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Brigid of Ireland

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Saint Brigid of Ireland (Bridget, Bridgit, Brigit, Bride) (451- 525) was born at Faughart near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. Legend states that her parents were Dubhthach, pagan king of Leinster, and Brocca, a Christian Pictish slave who had been baptized by Saint Patrick.

According to this legend, Brigid was named after one of the most powerful goddesses of the Pagan religion that Dubhthach practiced. Brigid, the goddess of Fire, whose manifestations were song and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge. Brigid supposedly became a vestal virgin in service to the Goddess Brigid (a feat she somehow managed to perform even though the Irish had no such office or practice), and eventually high priestess at the Kil Dara (the temple of the oak, although actual Old Irish or modern Irish never used the letter "k" for native words), a pagan sanctuary built from the wood of a tree sacred to the Druids (a temple that has yet to divulge any archaeological remains). In 468, she followed St. Mel of Armagh to Meath and converted to Christianity. Another version of her life states that upon reaching maturity, she vexed her father by being overly generous to the poor and needy with his milk, butter, and flour. Finally, she gave away his jewel-encrusted sword to a leper. At this point, it was decided that her disposition was best suited for a nun and she was sent to a convent. The legend does not preserve when or how her allegedly hitherto pagan father became amenable to such acts. Other tales likewise exist, the only agreement that the various stories have is that a girl was born to an Irish king named Dubhtach and that her name was Brigid.

Around 470, she either converted the pagan sanctuary of Kildare (Cill-Dara) into a Christian double monastery (nuns and monks) or had a double monastary built on unused ground at Kildare, depending upon the particular story consulted. Once the double monastary came into existence, by whatever method, she founded a school of art there, where the Book of Kildare, a famous illuminated manuscript, was created. She died at Kildare on February 1 and is buried at Downpatrick with St Columcille and St Patrick, with whom she is co-patron of Ireland. Similar to the association between St Patrick and the shamrock, a tiny cross made of rushes was linked with St Brigid.

Legend has it that, when she was consecrated to the rank of Abbess, St. Mel was drunk and inadvertantly read the consecration for a Bishop and that this could not be rescinded, under any circumstances. Of course, such an error could have easily been remedied had it actually occurred, as the ordination would have been considered illegitimate from the start. What is more likely is that a unique administrative status was conferred upon the Abbess of Kildare, since, while there is no record of St. Brigid acting in the Liturgical capacity of a Bishop, she and her successor Abbesses at Kildare had administrative authority equal to that of a Bishop until the Synod of Kells in 1152.

St. Brigid's feast day is February 1.

Last updated: 02-07-2005 03:44:53
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55