Who Was Saint Brigid?
Some Facts About Her Life
Saint Brigid of Kildare,
also called ‘Saint Bridget of Ireland’ is one of three Irish Patron saints along with Columba and Saint Patrick.
This is a stainglass window at saint Brigid's Church at Killester.
There is no doubt that Brigid did exist as her existence was recorded in the Irish annals (history
records written by Irish monks).
- The annals of Tigernach recorded the year of Brigid’s death
as 523 A.D.
- It seems quite certain
that her birth place was Faughert near Dundalk in County Louth.
- There are conflicting accounts
of her childhood and about who her parents were.
- Brigid is revered all over Ireland and is associated with folk traditions such as the making of Brigid's crosses as the one seen below.
- The earliest biographer
names her father as Dubhtach, chieftain and King of Leinster. Her mother may have been a slave in his
service, kidnapped from England, (much as Saint Patrick is said to have been).
Saint Patrick himself may have baptised her mother in captivity.
- Other sources state that
her father was a druid who kept slaves, and that her mother was a slave in his
service. Yet another version is that it was her father who was a slave.
- Same as Saint Patrick,
Saint Brigid is or has become, very much a legendary figure.
- During Brigid’s life
time, prevailing paganism and the struggling Christian faith, new to Ireland, were
in conflict. At this stage, Christianity was far from established in Ireland. Missionaries
had difficulties penetrating the closely knit structure of the existing indigenous
pagan tribal culture. It might have been more vulnerable parts of the
population that were the first converts to Christianity, namely slaves and
women. Everyone else, unless they had a specific reason to renounce their older
Gods, clung to paganism. Being accepted and tolerated by chieftains was a daily
struggle and balancing act. (1)
- This actual conflict between
the two faiths may have been present between Brigid's parents if the first
version of her childhood story is true. Or perhaps, by naming her parents as a
slave who converted to Christianity and a Druid or King of the pagan Ireland,
her biographers may have made her life story a metaphor for what was happening
in the country at the time.
- Brigid is said to have
been very spiritual even as a child. One story tells us her pagan father tried
to feed her as a toddler, and she vomited because he was impure. By those that
chronicled the story this was interpreted as a sign of purity and early spiritual calling.
- As a young woman Brigid decided
to become a nun despite attractive offers of marriage. She was ordained by
either Saint Mel or Saint Mac-Caille. Saint Mel made her an abbess and some
sources say she may even have been bishop. There is no doubt that she was a
very powerful woman.
- She personally knew
Saint Patrick and formed a friendship with him according to the Book of Armagh.
Achievements Attributed To Saint Brigid
- She founded a monastery
and a nunnery both at Kildare and was abbess there together with Saint Conleth
whom she appointed. These religious institutions became an Early Christian
scholarly centre famous all over Europe. These monasteries played a huge role
in preserving western knowledge throughout the middle ages.
- Brigid founded a school
of art that produced the legendary Book of Kildare, an illuminated early
Christian document probably similar to the Book of Kells. Unfortunately, the
Book of Kildare went missing under Cromwell and is probably destroyed.
After Saint Brigid's Death
- Saint Brigid was buried
at Kildare Cathedral in a decorated tomb. During the chaos of the Viking era,
her remains were brought to Downpatrick for safe keeping where they were kept
alongside those of Saint Patrick and Saint Columba, also Partron Saints of
Ireland. Her skull is now displayed in a decorated metal urn where it can be
seen through a glass window, at a small church in Portugal. The church wall
boasts a plaque declaring Brigid’s head was brought there by three knights in
1283. Parts of the skull have been brought back to Ireland in the last century.
- Saint Brigid of Ireland
is revered around the world in places as far apart as Portugal, Spain, Belgium,
Switzerland and Cologne in Germany reflecting the importance she had as a
figure in early medieval Ireland. Even the Orthodox Church pays homage to
Brigid on her feast day.
- In her honour her
convent in Kildare kept a sacred flame burning until the 12th
(1) ó Cróinin, Dáibhí: Early
Medieval Ireland 400-1200.
We hope you enjoyed our article on Ireland's 'other' Patron Saint and her remarkable life.
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