Brigid of kildare

This article is about Saint Brigit of Kildare. For Saint Bridget of Sweden, see Bridget of Sweden. For Brigid the goddess, see Brigid.
Saint Brigit of Kildare
Stained glass, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Macon, Georgia, 1903
Virgin, abbess, inspirer
Born c. 453
Died c. 524
Honored in Catholicism,
Feast 1 February
Patronage babies; blacksmiths; boatmen; cattle; chicken farmers; children whose parents are not married; children with abusive fathers; children born into abusive unions; Clan Douglas; dairymaids; dairy workers; fugitives; infants; Ireland; Leinster, mariners; midwives; milk maids; nuns; poets; poor; poultry farmers; poultry raisers; printing presses; sailors; scholars; travellers; watermen[1]

Saint Brigit of Kildare (Irish: Naomh Bríd; c. 451525), also known as Brigit of Ireland, is one of Ireland's patron saints along with Patrick and Columba. Her name is also variously spelled as Brigid, Bridget, Bridgit, Bríd, and Bride and she is sometimes known as Mary of the Gael. Irish hagiography makes her an early Irish Christian nun,[2] abbess, and founder of several monasteries of nuns, including that of Kildare in Ireland, which was considered legendary and was highly revered. Her feast day is 1 February, formerly celebrated as the Imbolc quarter-day of the pagan Irish year, which marked the beginning of spring, lambing, lactation in cattle, etc.

Life story


In the controversy about the historical existence of Brigit that erupted in the last third of the 20th century, researchers noted that eleven people with whom Brigit is associated in her Lives are independently attested in annalistic sources, sources that place her death at AD 523 (in the Annals of Tigernach and Chronicon Scotorum) and her birth at 451 (calculated from the alleged age of 72 at death).[3]

The differing biographies written by different authors, giving conflicting accounts of her life, are regarded[by whom?] as having considerable literary merit in themselves. Three of those biographies agree that she had a slave mother in the court of her father, Dubhthach, a king of Leinster.

Some scholars suggest that believers syncretised St Brigid with the pagan goddess Brighid. According to medievalist Pamela Berger, Christian "monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart."[4]

Birth and early life

Brigit may have been born in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. Because of the legendary quality of the earliest accounts of her life, there is much debate among many secular 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 and slave who had been baptised by Saint Patrick.[5] Some accounts of her life suggest that Brigit's father was in fact from Lusitania, kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave, in much the same way as Saint Patrick. Many stories also detail Brigit's and her mother's statuses as pieces of property belonging to Dubhthach, and the resulting impact on important parts of Brigit's life story.

The Vita outlined Brigit's early life. It says that Brigit's mother was a slave, and Brigit herself was born into slavery to a druid. From the start, it is clear that Brigit is holy. Before a name had been given to the infant, Dubthach dreams of three clerics baptising her. One of the clerics told her father, "Let Brigit be your name for the girl". When the druid tries to feed her, she vomits because he is impure. Dubhthach recognises his impurity and finds a white cow with red ears to sustain her instead.[6] As she grows older, Brigit performs many miracles, including healing and feeding the poor. Saint Brigit is celebrated for her generosity to the poor. According to one tale, as a child, she once gave away her mother's entire store of butter. The butter was then replenished in answer to Brigit's prayers.[7]

Commitment to religious life

The ceremony was performed, according to different accounts, by one or the other of the bishops Mel (d. 487) or Mac-Caille (d. c.489), the location probably being in Mág Tulach (the present barony of Fartullagh, Co. Westmeath). Mel 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. According to some sources, Bridget was ordained bishop by Bishop Mel at Mag Tulach, and her successors have always been given Episcopal honour.[8]

Brigit's small oratory at Cill-Dara (Kildare) became a center 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 superior general of the monasteries in Ireland.

Brigit 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".

There is evidence in the Trias Thaumaturga for Brigit's stay in Connacht, especially in County Roscommon and also in the many churches founded by her in the Diocese of Elphin. 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 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.)

