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Brigid of Kildare

Saint Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland (Brigit, Bridget, Bridgit, Bríd or Bride) (Naomh Bhríde) (c. 451–525) was an Irish Roman Catholic nun, abbess, and founder of several convents who is venerated as a saint. She is considered one of Ireland's patron saints along with Saints Patrick and Columba. Her feast day is February 1, the traditional first day of spring in Ireland.

Hagiography

Early life

As with many ancient saints the biography of Brigid of Kildare has been complicated by the passage of time. Much change has occurred within the corpus of information which now exists. Often the lines between oral tradition, written tradition and new revelation have become hard to distinguish. The earliest extensive life of Brigid is the Vita Brigitae of Cogitosus and is thought to have been written no later than 650.

According to tradition, Brigid was born at Faughart near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. Because of the legendary quality of the earliest accounts of her life, there is much debate among many scholars and even faithful Christians as to the authenticity of her biographies. According to her biographers her parents were Dubhthach, a pagan chieftain of Leinster, and Brocca, a Christian Pict who had been baptized by Saint Patrick. Some accounts of her life suggested that Brigid's mother was in fact Portuguese, kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave in much the same way as Patrick. Brigid was given the same name as one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion which her father Dubhthach practiced; Brigid was the goddess of fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge.

Sainthood

Whether she was raised a Christian or converted in 468, as some accounts say, is unknown, but she was inspired by the preaching of Saint Patrick from an early age. Despite her father's opposition she was determined to enter religious life. Numerous stories testify to her piety. She had a generous heart and could never refuse the poor who came to her father's door. Her charity angered her father: he thought she was being overly generous to the poor and needy when she dispensed his milk, and flour to all and sundry. When she finally gave away his jewel-encrusted sword to a leper, Dubhthach realized that perhaps her disposition was best suited to the life of a nun. Brigid finally got her wish and she was sent to a convent.

Brigid received the veil from Saint Mel and professed vows dedicating her life to Christ. From this point biographers heap stories and legends on Brigid. She is believed to have founded a convent in Clara, County Offaly - her first: other foundations followed. But it was to be in Kildare that her major foundation would emerge. Around 470 she founded Kildare Abbey, a double monastery, for nuns and monks, on the plains of Cill-Dara, "the church of the oak", her cell being made under a large oak tree. As Abbess of this foundation she wielded considerable power. Legends surround her, even her blessing as Abbess by Saint Mel has a story attached to it. According to the legend, the elderly bishop, as he was blessing her during the ceremony, inadvertently read the rite of consecration of a bishop and this could not be rescinded, under any circumstances. Brigid and her successor Abbesses at Kildare had an administrative authority equal to that of a Bishop until the Synod of Kells in 1152.

Brigid was famous for her common-sense and most of all for her holiness: in her lifetime she was regarded as a saint. Kildare Abbey became one of the most prestigious monasteries in Ireland, famed throughout Christian Europe. In the scriptorium of the monastery, for example, the lost illuminated manuscript the Book of Kildare may have been created — if it was not the existing Book of Kells, as many suppose.

Death and impact

She died at Kildare around 525 and was buried in a tomb before the high altar of her abbey church. After some time her remains were exhumed and transported to Downpatrick to rest with the two other patron saints of Ireland, Patrick and Columba (Columcille). Her skull was extracted and brought to Igreja de São João Baptista (Lumiar) Lisbon, Portugal by three Irish noblemen, where it remains. There is widespread devotion to her in Ireland where she is known as the "Mary of the Gael" and her cult was brought to Europe by Irish missionaries, such as Foillan, in the centuries after her death. In Belgium there is a chapel (7th-10th century) dedicated to Sainte-Brigide at Fosses-la-Ville and Sint Brigid is the patron saint of the Dutch city of Ommen.

Saint Brigid's Cross

Legend has it she made the cross from rushes she found on the ground beside a dying man in order to convert him. It is interesting that this legend does not appear in any of the oldest sources and to this day its origin remains lost in the oral tradition. It remains the custom in many houses in Ireland to have a Saint Brigid's Cross in honour of the saint. The cross takes many forms and is technically classed by folk crafts experts as a "'plaited corn dolly", although the technologies utilized can extend beyond plaiting to weaving and other forms. Many of these forms such as that of the "God's eye" appear in other cultural contexts. According to tradition a new cross is made each Saint Brigid's Day (February 1), and the old one is burned to keep fire from the house, yet customs vary by locality, and family. Many homes have multiple crosses preserved in the ceiling the oldest blackened by many years of hearth fires. Some believe that keeping a cross in the ceiling or roof is a good way to preserve the home from fire which was always a major threat in houses with thatch and wood roofs.

Connection with pagan Brigid

That she shares both her name and her feast day with those of the earlier pagan goddess Brigid may indicate that Saint Brigid is partially or entirely a fictional creation based on the pagan figure in order to convert Celts to Christianity; the euhemerization of pagan figures and tradition was a common practice of Christian missionaries. However she may merely have been named after her. Given the struggle Christian missionaries faced in their efforts to preach the Gospel in Ireland, even though they Christianized some elements, the adoption of a pagan goddess into the Communion of Saints may have been an effort to Christianize one of the most enduring pagan goddesses. Most historians say that she was a real person whose life was embellished by imaginative hagiographers, and this seems the most likely scenario. Evidence for a political function of the stories comes from detailed political analysis which demonstrates that they have been created or at least manipulated to document the power of Kildare over surrounding regions.

