Friday 1 February 2013

Saint Brigid of Kildare, February 1

February 1 is the feast of the patroness of Ireland, Saint Brigid of Kildare. Most of the materials relating to Saint Brigid published on my previous blog, Under the Oak, have now been archived here. Below is a new post taken from the collection of Irish saints' lives by Father Albert Barry. The writer relies heavily on the hagiographical record and thus presents a wonderful account of all of the most famous miracles and incidents from the life of Saint Brigid:

SAINT BRIGID was born at Foughart (near Dundalk) in the year 449. Her father was Dubthach, and her mother was Broetsech. She was very holy, and worked miracles even in her youth. The young maiden was sent one day to a neighbouring house for meadh for her sick nurse, but got none. She filled her pitcher with water from a well on her way home, and this water became sweet meadh; and when her nurse drank it she became well.

Her parents wished her to wed one of the many noble youths who sought to marry her; but she longed to give herself to God in the religious state, and answered like Saint Agnes: "I am betrothed to Him who has angels for his servants.” Her brothers met her one day as she was going to help a poor family. The eldest said roughly to her: " Why do you wander about in this way instead of staying at home? You are unwilling to do the bidding of your father, and cling stubbornly to your own will: you lead a life of virginity to the dishonour and loss of your kindred; but we will overcome your wilfulness, and get you a husband, and thus get friends for our family.” The others, however, moved by her gentle bearing, said: “It is not right to persecute our sister in this way: she has chosen the better part: let her serve God as she likes: and let us not bring guilt on our souls." The holy dove thus got free from the clutches of her headstrong brother.

Brigid got the religious veil in the year 467 from Bishop MacCaille, in Uisneach Midhe (W. Meath). “She henceforth”, as an ancient writer says, led a very holy life, helping the needy in all their wants. She was very modest and humble, never looking on the face of a man, given to fasting, prayer, and good works, spotless and patient, and gladly doing the will of God at all times. She was a consecrated shrine to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, a temple of God; her heart and mind were the throne of the Holy Ghost, and she shone brightly by her miracles. As a dove amongst the birds, as a vine amongst the trees, as the sun amongst the stars, so was she amongst other women; she helped all who were in distress and danger, healed sickness and kept the angry fury of the sea within bounds. She is the Mary of Ireland.”

"She looked not on the face of man:
Nor husband had; nor brother:
But where she passed the children ran,
And hailed that Maid their mother.
O Saint, the favourite of the poor,
The afflicted, weak, and weary:
Like Mary's was that face she bore,
Men called her Erin's Mary."


Seven maidens, who had consecrated themselves to Jesus Christ, came and lived with her, and walked blameless before God under her skilful guidance. The holy Bishop MacCaille one day made a feast for them. As soon as they had sat down Brigid said: "Father, first feed our souls with spiritual food." He then spoke on the eight Beatitudes. When he had ended, she said: My beloved sisters, we are eight in number, and eight virtues are set before us, let each of us choose one of them." She herself chose Mercy. She henceforth began her meals with the Word of God.

Saint Brigid met Saint Patrick soon afterwards, and heard him preaching. Whilst he was preaching she seemed to be asleep. Saint Patrick, after his sermon, said to her: "Tell aloud what you saw in sleep." She answered: "I had this vision: I saw a herd of white oxen amid ripe corn: and then mottled oxen: then black ones: then sheep and swine: and lastly, wolves and dogs fighting." Saint Patrick said: That vision foreshadows the future state of this land.”

Brigid worked many miracles during her lifetime. Jesus Christ had said: these wonders shall follow after those who have faith: they shall cast out devils in My Name: they shall speak with new tongues: they shall take up serpents: and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands on the sick, and they shall get better. This promise was fulfilled in this holy Virgin, who was full of faith, whose conversation was in heaven, and who was destined by God to be the Patroness of Ireland.

Brigid went to Anghaile, County Longford, where the O'Fearghails dwelt, and stayed in a convent of holy virgins. As soon as she went into it the Nuns washed her dust-stained feet, and then poured the water on the limbs of a Nun who was a cripple, and she at once became well. A woman came one day to the convent, bringing a basket of ripe apples from her orchard as a gift for Brigid. A leper was lying on the ground near the door. Brigid said to the woman: Give some of these apples to that poor leper.” The woman answered: I brought them for you and your Nuns, and not for lepers.” Brigid said to her: Your trees shall not bear fruit again.” The woman, on her return home, found her trees withered, and they never bore fruit again.