Miracles associated with Brigit

Miracles during Brigit's lifetime were commonly recorded by those who had witnessed them or had some relation to a person who had. In Saint Brigit's case, most of her miracles were related to healing and domestic tasks usually attributed to women. If Brigit wished or predicted something to occur then it came to pass. A few examples of her miracles are described below.

When Brigit was of marital age, a man by the name of Dubthach moccu Lugair came to woo her. Since Brigit offered her virginity to God, she told the man that she cannot accept him but to go to the woods behind his house where he will find a beautiful maiden to marry. Everything that he says to the maiden's father will be pleasing to them. The man followed her instructions and it was as she said.[9]

Several of Brigit’s miracles occurred on Easter Sunday. On this day, a leper had come to Brigit to ask for a cow. She asked for a time to rest and would help him later; however, he did not wish to wait and instead stated he would go somewhere else for a cow. Brigit then offered to heal him, but the man stubbornly replied that his condition allowed him to acquire more than he would healthy. After convincing the leper that this was not so, she told one of her maidens to have the man washed in a blessed mug of water. After this was done, the man was completely cured and vowed to serve Brigit.

On another occasion, Brigit was travelling to see a physician for her headache. They were welcomed to stay at the house of a Leinsterman. His wife was not able to have children that survived except for two daughters that had been dumb since their birth. Brigit was travelling to Áth with the daughters when her horse suddenly startled, causing her to wound her head on a stone. Her blood mixed with the water here. Brigit then instructed one of the girls to pour the bloodied water onto her neck in God’s name causing the girl to be healed. The healed sister was told to call her sister over to be healed as well, but the latter responded that she had been made well when she bowed down in the tracks. Brigit told the cured sisters to return home and that they also would birth as many male children that their mother had lost. The stone on which Brigit had injured herself cured any disease of the head one had when they laid their head on it.

One of the more commonly told stories of St. Brigid was when she went to the King of Leinster to ask for land to build a convent. She told the king that the place where she stood was the perfect place for a convent. It was beside a forest where they could collect firewood and berries. There was also a lake nearby that would provide water and the land was fertile. The king laughed at her and refused to give her any land. Brigid prayed to God and asked him to soften the king’s heart. Then she smiled at the king and said “will you give me as much land as my cloak will cover?” The king thought that she was joking and because Brigid’s cloak was so small he knew that it would only cover a very small piece of land. The king agreed and Brigid spread her cloak on the ground. She asked her four friends to hold a corner of the cloak and walk in opposite directions. The four friends walked north, south, east and west. The cloak grew immediately and began to cover many acres of land. The king was astonished and he realised that she had been blessed by God. The king fell to the ground and knelt before Brigid and promised her and her friends money, food and supplies. Soon afterwards, the king became a Christian and also started to help the poor and commissioned the construction of the convent. Legend has it, the convent was known for making jam from the local blueberries which was sought for all over Ireland. There is a new tradition beginning among followers of St. Brigit to eat jam on 1 February in honour of this miracle.[10]

It was also said that once an elderly woman appeared at her door begging for food and Brigit turned her down as the only piece of food she had in the house was a dish of butter. The old woman replied to Brigid saying even that would do. When Brigid turned away from the door she saw on the table three dishes of butter. It seemed that the lord had rewarded her for her kindness

Brigit also performed miracles that included curse elements as well. When on the bank of Inny, Brigit was given a gift of apples and sweet sloes. She later entered a house where many lepers begged her for these apples, which she offered willingly. The nun who had given the gift to Brigit was irritated by this saying that she had not given the gift to the lepers. Brigit was angered at the nun for withholding from the lepers and therefore cursed her trees so they would no longer bear fruit, rendering them barren. Yet another virgin also gave Brigit the same gift as the nun, and again Brigit gave them to begging lepers. This time the virgin asked that she and her garden be blessed. Brigit then said that a large tree in the virgin's garden would have twofold fruit from its offshoots, and this was done.[11]

