Friday, 09 April 2021 23:42

St. Brigid Of Ireland

Written by Derry JF Doody

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 County Kildare G.A.A. Teams & St. Brigid Link 

St. Brigid born C453   died c524

Saint Brigid of Kildare is one of Ireland’s patrons saints in the same tone as Patrick and Columba. Her name is also variously spelled as Brigid, Bridget, Bridgit, Bríd, and Bride and from the importance of her cult, she is sometimes also known as Mary of the Gael. Early Irish history states she was an early Christian nun, an abbess, and founder of several monasteries of nuns, including Kildare which was considered legendary and was highly revered. The feast day of St. Brigid is celebrated on 1st February, which marked the beginning of spring, lambing and lactation in cattle.

A Slave Mother: In the controversy about the historical existence of Brigid that erupted in the last third of the 20th century, it was noted that eleven people with whom Brigid is associated in their lives are independently attested in annalistic sources that place her death at AD 523 and her birth at 451 calculated from the alleged age of 72 at death. The various biographies written by different authors, giving conflicting accounts of her life, are regarded as having considerable literary merit in themselves. Three of those biographies agreed, that she had a slave mother in the court of her father, Dubhthach, who was a King of Leinster. Some scholars suggest that St Brigid was associated with the Pagan goddess, Brighid. According to medievalist Pamela Berger, Christian "monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart."


Birth and Early Life

Brigid may have been born in Ireland’s smallest county, Louth, in the locality of Dundalk. However due to the legendary quality of the earliest accounts of her life, there is much debate among many secular scholars and even faithful Christians, as to the authenticity of her biographies. According to her biographers, her parents were Dubhthach and he was a Pagan chieftain of Ireland’s largest province, Leinster, whilst Brocca, was a Christian Pict and slave, who was baptised by St. Patrick. Some accounts of the saints life, suggest that Brigid's father was in fact from Lusitania and was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave in much the same way as Saint Patrick.

A collection of stories also detail Brigid's and her mother's legacy as pieces of property belonging to Dubhthach and the resulting impact on important parts of Brigid's life story. In another storyline, it states that Brigid’s mother was a slave and Brigid herself was born into slavery to a druid. From the start it is clear that Brigid was born to be a very holy person. When the druid tried to feed her, it states.. she vomited because he was impure and thus a cow was assigned to sustain her. As she grows older, Brigid performs many miracles, including healing and feeding the poor and indeed St. Brigid is celebrated for her generosity to the poor. One miracle referred, is that as a child she once gave away her mother's entire store of butter and the butter was immediately replaced in answer to Brigid's prayers.

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Devotion To Life Of Religion

The induction ceremony to christanity was performed, according to different accounts, by either Bishop Mel or MacCaille in c489 and the location was most probably in the present district of Fartullagh, Co. Westmeath. She was also granted her abbatial powers on that occasion. Brigid followed Saint Mel into the Kingdom of Teathvbha, which is made up of sections of current times Meath, Westmeath and Longford. This occurred about 468. According to some sources, Bridged was ordained bishop by Bishop Mel at Mag Tulach and her successors have always been given Episcopal honor. Brigid's small oratory at Kildare town became a centre of religion and learning and developed into a cathedral city. She founded two monastic institutions, one for men, and the other for women and appointed St. Conleth as spiritual pastor of both. Conleth is a name frequently associated with Kildare. Brigid frequently quoted 'that she gave canonical jurisdiction to St. Conleth as Bishop of Kildare'.


Miracles Attributed

Brigid also founded a school of art, including metal work and illumination, over which Conleth presided. The Kildare scriptorium produced the famous Book Of Kildare which commanded widespread high praise. Unfortunately in the Reformation of Ireland, this great book was banished out of sight. The design and character of the book was very much before its time and it was stated to be the work of angelic and not human skill.

In Roscommon in the Dioice of Elphin, Brigid is credited with establishing several new churches and that her spiritual friendship with St. Patrick was a key factor. It has also been scribed, that through St. Patrick and St. Brigid, Christ performed many great works. Miracles during Brigid's lifetime were commonly recorded by those who had witnessed them or had some relation to a person who was present. In Saint Brigid’s case, most of her miracles were related to healing and domestic tasks usually attributed to women. If Brigid wished or predicted something to occur, then it came to pass.

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Transformation of Landowner: Several of Brigid’s miracles occurred on Easter Sunday and on this day a leper had come to Brigid to ask for a cow. She asked for a time to rest and then would help him later. However he did not wish to wait and instead stated 'he would go somewhere else for a cow'. Brigid then offered to heal the leper but the man stubbornly replied 'that his condition allowed him to acquire more than he would.. if he was 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 and after this was done, the man was completely cured and vowed to serve Brigid.

On another occasion Brigid was traveling to see a physician for a difficult headache and they were welcomed to stay at the house of a Leinster man. His wife was not able to have children that survived, except for two daughters that had been dumb since their birth. Brigid was travelling with the daughters when her horse suddenly startled, causing her to fall from the carriage and she injured her head on a stone. Her blood mixed with the water and Brigid then instructed one of the dumb girls to pour the bloodied water onto her neck in God’s name causing the girl to be healed.

