Great Women: St Brigid

The first of February is St Brigid’s Day, also known as Imbolc, which celebrates the early signs of Spring and the arrival of longer warmer days.[1] Saint Brigid is a patron saint of Ireland, dairymaids, cattle, midwives, Irish nuns and newborn babies. She is also known as Muire na nGael, which translates to Our Lady of the Irish.[2] This blog post tells the story of one of Ireland’s most inspirational female role models.

St Brigid was born in Dundalk in 450AD in Dundalk in Co Louth.[3] Her father, Dubhthach, was a pagan chieftain of Leinster and her mother, Broicsech, was a Christian.[4] Brigid’s father named her after the goddess of fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge.[5] Brigid’s father wanted her to marry a wealthy husband, but Brigid wanted to spend her life working for God by looking after poor, sick and elderly people.[6] Legend says that she prayed that her beauty would be taken away from her so that no one would seek her hand in marriage.[7] Her prayer was answered as she lost an eye which meant that her father allowed Brigid to enter a convent.[8] St Brigid received her veil from St. Macaille and made her vows to dedicate her life to God.[9] After making her vows Brigid regained her eye and God made her more beautiful than ever before.[10] The patron saint then founded many convents all over Ireland- the most famous one was in Co. Kildare.[11] Around 470 AD she also founded a double monastery for both nuns and monks in Kildare and, as abbess of this foundation, she was considered a wise superior.[12]

Brigid’s Fire by Courtney Davis https://www.herstory.ie/brigidsday

St Brigid has also been associated with many miracles and traditions that continue to this day. This includes the story of St Brigid and her expanding cloak. Brigid went to the King of Leinster to ask for land so that she could build a convent.[13] The king laughed at her and refused to part with any of his lands.[14] She then prayed to God to ask Him to soften the king’s heart and then asked the King if she could have as much land as her cloak would cover.[15] The king agreed as her cloak was small and would only cover a small amount of land.[16] St Brigid set her cloak on the ground, asked her friends to pull the corners and the cloak grew to cover many acres of land.[17] The king was amazed and soon became a Christian and started to help the poor.[18]  In addition, St. Brigid and her cross are linked together by the story that she wove this type of cross at the death bed of either her father or a pagan lord who asked to be baptised after he heard what the cross meant.[19]

In AD 525, St. Brigid died at the age of 75 and was buried in a tomb before the High Altar of her Abbey church.[20] Her remains were later said to be exhumed and transferred to Downpatrick to rest with the other patron saints of Ireland, St. Patrick and St. Columcille.[21] Two wealthy Irishmen took her skull and brought it to Lisbon, Portugal and it remains there to this day.[22]

Image depicting St Brigid holding the traditional cross of rushes.

Creating a St. Brigid’s cross is a traditional ritual in Ireland which are made of rushes that are pulled rather than cut.[23] They are normally hung next to the door and in the rafters to protect the house from evil.[24] According to tradition, a new cross is made each St Brigid’s Day, and the old one is burned to protect the home from fire.[25] However, unlike St Patrick’s Day, St Brigid’s Day is not a national holiday in Ireland. The organisation Herstory along with Treacy O’Connor and Lorna Evers Monaghan want to change this and are currently campaigning to make St Brigid’s Day a national holiday.[26] They believe that making St Brigid’s Day a national holiday would reflect the ‘…progressive, modern Ireland we live in today’. [27]

Footnotes:

[1] https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/st-brigids-day-traditions

[2] https://www.rte.ie/lifestyle/living/2018/0201/937553-st-brigid-5-things-to-know-about-the-iconic-irish-woman/

[3] https://www.rte.ie/lifestyle/living/2018/0201/937553-st-brigid-5-things-to-know-about-the-iconic-irish-woman/

[4] Ibid.

[5] http://www.stbrigid.ie/story-of-st-brigid.html

[6] https://www.herstory.ie/brigidsday

[7] Ibid.

[8] http://www.stbrigid.ie/story-of-st-brigid.html

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] https://brigidine.org.au/about-us/our-patroness/legend-of-st-brigids-cloak/

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] https://brigidine.org.au/about-us/our-patroness/legend-of-st-brigids-cloak/

[18] Ibid.

[19] https://www.rte.ie/lifestyle/living/2018/0201/937553-st-brigid-5-things-to-know-about-the-iconic-irish-woman/

[20] https://www.rte.ie/lifestyle/living/2018/0201/937553-st-brigid-5-things-to-know-about-the-iconic-irish-woman/

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] http://celticcultureforirishdancers.com/spring-and-the-tradition-of-st-brigids-cross/irish-culture/

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] https://www.herstory.ie/brigidsday

[27] Ibid.

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