After Brigit promised God a life of chastity, her brothers were grieved at the loss of a bride price. When she was outside carrying a load past a group of poor people, some began to laugh at her and others were displeased with her choice. A man named Bacene said to her, "The beautiful eye which is in your head will be betrothed to a man though you like it or not." In response, Brigit thrust her finger in her eye and said, "Here is that beautiful eye for you. I deem it unlikely that anyone will ask you for a blind girl." Her brothers tried to save her and wash away the blood from her wound, but there was no water to be found. Brigit said to them, "Put my staff about this sod in front of you", and after they did, a stream came forth from the ground. Then she said to Bacene, "Soon your two eyes will burst in your head" and it happened as she said.[12]

Veneration in Ireland

Shrines and relics

It seems that Faughart was the scene of her birth. Faughart Church was founded by Saint Moninne in honour of Brigit. The old well of Brigit's adjoining the ruined church still attracts pilgrims.

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 FitzAldelm.

Brigit was interred at the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, and a costly tomb was erected over her "Adorned with gems and precious stones and crowns of gold and silver." Over the years her shrine became an object of veneration for pilgrims, especially on her feast day, 1 February.

About the year 878, owing to the Scandinavian raids, Brigit'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 9 June of the following year were reinterred in Down Cathedral.

The church of St Joao Baptista at Lumiar near Lisbon airport in Portugal holds a relic claimed to be the skull of St Brigid. A fragment of this skull was brought to St Bridget's Church, Kilcurry in 1905 by Sister Mary Agnes of the Dundalk Convent of Mercy and in 1928 another fragment was sent by the Bishop of Lisbon to St Brigid's church in Killester, in response to a request from Fathers Timothy Traynor and James McCarroll.

Motifs in art

In liturgical iconography and statuary Saint Brigid is often depicted holding a reed cross, a crozier of the sort used by abbots, and a lamp (called a "lamp of learning and wisdom", as lamps and fire were regarded sacred to the Celts and druids). Early hagiographers portray Saint Brigid's life and ministry as touched with fire. According to P.W. Joyce, tradition holds that nuns at her monastery kept a sacred eternal flame burning there.[13] Light motifs, some of them borrowed from the apocrypha such as the story where she hangs her cloak on a sunbeam, are associated with the wonder tales of her hagiography and folklore. In her Lives, Saint Brigid is portrayed as having the power to multiply such things as butter, bacon and milk, to bestow sheep and cattle and to control the weather. Plant motifs associated with St Brigid include the white Lilium candidum popularly known since medieval times as the Madonna Lily for its association with the Virgin Mary, and the Winflower Anemone coronaria, called the "Brigid anemone" since the early 19th century. Cill Dara (Kildare), the church of the oak Quercus petraea, is associated with a tree sacred to the druids. Her colour, white, was worn by the Kildare United Irishmen during the 1798 rebellion and is worn by Kildare sports teams.


Kilbride is one of Ireland's most widely spread placenames, there are 43 Kilbrides located in 19 of Ireland's 32 counties: Antrim (2), Carlow, Cavan, Down, Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Kilkenny (3), Laois, Longford, Louth, Mayo (5), Meath (4), Offaly (4), Roscommon (2), Waterford, Westmeath (2), Wexford (4), and Wicklow (8) as well as two Kilbreedy’s in Tipperary, Kilbreedia and Toberbreeda in Clare, Toberbreedia in Kilkenny, Brideswell Commons in Dublin, Bridestown and Templebreedy in Cork and Rathbride and Brideschurch in Kildare.[14] Similarly, there are a number of placenames derived from Cnoic Bhríde ("Brigit's Hill"), such as Knockbridge in Louth and Knockbride in Cavan.


