St. Brigid of Kildare, Abbess and Virgin

January 31, 2019

The Pastor's Page

St. Brigid of Kildare, Abbess and Virgin

St. Brigid (450-525) is also known as St. Brigit, St. Bridget, and St. Bride. She is revered as one of the greatest Irish saints, and along with St. Patrick, is regarded as one of the two columns upon which all of Ireland rests. Her memorial is not celebrated on the general Roman calendar, but it is celebrated on February 1 in Ireland.

St. Brigid was born at Faughart near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, in 450. There are few historical facts available regarding her life, and much of her story may be legend. Her father reportedly was Dubhthach, the pagan Irish chieftain of Leinster, and her mother was Brocca, one of his slaves. She most likely heard St. Patrick’s preaching as a young girl, and may have been baptized by him before his death in 461.

As a young lady, she had great zeal for the spiritual life, dedicated herself to prayer, demonstrated exceptional humility and compassion, and performed many works of charity. She indicated an interest in religious life, was given her veil by St. Macaille at Croghan, and professed her religious vows before St. Mel of Armagh when she was eighteen.

St. Mel declared St. Brigid an abbess, the religious superior of a congregation of religious sisters. She gathered seven other virgins in 468 and established a community, initially at Croghan Hill, and then at Meath. In 470 she founded a double monastery in Kildare, one side for women, the other for men, and she served as the religious superior of both. St. Kieran reported that she wrote the regula Sanctae Brigidae, St. Brigid’s rule of life, the spiritual ideals for the members of the convent, as well as the specifics of its organizational structure. She is regarded as the founder of monastic life in Ireland, which had a major impact on the spread of Christianity throughout Ireland, and later with Irish missionaries, throughout Europe.

Under St. Brigid’s leadership, the convent in Kildare became a regional center for spirituality and education. She founded a separate art school which produced many beautifully decorated manuscripts, among them the Book of Kildare.

Numerous legends circulate about miracles she performed: butter she gave to the poor was mysteriously replaced, bathwater was changed into beer, a glass of water for a leper changed into milk, sight was given to two blind men, and two women were cured of their speech impediments.

St. Brigid died in Kildare in 525 and is buried in Downpatrick with St. Patrick and St. Columba. Her symbols are a lamp, flame, or candle, St. Brigid's Crossall of which represent knowledge, because she is the patron saint of scholars. She is also the patroness of County Kildare, the country of Ireland, poets, and dairy workers.

St. Brigid is also remembered for the St. Brigid’s Cross, one of the foremost symbols of Ireland. According to the legend, she visited a pagan man who was dying, took some straw that was on the floor near his bed, wove it into the shape of a cross, showed the cross to the man, and explained how salvation is made possible through the cross of Jesus. The man was so deeply moved that he asked to be baptized.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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