LivingTravelSaint Brigid's Well near the village of Kildare

Saint Brigid's Well near the village of Kildare

Saint Brigid’s Well, just outside Kildare Town proper, is one of the lesser-known attractions connected to Irish Saints, even visitors to the nearby Irish National Stud rarely think for a second, let alone take the short jaunt.

Which is very unfortunate. The well is actually a very spiritual place with ancient connections. And despite the site’s modern remodel (a triumph in landscaping, albeit perhaps a bit too streamlined), it can still feel like the area has been ‘special’ to many people for centuries. And maybe for various religions through the ages… after all, it is said that Brigid was a goddess before she became a saint.

Brigid Who?

Brigid is an interesting character, from whatever angle you approach her, supposedly converted by Saint Patrick himself, she launched herself into ecclesiastical life with abandon.

To avoid marrying a man, she would disfigure herself, that’s a common legend, yet none of the numerous images of her reflect this. And his continued use of a female “bed warmer” (also part of tradition and legend) may even suggest an ulterior motive.

Whatever the truth here, according to Brigid tradition, she became abbess of a mixed monastery in Kildare, even reaching the rank of bishop. A monastery of mixed sex? A woman as a bishop? That would be very, er, let’s say “unorthodox.” But apparently accepted, as many modern images of Brigid show her with a bishop’s staff.

Worship and holiness followed, with an eternal fire kindled and fueled by his disciples. Add in the fact that there was indeed a pagan goddess named Brigantia, whose stories look a lot like all of this, one begins to wonder …

A wonderful place

This sense of wonder will not cease during a visit to the Sacred Well dedicated to Brigid, a few kilometers south of Kildare Town.

At the end of a narrow country lane (and not blessed with too many parking spaces), this is a miniature park these days. A closed spring (which would be the correct one) feeds a small underground stream, which, in turn, bursts through a stone door and then passes a bronze statue of Bridget herself. Carrying a staff, carrying a cross, wearing a permanent and holding a flame. Remove the crosses and you could be in a pagan place of worship. What the well could have been, long before Patrick (or Palladio) darkened the Irish gates, on a mission from God.

Surviving popular religion

Even today, a strange mix of conventional Christian worship and folk customs marks this place: you are encouraged to pray at the stations (actually, stones that mark the undercurrent) by means of a sign. But this is much less obvious than offerings or tokens tied to a tree near the well. Offerings to the saint, or to the genius loci .

Once again, these offerings show some strange influences, even some dream catchers swaying in the breeze …

Why you should visit Saint Brigid’s well

First of all, this is undoubtedly an important ancient site, currently dedicated to the ‘Maria del Gael’, which is still used for worship in a traditional, often very folkloric way. Which makes for a very spiritual place, regardless of which path you are following (unless, of course, you are following the path of Richard Dawkins). And finally, the place allows you to get a glimpse of Irish Christianity, without being too intrusive; after all, it is both a place of worship and a tourist attraction.

On the other hand … ultimately, you either feel (or “understand”) the atmosphere of the place, or you just don’t. Admittedly, you may see it as a pretty garden design, adorned with a bit of religious imagery, but that wouldn’t do Saint Brigid’s Well justice.

The well of Santa Brígida in a few words

  • A spring and a “holy well” that could have been places of worship long before Christian times.
  • Today dedicated to the local Saint Bridget, who could have been a pagan goddess for centuries before.
  • The well and the surrounding area have been turned into a small park, to facilitate visitors, but still retain a definite aura of ancient spirituality.

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