Brigid then went home with her Nuns. As they were driving along the road they saw a man with his wife and child working hard in a field under the scorching summer sun. Brigid looked with pity at them as they went about bent beneath their heavy loads in the sweltering heat, and bade the driver of her chariot unyoke the horses and give them to the man to help him at his work. She and her Nuns meanwhile sat down on the roadside. She said to a Nun: "Dig a little in the earth, and a stream of water shall flow; some men are coming, and they shall need to drink.” When the Nun had dug a little in the earth a clear stream of water bubbled up and began to flow along the dusty road. A throng of men, on foot and on horseback, followed by a Chieftain in his chariot, soon afterwards came in sight. They ran at once to the well to slake their thirst. When the Chieftain had learned what Brigid had done he made her a gift of his horses, and then went on his way thanking God and his holy spouses.

She worked another miracle at this time. Two British wayfarers, knowing her great holiness, said to her: We are sick and suffer much; we beg you to heal us." She answered: "Go into the house, and you shall there get food and drink; and I meanwhile will pray to God in the Church for you." But they said roughly to her: "You heal your own countrymen when they are sick, and you will not do anything for us who are strangers." She said nothing; but, going into the church, got holy water, and then coming out sprinkled them with it, and they were at once healed. Some pagans, who were standing near, when they saw this miracle, were converted.

Brigid built a monastery in the year 484 in a meadow amid wide-spreading oak trees, and many maidens flocked to that holy house and strove to walk in her footprints. It was called Cill-dara.

In woods of Oriel-Leinster's vales,
Her convent home she planted,
And Erin's cloistered nightingales,
Their matins darkling chanted."


Her religious family was spoken of with respect far and wide; and the church of Cill-dara became a place of pilgrimage for all the Irish. Saint Broegan writes: She was a ladder to heaven for very many souls, and was called by all the chaste Head of the Nuns of Erin.”

Saint Brigid is the mother, all men know,
Of Erin's Nuns that have been or shall be,
From great Saint Patrick's time to that last day
When Christ returns to judge the world with fire!
Her life was full of miracles."


Cuinnen of Conneire writes: “Brigid of the blessings loved ceaseless penance beyond womanhood, watching, and early rising, and hospitality to holy men." She was wont to go forth from the convent on winter nights with another Nun, and to stand, with scanty clothing, for hours, in bitterly cold water, praying and reciting the Psalms.

Brigid had many visions at this time. She one day saw men clothed in white garments hard at work ploughing the fields throughout the whole island, whilst other men sowed good seed in the furrows. She then saw men clad in black garments, ploughing and uprooting the growing seed. An angel said to her: "The workmen in white garments are Saint Patrick and his holy disciples; the men in black garments are teachers who shall come towards the end of time: they shall uproot the Gospel seed."

The Chieftains were ever fighting, like angry dogs, against one another. There was peace, however, wherever Brigid dwelt. Although, as an old writer says, "the whole island was a trembling sod" on account of the endless wars waged by the clans, no blood was ever shed in the neighbourhood of Cilldara during the lifetime of the holy Virgin. Many Chieftains fled to her for shelter, and the monastic church of Cilldara was looked on by all as a safe sanctuary and city of refuge. An ancient writer says: "The veiled Virgin, who drives over the Curreach, is a shield against sharp weapons. No one was found equal to her but Mary: let us put our trust in our Brigid."

A Chieftain, dwelling near the convent, came one day to see the holy Virgin, and, when he was leaving, got her blessing. He went home full of gladness. Whilst he was sleeping in his rath that night, a man, who bore him a deadly hate, broke into his dwelling, and, stealing on tip-toe into his bedroom, stabbed him with his own sword, which was hanging at the head of the bed. He drove it deeply into his body, and then fled, thinking he had killed him. The Chieftain screamed, and the inmates of the house rushed in and found him covered with blood. It turned out, however, that he was only slightly wounded. The Chieftain thereupon said to the bystanders: Do not bewail what has happened, for the blessing which I got to-day from Brigid has saved my life." He went early the next morning to thank her, and also gave her many gifts for herself and her Nuns. Brigid coaxed him to forgive the man who had striven to kill him, and, after some time, the two men became friends through her entreaties.

Brigid was very hospitable and kind to strangers and travellers, and always gave whatever she had to the needy. She was an eye to the blind, and a foot to the lame, and a mother to the poor. Her Nuns one day said to her: Mother, you give away everything that God gives to us through the hands of charitable Christians; you leave nothing to us, but give all to the poor." She answered: "Give earthly things to God, and He will give you in return both earthly and heavenly gifts.” A young man one day putting on the clothes of a beggarman came to the convent, and bent down, leaning on a stick, and heaving deep sighs, begged Brigid to give him a sheep as an alms. The holy woman gave a sheep to him. He came back next day and begged her to give him another. She gave it. He came back day after day, until he had got at last the whole flock. He then gave them back. When the holy Bishop Broon had come with some of his Priests to the convent, she took off their sandals, washed their feet, and gave them food and drink as long as they stayed there. She also gave them a rich gift when they were leaving, as she was wont to do whenever a guest was going away. God would not allow Himself to be outdone in generosity, and gave her power to multiply food and drink. Corn and meadh, when blessed by her, often wonderfully increased, like the oil in the house of the widow of Sarepta when blessed by the prophet Elias.