Extended biography

Differing biographies written by different authors, give conflicting accounts of her life, however three of those biographies agreed that she had a slave mother in the court of her father, Dubhthach, a king of Leinster. Perhaps the most ancient account of her life is by Saint Broccan Cloen:

Ni bu Sanct Brigid suanach Ni bu huarach im sheirc Dé, Sech ni chiuir ni cossena Ind nóeb dibad bethath che.
Saint Brigid was not given to sleep, Nor was she intermittent about God's love; Not merely that she did not buy, she did not seek for The wealth of this world below, the holy one.

One, the "Life of Brigid" dates from the closing years of the eighth century, and is held in the Dominican friary at Eichstatt in Bavaria. It expounds the metrical life of Saint Brigid, and versified it in Latin.

Although Saint Brigid was "veiled" or received by Saint Maughold (Macaille), at Croghan, it is far more possible that she took her vows from Saint Mel of Ardagh, who also granted her abbatial powers. She followed Saint Mel into the kingdom of Teathbha which is made up of sections of modern Meath, Westmeath and Longford. This occurred about 468. Brigid is known for being the first and only bishop of the early church. It is said that upon receiving her vows Saint Mel was inspired by God to make her a bishop.

Brigid's small oratory at Cill-Dara (Kildare) 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 Saint Conleth as spiritual pastor of them. It has been frequently stated that she gave canonical jurisdiction to Saint Conleth, Bishop of Kildare, but, as Archbishop Healy points out, 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 superioress general of the convents in Ireland.

Brigid also founded a school of art, including metal work and illumination, over which Conleth presided. The Kildare scriptorium produced the Book of Kildare, which elicited high praise from 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".

Brigid is at times known as "the Patroness of Ireland" and "Queen of the South: the Mary of the Gael" by a writer in the "Leabhar Breac". Brigid died leaving a cathedral city and school that became famous all over Europe. In her honour Saint Ultan of Ardbraccan wrote a hymn commencing:

Christus in nostra insula Que vocatur Hibernia Ostensus est hominibus Maximis mirabilibus Que perfecit per felicem Celestis vite virginem Precellentem pro merito Magno in numdi circulo.
Christ was made known to men
On our island of Hibernia
by the very great miracles
which he performed
through the happy virgin of celestial life,
famous for her merits
through the whole world.

The sixth life of the saint is attributed to Coelan, an Irish monk of the eighth century, and it derives a peculiar importance from the fact that it is prefaced by Saint Donatus, also an Irish monk, who became Bishop of Fiesole in 824. Donatus refers to previous lives by Ultan and Aileran. When dying, Brigid was attended by Saint Ninnidh, who was afterwards known as "Ninnidh of the Clean Hand" because he had his right hand encased with a metal covering to prevent it ever being defiled, after being the medium of administering the last rites to "Ireland's Patroness".

Brigid was interred at the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, and a costly tomb was erected over her. Over the years her shrine became an object of veneration for pilgrims, especially on her feast day, February 1. About the year 878, owing to the Scandinavian raids, Brigid's relics were taken to Downpatrick, where they were interred in the tomb of Patrick and Columba. The relics of the three saints were discovered in 1185, and on June 9 of the following year were reinterred in Downpatrick Cathedral.

Various Continental breviaries of the pre-Reformation period commemorate Brigid, and her name is included in a litany in the Stowe Missal. In Ireland today, after 1500 years, "Mary of the Gael" remains a popular saint, and Brigid remains a common female Christian name. Moreover, hundreds of place-names in her honour are to be found all over both Scotland and Ireland, e.g. East Kilbride, Kilbride, Brideswell, Tubberbride, Templebride, etc. Places named Brideswell and Tupperbride commemorate in their names the presence of a sacred well ("Tobar" in Gaelic) dedicated to Brigid or her pre-Christian antecedent. Brigid's hand is preserved at Lumiar near Lisbon, Portugal, since 1587, and another relic is at St. Martin's Cologne.

As to the historical Brigid, it seems that Faughart was the scene of her birth. Faughart Church was founded by Saint Moninne in honour of Brigid. The old well of Brigid's adjoining the ruined church still attracts pilgrims. There is evidence in the Trias Thaumaturga for Brigid's stay in Connacht, especially in County Roscommon and also in the many churches founded by her in the Diocese of Elphim. Her friendship with Saint Patrick is attested by 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 Patrick and Brigid, the columns of the Irish, 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 miracles.) 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 Fitz Aldelm.

In addition, Brigid is highly venerated by many Orthodox Christians as one of the great Western saints prior to the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches. Her feastday, as in the West, is February 1, although churches following the Julian calendar (as in many Orthodox countries) celebrate her feast on February 14, the corresponding date on the Julian calendar. The troparion to her is in Tone 1:

O holy Brigid, thou didst become sublime through thy humility, and didst fly on the wings of thy longing for God. When thou didst arrive in the Eternal City and appear before thy Divine Spouse, wearing the crown of virginity, thou didst keep thy promise to remember those who have recourse to thee. Thou dost shower grace upon the world, and dost multiply miracles. Intercede with Christ our God that He may save our souls.

The corresponding kontakion is in Tone 4:

The holy virgin Brigid full of divine wisdom, went with joy along the way of evangelical childhood, and with the grace of God attained in this way the summit of virtue. Wherefore she now bestows blessings upon those who come to her with faith. O holy Virgin, intercede with Christ our God that He may have mercy on our souls.

See also

References

External links

Saint Brigid's cross

Legends about Saint Brigid

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