Not all Kilbride or St Bride's churches are directly associated with Brigit the daughter of Dubhthach. Seathrún Céitinn's History of Ireland 1841 edition edited by Dermod O'Connor lists 14 Saints gleaned from the martyrologies and heroic literature each called Brigid, and not including Brigit of Kildare.[15][16]

This dizzying abundance of Brigits had the effect of confusing those scholars in the 16th and 17th centuries who compiled the calendars from older manuscript sources, many of them now lost. For example John Colgan states Brighit of Moin-miolain was the daughter of Neman in one reference and the daughter of Aidus in another.[17][18]

The Martyrology of Donegal, for example, lists Brighit daughter of Diomman (feast day 21 May), Brighit of Moin-miolain (feast day on 9 March), and what may be five more: Brigid the daughter of Leinin (associated with Killiney, feast day 6 March), Brighit of Cillmuine (12 November), Brighe of Cairbre (feast day 7 January). and two other Brighits (feast days 9 March, the second Brigit of that date, and 30 Sept).[19]

Veneration beyond Ireland

Church dedications, artwork, folklore and medieval manuscripts indicate the extent of the cult of Brigid in western Europe.

  • Alsace: Devotion to Brigid dates to the 8th century, there are relics of the Saint in the Church of Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux in Strasbourg.[20]
  • Belgium: A fragment of a medieval Irish shawl known as "St Brigid's Mantle" is venerated at the Cathedral of Bruges, where the cultus of Brigid was introduced by its Irish bishop, Saint Foillan (died 655). There is a chapel (7th–10th century) dedicated to Sainte-Brigide at Fosses-la-Ville, a church in Liege and an altar in Hesse.
  • Brittany: The Church of St. Denis in Saint-Omer is the best known of over thirty church and chapel dedications to Brigid, she is venerated in folklore as midwife to the Blessed Virgin Mary and protectress of cattle. A palton is held at Morimer each year.
  • Cologne: four parish churches and seven chapels are dedicated to Brigid and a relic is preserved at the Great St. Martin Church. A church dedicated to St Brigid was destroyed in the Napoleonic period. There was also a chapel dedicated to her in Mainz.
  • England: St Bride's Church in the City of London was rebuilt in 1672.
  • Italy: Donatus of Fiesole compiled the metrical Life of Brigid and built a Church in Piacenza (9th century) which was donated to the Irish order of the Monastery of Saint Colombanus, in Bobbio. The Church – and the attached hospital – sheltered predominantly Irish pilgrims moving to Bobbio and on to Rome. It still exists. The cult of Saint Brigit is particularly important in Northern Italy (Piacenza, Como, Val Brembana etc).
  • Netherlands: Saint Brigid is the patron saint of the Dutch city of Ommen.
  • Portugal: Brigit's skull, preserved in the Church of São João Baptista in Lumiar, was traditionally venerated on 2 February and in former times was carried in procession as a sacred instrument in the blessing of children and animals throughout the parish, in a ceremony called the bênção do gado (blessing of the cattle).
  • Spain: A cult of Brigid at Olite in Navarre was introduced from Troyes and Picardy in northern France around 1200 and a church is dedicated to her in Seville.
  • Switzerland: A sacred flame, the Lumen Sanctae Brigidae, was tended at Liestal in the 13th century[21] and there is a chapel dedicated to her in the city of St. Gallen.

Saint Brigit, in the alternative spelling of her name, Bride, was patron saint of the powerful medieval Scottish House of Douglas. The principal religious house, and Mausoleum of the Earls of Douglas and latterly Earls of Angus being St. Bride's Kirk, Douglas. Another saint Bridget of Sweden (1303–1373) was given a Swedish variant of the old Irish name named in honour of Brigit.

Placenames outside Ireland

Brigit-related names in Scotland and England include several Bridewells or Brideswells, (commemorating in their names the presence of a sacred well dedicated to Brigit or her pre-Christian antecedent), East Kilbride, West Kilbride, Kilbride, Brideswell, Templebride and Tubberbride, derived for the word for well, "Tobar" in Irish or Gaelic). These Brigidine sites include the original Bridewell Palace in London which became synonymous with jail houses through the English speaking world.