[Saint Brigid wrote this Hymn,]
“I would like the viands of faith and true piety: I would like the flails of penance to be in my house,
I would like the men of Heaven to be at my house.
"I would like kieves of peace to be at their disposal:
“I would like vessels of charity for distribution: I would like caves of mercy for their company.
“I would like cheerfulness to be in their drinking: I would like Jesus also to be amongst them,
“I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown:
I would like the people of Heaven to be there from all parts.
" I would like to be a rent-payer to the Lord, that should I suffer distress, He would bestow a good blessing upon me.”

Some holy virgins said one day to Brigid: Mother, why do not water-cresses, on which holy men live, grow in this stream?" She answered: “They shall grow there in future." She prayed all through the following night to God to work this miracle, and the banks of the stream were thickly covered with water-cresses the next morning.

Bishop Mel came at this time to see Brigid, and stayed some days at Cilldara. He begged her to go with him to Tailten (Co. Meath) where Saint Patrick was then holding a synod. Whilst she was there she often spoke to Saint Patrick, and got great help from his teaching. He gave Priesthood to Natfraich, and gave him to her to be her chaplain. She then went back to Cill-dara. As Natfraich was one day driving her chariot, she asked him to give a spiritual discourse to herself and to the Nun who was seated by her side. He threw down the reins, and, turning round, spoke of spiritual things to them. The horses, suddenly taking fright, ran down a steep road overhanging a precipice; but they met with no hurt, having been protected by God.

Nectan Mor, a Pictish King, having being driven from his kingdom by his brother Drust, came to see the holy Virgin, and begged her to pray for him, Brigid foretold to him that he would get back his kingdom, and that God would have mercy on him. It happened as she had foretold; and when he became King once more, he gave Abernethy to God and to her in the presence of her disciple, Saint Darlughdach, who sang Alleluia over the gift.

The holy Bishop Ercc of Slaine (Co. Meath)  came to see her, and begged her to go with him to Desmumha (S.Munster). As they were going along the road Brigid said to him: “Show me with your hand, where your birthplace is." He showed it to her, and, seeing that she had a sorrowful look, he said: “Why are you so sad?” She answered: Because there is warfare now between your family and a neighbouring tribe.” The Bishop said: I readily believe it, for they are very unfriendly to each other." Brigid soon afterwards said to him: "Your friends have been beaten in battle and are flying from the field.” He afterwards learned that she had spoken the truth. They went through Hy-Failge and Eoganacht, and came to the rich plain of Feimin. Brigid worked many miracles there. Bishop Ultan wrote them in a book in the year 650. They arrived at length at the home of Bishop Ercc, near Dun Gurbhan, on the seashore. She then saw the southern ocean for the first time.

She beheld the great sea slowly break on the shore,
And her heart quickly beat as she list to its roar,
For a vision it seemed of God on His throne,
And deep awe filled her soul as she stood there alone.

Brigid then turned her footsteps towards Aradha Cliach (Co. Limerick). She and her companions got food and shelter on their journey sometimes at the strongholds of Chieftains and sometimes at houses of hospitality" built alongside the great roads at short distances from each other. They reached Aradha Cliach in a few days.

Brigid stayed for some time in the golden plain of Aine (near Kilmallock). Whilst she was there she learned that a man was kept as a slave by the King of that country: She went into his rath, but did not find him at home. His foster-father and his children, however, were there. Brigid seeing harps hanging on the wall said to them"Play for us on your harps." The young men said to her; "The harpers are, not here, they have gone out on the highway.” A man who was with Brigid then said to them in fun: Play yourselves on the harps for us, and Brigid will bless your hands so that you may be able to play: do whatever she bids you to do." They answered: "We will play: let her bless us.” They then took hold of the harps in their hands and began to play. The King heard the music as he drew nigh to the house and asked: Who is playing?” He learned what happened, and, going in, begged Brigid to bless him also. When she had blessed him she said: Do you now in turn give freedom to the man who is in chains." He gave the man his freedom at her request. Brigid then went back to Cill-dara, and soon afterwards heard of the death of Bishop MacCaille, at Cruach-an-Bri Eile (Croghan) in the year 489.