The healed sister was then told to call her sister over to be healed as well, but the sister responded, that she had already been made well when she bowed down in the tracks with her sister. Brigid told the two cured sisters to return home and that in time, they also would give birth to as many male children that their mother had lost. Thereafter the stone that injured Brigid, was now curing any disease of the head when people laid their head on it

A Few Acres Of Land

One of the more commonly told stories of St. Brigid occured when she went to the King of Leinster to ask for a plot of land to build a new convent. She informed the King that the place where she now stood, was the perfect place for a convent by its location 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 instantly laughed at her and refused to give her any land.

Brigid prayed to God and asked him to soften the king’s heart and 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 then instructed her four friends to each hold a corner of the cloak and walk in opposite directions. The four friends walked north, south, east and west and the cloak grew immediately and began to cover many acres of land. The King was astonished and he realised that she had been blessed by God and he 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 and commissioned the construction of the convent.


Triple Butter

Legend states the convent was later known for making jam from the local blueberries which was sought from all over Ireland. There is a new tradition beginning among followers of St. Brigid to eat jam on the 1st of February in honour of this miracle. It was also claimed that an elderly woman appeared at Brigid's door begging for food and she refused as the only piece of food she had in the house at that time, was a dish of butter. The old woman replied to Brigid saying, even that would do. When Brigid turned away from the door, she saw on the table three dishes of butter. It seemed that the Lord had rewarded her for her kindness

Brigid also performed miracles that included curse elements as well. When on the bank of Inny, Brigid was given a gift of apples and sweet sloes and she later entered a house where many lepers begged her for these apples and she offered up willingly. The nun who had given the gift to Brigid was irritated by this, saying 'that she had not given the gift to the lepers'.

Brigid was angered at the nun for withholding a few apples from the lepers and therefore cursed her trees so they would no longer bear fruit rendering them barren. Yet another nun also gave Brigid the same gift as the first nun and again Brigid gave them to begging lepers and this time the nun asked, that she and her garden be blessed. Brigid then stated that a large tree in the nun’s garden would have twofold fruit from its offshoots and this was occured.

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Veneration in Ireland

It seems that Faughart, Dundalk, was the place of birth of Brigid and the local Faughart Church was founded by St. Moninne in honour of Brigid. The old well of Brigid's adjoining the ruined church, still attracts pilgrims and at Armagh there was a "Templum Brigidis"; namely the little Abbey Church known as "Regles Brigid", which contained some relics of the saint, which was destroyed in 1179. On her death in c524 Brigid was interred at the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral and a splendid tomb was erected "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,1st February.


Lisbon Portugal

About the year 878, owing to the Scandinavian raids, Brigid's relics were taken to Downpatrick, Co. Down, where they were interred in the tomb of Patrick and Columba. The relics of the three saints were subsequently discovered in 1185 and on the 9th June of the following year, they were re-interred at Down Cathedral.

The church of St. Joao Baptista at Lumiar, near Lisbon airport in Portugal, holds a relic claimed to be the skull of St Brigid. A fragment of this skull was brought to St Bridged’s Church, Kilcurry, in 1905, by Sr. 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 two priests, Fr.’s Timothy Traynor and James McCarroll.

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 Kildare G.A.A. Wear ‘WHITE’ Jersies 

Brigit's colour, white, was worn by the Kildare United Irishmen during the 1798 rebellion and with such an immense Kildare association and legacy, the founding fathers of Kildare G.A.A. adopted the colour 'WHITE' for their jersies and hence the origin of Kildare wearing white jersies in G.A.A. matches, is attributed to St. Brigid.

According to the tradition of the Orthodox church, Saint Brigid lost one of her eyes which saved her from being married against her will, as related in the first and second account of the fourth ode of the canon of the saint from the Orthodox Matins service. This occured in an Irish era when husbands were chosen for women eligible for marriage. Brigid considering the beauty of the body as of no account and when one of thine eyes was destroyed.. thou didst rejoice, O venerable one, for thou didst desire to behold the splendour of heaven and to glorify God with the choirs of the righteous.

In another version of the legendary story of Saint Brigid, upon losing one eye from an eye disease, Brigid put her finger under her eye and plucked it out of her head, so that it lay on her cheek and when father Dubthach and her brethren witnessed that, they promised... that she would never be told to go to a husband.She was also informed she could choose a husband whom she would like. Instantly St. Brigid knelt and prayed to God and then upon putting her palm to her eye, she was instantly healed and restored at once.

Famous Daughter Of Ireland

St. Brigid was an Irish woman who was a home missionary, just like St. Patrick and in the era of her time, the Island of Ireland was not a christian land. It was a difficult mission to be spreading a new faith amongst a pagan land and the perseverance of Brigid was responsible for many follow-on generations of Irish people adopting their christian beliefs. Two Irish counties have a very special affinity with St. Brigid, Kildare and Louth. 

St. Brigid is hereby INDUCTED to our Online Gallery of Famous Sons & Daughters Of Ireland at Irish Heritage Hall Of Fame Online Gallery and we look forward to inducting many more really special Irish people of Times Past generations. 

Compiled by Derry JF Doody

for Irish Heritage Hall Of Fame

Last modified on Monday, 12 April 2021 20:18
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