St. Mél into the Kingdom of Tethbae, which was made up of parts of 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 an older 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.[14] Brigid, with an initial group of seven companions, is credited with organizing communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland.[15] 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 spiritual 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 distinctly that she chose Saint Conleth "to govern the church along with herself". Thus, 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.[16] Brigid's small oratory at Kildare became a center of religion and learning, and developed into a cathedral city.

Brigid is also credited with founding a school of art, including metal work and illumination, which Conleth oversaw. The Kildare scriptorium made the Book of Kildare, which drew high praise from Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis), but which has disappeared since the Reformation. According to Giraldus, nothing that he had ever seen was at all comparable to the book, every page of which was gorgeously illuminated, and he concludes by saying that the interlaced work and the harmony of the colours left the impression that "all this is the work of angelic, and not human skill".[8]

The Trias Thaumaturga says that Brigid spent time in Connacht and founded many churches in the Diocese of Elphin. She is also said to have visited Longford, Tipperary, Limerick, and South Leinster.[10] 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", or Between St Patrick and 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.

When dying, St. Brigid is said to have been given the last rites by St. Ninnidh. Afterwards, 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".[8] Tradition says she died at Kildare on 1 February 525.[17]

St. Brigid is said to have had a female companion named Dar Lugdach, a younger nun whom she shared her bed with. According to tradition, Dar Lugdach succeeded Brigid as abbess of Kildare and, as foretold by Brigit, she died exactly one year after her. The two thus share the same feast day.[18] The name Dar Lugdach (also spelled Dar Lugdacha or Dar Lughdacha) means "daughter of the god Lugh".[19]

Miracles associated with Brigid[edit]

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 was known to turn water into milk or beer for the curing of Easter.
  • When she was a teenager, Brigid was trying to go see Saint Patrick but was slowed up by the crowd. To get through, she healed people along the way.
  • Brigid helped a distressed wife by giving her a love potion for her husband.
  • The prayers of Saint Brigid were known 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 offered her virginity to God, she told the man that she cannot accept him but to go to the woods behind his house where he will find a beautiful maiden to marry. Everything that he says to the maiden's father will be pleasing to them. The man followed her instructions and it was as she said.[11]
  • In one story, Brigid protected a woman from a nobleman who had entrusted a silver brooch to the woman for safekeeping but then secretly threw 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 favor. 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.[13] A similar story is told of St Kentigern.
  • On another occasion, Brigid was travelling to see a physician for her 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.[13]
  • 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 time the second 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.[11]
  • One Easter Sunday, a leper had come to Brigid to ask for a cow. She said she would rest and would help him later; however, he did not wish to wait and said he would go somewhere else for a cow. Brigid then offered to heal him, but the man stubbornly replied that his condition allowed him to get more than he would if he were healthy. After convincing the leper that this was not so, she told one of her maidens to have the man washed in a blessed mug of water. After this was done, the man was healed and vowed to serve Brigid.
  • 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 they could collect firewood and berries. 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, hoping to get rid of her, he 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 frighted 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 future, she had only to allude to her cloak to bring him to reason. Soon afterwards, 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 was sought for all over Ireland. There is a new tradition beginning among followers of St Brigid to eat jam on 1 February in honour of this miracle.[20][21]
  • After Brigid promised God a life of chastity, her brothers were grieved 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.[11]
  • She is associated with the preservation of a nun's chastity in unusual circumstances. Both Liam de Paor (1993)[22] and Connolly & Picard (1987), in their complete translations of Cogitosus, give substantially the same translation[23] 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 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 was considered "accidentally" consecrated as a bishop when the church official went into a trance of sorts and made her a member of the clergy.


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 re-buried in the tomb of Patrick and Columba.[17] In 1185, John de Courcy had their purported remains re-buried in Down Cathedral.[24]

In modern Ireland, "Mary of the Gael" remains a popular saint, and Brigid remains a common female Christian name.[citation needed]


Saint Brigid's Cross or Crosóg Bhríde

A skull said to be Brigid's has been preserved in the Igreja São João Baptista (Church of St. John the Baptist) in Lumiar in Portugal (38°46′29″N 9°09′54″W / 38.7746313°N 9.1649645°W / 38.7746313; -9.1649645.[25]) (near the Lisbon airport) since 1587 and is venerated on 2 February (not 1 February, as in Ireland).[26] St Brigid's head was reputedly carried to King Denis of Portugal in 1283 by Irish knights travelling to the Aragonese Crusade. According to Denis Murphy, when the relics of the saints were destroyed, in the sixteenth century, during the deputyship of Lord Leonard Gray, Brigid's head was saved by some of the clergy, 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.[27]

The inscription on the tomb in Lumiar 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."[citation needed]

