LivingTravelSaint Bridget of Kildare - the Mary of the...

Saint Bridget of Kildare – the Mary of the Gaels

Saint Brigid (or to be really correct Saint Brigid of Kildare) is a saint of many names: Brigid of Ireland, Brigit, Bridget, Bridgit, Bríd, Bride, Naomh Bhríde or “Mary of the Gaels”.

But who really was this Irish Saint Bridget, venerated in churches across the country, and giving her name to many cities (as in “Kilbride” or literally “Church of Bridget”)?

Brigid lived between 451 and 525 (according to hagiography and the consensus of the faithful), was an Irish nun, abbess, founder of several convents, held the rank of bishop, and was soon generally venerated as a saint. Today, Brigid is considered to be one of Ireland’s patron saints, ranking only (and by a small margin) behind Saint Patrick in importance. Her holiday, Saint Bridget’s Day, is on February 1, also the first day of spring in Ireland. So who was Brigid and okay? Is it so widely celebrated in Ireland today?

Saint Brigid – A short biography

Traditionally, Brigid is believed to have been born in Faughart, County Louth. His father was Dubhthach, a pagan chief from Leinster, his mother Brocca, a pictorial Christian. Brigid is named after the goddess Brigid of the Dubhthach religion, a goddess of fire.

In 468, Brigid left her half-pagan roots behind and converted to Christianity, having been a fan of St. Patrick’s preaching for some time. His father was unhappy when he felt a desire to enter religious life, and tried in vain to keep it at home at first. Trapped in his own family home, he became known for his generosity and charity. She never turned away any poor beggar who knocked on Dubhthach’s door, and the house needed a constant supply of milk, flour, and other essentials for her to give away.

Having nothing else to hand, he once even gave his father’s jeweled sword to a leper.

Dubhthach eventually relented and sent Brigid to a convent, perhaps simply to avoid bankruptcy.

Upon receiving the veil of Saint Mel, Brigid embarked on a career as a convent founder, beginning in Clara (County Offaly). However, she is truly known for her activity in Kildare, which turned out to be the most important job of her life. Around 470, she founded Kildare Abbey, a mixed monastery for nuns and monks. Kildare comes from cill-dara , which means “the oak church” because Brigid’s cell was located under a large oak.

As abbess, Brigid had considerable power; in fact, he became a bishop in all but name (as women did not and cannot yet become bishops within the Catholic Church). However, the abbesses of Kildare had administrative authority equal to that of a bishop until 1152.

Dying around 525, Saint Brigid was first buried in a tomb before the main altar of Kildare Abbey Church. Later, his remains are said to have been exhumed and transported to Downpatrick, to rest with the other two patron saints of Ireland: Patrick and Columba (Columcille).

The religious impact of San Brígida

In Ireland, Brigid was quickly and is still regarded as the holiest native saint after Patrick, a classification that secured her the somewhat ambiguous name of ‘Mary of the Gaels’, even though she is not at all associated with a virgin birth. . Due to her revered position in Irish religious life, Brigid remains a popular name in Ireland and there are hundreds of place names honoring Brigid throughout Ireland. Her popularity as a saint seems to extend to neighboring Scotland as well, where you can find the ever-popular Kilbride (Bridget’s Church), Templebride or Tubberbride, just to give a few examples.

Irish missionaries made Brigid a popular saint for pagan converts throughout Europe, especially in pre-Reformation times. Brigid of Kildare had many British and Continental followers, although the distinction from other saints of the same name is blurred at times.

The sign of the cross of Saint Bridget

According to legend, Brigid made a rush cross for a dying man trying to convert to Christianity. Although the origins of this story are unknown, even today many homes in Ireland have a St. Bridget’s Cross in honor of the saint. The cross can take various forms, but in its most common appearance it bears a (distant) resemblance to a fylfot or even a swastika. These crosses are often remade and re-hung in homes as part of the celebration of their saint’s day and to prepare and protect the home for the arrival of spring.

In addition to religious reasons, keeping a St. Bridget’s Cross in its traditional place is prudent for practical purposes – hanging the cross from the ceiling or the ceiling itself is believed to be a sure way to preserve the hearth from fire. Note that one of Brigid’s innovations at Kildare was an everlasting fire. And that the pagan goddess who gave it its name was a fire goddess.

Saint Bridget as a goddess

In fact, Brigid could have been a goddess first, as legend has it, she got her name from the pagan goddess Brigid, and much of her Christian mythology reflects aspects of this goddess (such as an obsession with fire). So some people insist that Brigid was just a sanitized version of the previous goddess, not a true living saint. Well, you can make up your mind on this because the solid evidence is so scant. However, the popularity of Saint Brigid is now what lives on in common Irish belief.

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