St Brigid, Patron Saint of Ireland (1st February)

St Brigid is the patron saint of Ireland, Irish nuns and newborn babies, dairymaids and cattle.

She was born in 451AD to a Christian mother who was a slave and who had been reputedly baptised by St Patrick. Her father, Dubthach, was a Leinster chieftain. As a baby she was sold to a Druid landowner. Her biography reads like an Irish myth, with claims of feeding from a cow with red ears, healing the sick and feeding the poor as a child. Her generosity is repeatedly mentioned in the stories of her childhood – a characteristic that was of supreme importance to the ancient Celts, who valued generosity and valour over and above many other qualities.

Her father was of a mind to sell her and took her to the king of Leinster. The king, who was Christian, recognised her generosity as a quality to be valued and conviced Dubthach to free her. After being freed, Brigid returned to the Druid and her mother, who was in charge of the Druid’s dairy.

Her father, Dubthach arranged for her to marry a bard, but she refused and made a vow of chastity. Legend has it that she prayed that she would lose her beauty and that it was accordingly taken away until after her profession, when it was restored.

Catholic culture provides as follows:

“Brigid and seven friends organized communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland and she founded two monastic institutions, one for men and one for women. Brigid invited a hermit called Conleth to help her in Kildare as a spiritual pastor.Her biographer reported that Brigid chose Saint Conleth to govern the church along with herself.”

She later founded a school of art that included metalwork and illumination, which Conleth led as well. It was at this school that the Book of Kildare, which the Gerald of Wales praised as “the work of angelic, and not human skill,” was beautifully illuminated, but was lost three centuries ago.

There is evidence that Brigid was a good friend of Saint Patrick’s and that the Trias Thaumaturga claimed, “Between St. Patrick and Brigid, the pillars of the Irish people, 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 great works.”Saint Brigid helped many people in her lifetime, but on February 1 525, she passed away of natural causes. Her body was initially kept to the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, with a tomb “adorned with gems and precious stones and crowns of gold and silver,” but in 878, during the Scandinavian raids, her relics were moved to the tomb of Patrick and Columba.

In 1185, John de Courcy had her remains relocated in Down Cathedral. Today, Saint Brigid’s skull can be found in the Church of St. John the Baptist in Lumiar, Portugal. The tomb in which it is kept bears the inscription, “Here in these three tombs lie the three Irish knights who brought the head of St. Brigid, Virgin, a native of Ireland, whose relic is preserved in this chapel. In memory of which, the officials of the Altar of the same Saint caused this to be done in January AD 1283.”

A portion of the skull was relocated to St. Bridget’s Church and another was sent to the Bishop of Lisbon in St. Brigid’s church in Killester.”

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