A fragment of this skull was brought to St Brigid's Church, Kilcurry, Dundalk in 1905 by Sister Mary Agnes of the Dundalk Convent of Mercy and in 1928 another fragment was sent by the Bishop of Lisbon to St Brigid's church in Killester, in response to a request from Fathers Timothy Traynor and James McCarroll.[citation needed]

At Armagh there was a "Templum Brigidis"; namely the little abbey church known as "Regles Brigid", which contained some relics of the saint, destroyed in 1179, by William FitzAldelm.[citation needed]


Brigida von Kildare, Gross St Martin, Köln

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 Saint Brigid's life and ministry as touched with fire. According to P.W. Joyce, tradition holds that nuns at her monastery kept a sacred eternal flame burning there.[10] 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. In her Lives, Saint Brigid is portrayed as having the power to multiply such things as butter, bacon and milk, to bestow sheep and cattle and to control the weather. 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 Winflower 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. Her colour, white, was worn by the Kildare United Irishmen during the 1798 rebellion and is worn by Kildare sports teams.[citation needed]


Kilbride 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 Kilbreedy’s 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.[28] Similarly, there are a number of placenames derived from Cnoic Bhríde ("Brigit's Hill"), such as Knockbridge in Louth and Knockbride in Cavan. In Wales, the villages of Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain, Llansantffraed and Llansantffraid, Ceredigion are named after her; "llan" meaning "church of" and "Ffraid" or "Ffraed" being the Welsh for "Bride".[citation needed]


The artwork The Dinner Party features a place setting for Saint Brigid.[29]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Story of St. Brigid". St. Brigid's GNS, Glasnevin. 
  2. ^ a b "Following Brigid's Way – The Irish Catholic". 
  3. ^ Jestice, Phyllis G. (2004). Holy People of the World: A Cross-Cultural Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 140–. ISBN 9781576073551. Retrieved 1 February 2013. 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. ... At least two Latin Lives had been composed by the end of the seventh century 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 seventh century there was an important double monastery at Kildare that regarded her as its founder. 
  4. ^ Berger, Pamela (1985). The Goddess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 9780807067239. 
  5. ^ Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. Myth, Legend & Romance: An encyclopaedia of the Irish folk tradition. Prentice Hall Press, 1991. p.61
  6. ^ Wright, Brian. Brigid: Goddess, Druidess and Saint. The History Press, 2011. pp.36–37
  7. ^ Robert Lentz & Edwina Gateley. Christ in the Margins. Orbis Books, 2003. p.121
  8. ^ a b c "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Brigid of Ireland". 
  9. ^ Discussion on dates for the annals and the accuracy of dates relating to St Brigid continues, see A.P. Smyth, "The earliest Irish annals: their first contemporary entries and the earliest centres of recording", Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy lxxii C (1972), pp1–48, and Daniel McCarthy: "The chronology of St Brigit of Kildare", in Peritia, xiv (2000), pp255–81.
  10. ^ a b c Joyce, P.W.,The Wonders of Ireland, 1911
  11. ^ a b c d e "Bethu Brigte". 
  12. ^ Wallace, Martin. A Little Book of Celtic Saints. Belfast. Appletree Press, 1995 ISBN 0-86281-456-1, p.13
  13. ^ a b c "St. Brigit of Ireland – Monastic Matrix". 
  14. ^ "History of Kildare Town". 
  15. ^ "ST. BRIGID OF IRELAND :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)". Catholic News Agency. 
  16. ^ Edward Sellnor makes this point in the book, Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, (Ave Maria Press, 1993)
  17. ^ a b "Our Patroness", Brigidine Sisters Archived 2 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ T. M. Charles-Edwards, ‘Brigit (439/452–524/526)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 22 Dec 2014
  19. ^ Wright, p.41
  20. ^ Story of St. Brigid, November 14, 2012 Archived 27 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  21. ^ Kennedy, Patrick. "St. Brigid's Cloak", Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts, 1891
  22. ^ St Patrick's World, Liam de Paor, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1993 – chapter 33, Cogitosus's Life of St Brigid the Virgin, accessed 13 February 2012
  23. ^ Page 211 in de Paor; page 16, internal chapter 9, of Connolly & Picard
  24. ^ Johnathan Bardon, A History of Ulster, page 38. The Blackstaff Press, 2007. ISBN 0-85640-764-X
  25. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 12 February 2011. Retrieved 23 April 2011. 
  26. ^ St. Brigid's skull. 14 December 2007 – via YouTube. 
  27. ^ Murphy, Denis. "St. Brigid of Kildare", Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society and Surrounding Districts, Vol. 1, p.175, County Kildare Archaeological Society, 1895
  28. ^ "". 
  29. ^ Place Settings. Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved on 2015-08-06.