Saint Conladh, a hermit living in Magh-Liflfe, came to Cill-dara in the year 490, and soon afterwards became Bishop there. He once gave some rich vestments as a gift to Brigid, "but she” as Saint Broegan writes, “gave to the poor even these rich vestments which Bishop Conladh had used when offering the Sacrifice on the festivals of the Lord." Saint Conladh died in the year 519.

Brigid and a blind Nun sat side by side, speaking of God and of heaven, one evening as the sun was sinking in the west. The night wore on whilst they were speaking, and daybreak came. The bright morning sun stood on the hilltops, and turned earth and sky to gold. When Brigid saw the fields and trees glittering in the sunshine and sparkling with dew, she felt sad at heart at the thought that her beloved friend could not behold "the beauty of heaven with its glorious show," and she prayed to the God who had made the sun to give light to her eyes. She then laid her fingers gently on the sightless eyeballs, and the Nun at once was able to see. She feasted her eyes for a long time on the blue sky, the bright flowers, and the green meadows, gleaming with sunlight, and thanked God with her whole heart. Withdrawing her eyes from the lovely scene, and looking at Brigid, she said: "Mother, shut my eyes again, for I fear lest the better I am able to see earthly things the less I shall be able to see heavenly things” Brigid yielded to her wish, and she became blind for evermore.

Brigid was now always living in thought in heaven. Saint Broegan writes: Brigid never loved the world, and her thoughts were ever in heaven. She overflowed with faith. She never spoke ill of anyone. She was kind-hearted and charitable, and had no care but for God alone, and God worked more wonders through her than through anyone else. She showed the same love to all, to the servants as well as to her spiritual daughters, to beggars, and to the sick.”

“Bridget never turned away her mind from the Lord, even for one hour, but was ever thinking of Him in her heart and mind. She spent her time diligently serving the Lord, doing wonders and miracles, healing every sickness, until she gave up her soul to heaven.” (Annals of Ireland.)

When Brigid, soon after she had become a Nun, was one day driving, she saw a giddy youth running wildly along the road. She sent one of the Nuns to fetch him. He would not come to her at first, but the Nun at length coaxed him to go to her. Brigid said to him, as he stood abashed before her: Whither were you running?" The giddy boy began to laugh, and answered: "I was running towards the kingdom of Heaven.” Brigid said to him: Would that I were worthy to run with you to-day towards the kingdom of God: pray for me that I may go to that blissful land." The boy answered: Saint, pray to God that I may go straight to heaven; and I will pray in turn that you may have everlasting happiness, along with many others” Brigid said to him: I shall get the Body and Blood of my Lord Jesus Christ from your hand when I am dying." The boy answered: Would that you might live long enough to get Communion from me." He then went away. But Brigid prayed much for him, and he thenceforth led a very holy life, and carefully kept that hand stainless which was to give the last sacraments to the holy Virgin. He was therefore called Ninnidhlamh-glan, Ninnidh of the stainless hand. He became a Priest, and, sailing to Britain, did much good there during many years. He was now once more with Brigid at Cill-dara, for her holy life was drawing to an end.

The snow-white rose whom Christ had made His bride in His blood was about to be planted in the heavenly garden of her Spouse: the busy bee that had been gathering honey during her whole lifetime, was going to where it was stored in the city of God: the wise and faithful Virgin was going forth to meet the divine Bridegroom with the lamp of grace burning brightly in her soul: she was going to drink for ever of the water of life, and to eat for ever of the tree of life. Brigid, the Queen of the South, the Mary of the Irish was dying surrounded by angels, and by her Nuns. She died a holy and happy death, February 1st, in the year 523.

Her body was buried in the Church, and the Nuns, as Bishop Edmund O'Dwyer writes, kept a fire burning day and night before it: The hearth burns with Brigid's unceasing fire, and the ashes do not increase: it is the emblem of her loving soul." The bodies of Saint Conladh and of Saint Brigid were afterwards placed, one on the right and the other on the left of the altar, in shrines adorned with gold, silver, and precious stones: and golden crowns were hung overhead.

The relics of the holy Virgin were taken away when the Danes made an inroad into Hy-Failge, in the year 835. Bishop de Burgo writes: “I saw the head of St. Brigid, the Patroness of Ireland, in the year 1770 in the chapel dedicated to her in the Church of Saint John Baptist, at Lumiar, near Lisbon. Her Office and Mass are celebrated February 1st, and the members of the Sodality founded in her honour assist at them. Sheep and cows are brought there to be blessed.” Hibernia Dominicana.

Saint Brigid was honoured for many ages in the Irish Church as the special Patroness of ecclesiastical students.

Rev. Albert Barry, Lives of Irish Saints (Dublin, n.d.), 1-18.

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