Kilbride and St. Bride's in Newfoundland, Canada are named in her honour.


Brigit's skull has been preserved in the Igreja São João Baptista (Church of St. John the Baptist) in Lumiar in Portugal (38°46′29″N 9°09′55″E / 38.77460°N 9.16526°E / 38.77460; 9.16526.[23]) (near the Lisbon airport) since 1587 and is venerated on 2 February (not 1 February, as in Ireland).[24] St Brigid's head was reputedly carried to King Denis of Portugal in 1283 by Irish knights travelling to the Aragonese Crusade. The inscription on the tomb in Lumiar reads:

“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.”

Western liturgy

Various Continental breviaries of the pre-Reformation period commemorate Brigit, and her name is included in a litany in the Stowe Missal.

In the 2004 edition of the Roman Martyrology, Brigit is listed under 1 February with the Latin name Brígidae. She is cited as follows: 'At Kildare in Ireland, Brigid, who founded one of the first monasteries in Ireland and, together with Saint Patrick, began the work of evangelisation'.[25] Thus Brigid is officially recognised by the Vatican as a first-millennium saint, recognised by popular acclaim, rather than ever being formally canonised.

Eastern liturgy

Brigit is highly venerated by many Eastern Orthodox Christians as one of the great Western saints before the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches. Her feast day, as in the West, is 1 February,[26] although churches following the Julian calendar (as in many Orthodox countries) celebrate her feast on 14 February, 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, shy of men, went with joy along the way of evangelical childhood, and with the grace of God attained in this way the summit of virtue and charity. 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.

According to the tradition of the Orthodox church, Saint Brigit lost one of her eyes which saved her from being married against her will as related in the first and second troparia of the fourth ode of the canon of the saint from the Orthodox Matins service:

Considering the beauty of the body as of no account, when one of thine eyes was destroyed thou didst rejoice, O venerable one, for thou didst desire to behold the splendour of heaven and to glorify God with the choirs of the righteous.
Spurning an earthly betrothed, and praying beyond hope that the refusal of thy parents be changed, thou didst find aid from on high, so that the beauty of thy body was ruined.[27]

In another version of the legendary story of Saint Brigid losing her eye, she suffered an eye disease making her lose one eye. In the book 'Saint Brigid' by Iain MacDonald,[28] Saint Brigid had an eye disease, she put her finger under her eye and plucked it out of her head so that it lay on her cheek, and when Dubthach and her brethren beheld that, they promised that she should never be told to go to a husband except for the husband whom she should like; then Saint Brigid prayed to God, put her palm to her eye, and it was healed at once.

Contemporary issues

In modern Ireland, "Mary of the Gael" remains a popular saint, and Brigit remains a common female Christian name.

See also

Saints portal


public domain: 

Further reading

External links

  • St Brigit: no better woman for the times we live in,
  • The Life and Miracles of St. Brigid of Kildare, Patroness of Ireland
  • St Bridget and St Cwyfan Parish Church, Dyserth, "Our Patron"
  • Commentaria: Bitel, Lisa M.. "St. Brigit of Ireland: From Virgin Saint to Fertility Goddess",
  • St. Brigid's Catholic Church with St. Brigid's story,
  • St Brigid : more detail from her legend,
  • St. Brigid's Well, Liscannor,
  • Solas Bhríde Centre and Hermitage run by the Brigidine Sisters in Kildare, Iréland.
  • "The Giveaway" by Phyllis Mcginley

Saint Brigid's cross

  • How to make three varieties of the Brigid's Cross,
  • St. Brigid's Cross,
  • Weaving St. Brigid's Cross,

Legends about Saint Brigit

  • The ---.Vision of St. Brigid,
  • St. Brigid's Cloak,
  • St. Brigid and the Harps,
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