Saint Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland (Irish: Naomh Bríd; Latin: Brigida; c. 451 – 525) is one of Ireland's patron saints, along with Patrick and Columba. Irish hagiography makes her an early Irish Christian nun, abbess, and foundress of several monasteries of nuns, including that of Kildare in Ireland, which was famous and was revered. Her feast day is 1 February, which was originally a pagan festival called Imbolc, marking the beginning of spring. Her feast day is shared by Dar Lugdach, whom tradition says was her student, close companion, and the woman who succeeded her.
The saint shares her name with an important Celtic goddess and there are many legends and folk customs associated with her.
The saint has the same name as the goddess Brigid, derived from the Proto-Celtic *Brigantī "high, exalted" and ultimately originating with Proto-Indo-European *bʰerǵʰ-. In Old Irish her name was spelled Brigit and pronounced [ˈbʲrʲiɣʲidʲ]. In Modern Irish she is called Bríd. In Welsh she is called Ffraid (lenited to Fraid), as in several places called Llansanffraid, "St Brigit's church"). She is sometimes referred to as "the Mary of the Gael".
There is some debate over whether St Brigid was a real person. She has the same name, associations and feast day as the Celtic goddess Brigid, and there are many supernatural events, legends and folk customs associated with her.
Some scholars suggest that the saint is a Christianization of the goddess, others that she was a real person whose mythos took on the goddess's attributes. Medieval art historian Pamela Berger argues that Christian monks "took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart". Professor Dáithí Ó hÓgáin and others suggest that the saint had been chief druid at the temple of the goddess Brigid, and was responsible for converting it into a Christian monastery. After her death, the name and characteristics of the goddess became attached to the saint.
Probably the earliest biography (Life or Vita) of St Brigid is that by St Broccán Clóen (d. 650). A second Life was written by Cogitosus, a monk of Kildare in the eighth century, and is a fine example of Irish scholarship in the mid-eighth century. The Life attributed to Coelan dating ca. 625, derives further significance from the fact that a foreword was later added to it by St Donatus, also an Irish monk, who became Bishop of Fiesole in 824. Donatus refers to earlier biographies by St Ultan and St Aileran. These differing biographies, giving conflicting accounts of her life, have much literary merit in themselves.
In the controversy about the historical existence of Brigid that erupted in the last third of the 20th century, researchers noted that eleven people with whom Brigid is associated in her Lives are independently attested in annalistic sources which place her death at AD 523 (in the Annals of Tigernach and Chronicon Scotorum) and her birth at 451 (calculated from her reputed age of 72 at death).
According to tradition, Brigid was born in the year 451 AD in Faughart, just north of Dundalk in County Louth, Ireland. Because of the legendary quality of the earliest accounts of her life, there is debate among many secular scholars and Christians as to the authenticity of her biographies. Three biographies agree that her mother was Brocca, a Christian Pict slave who had been baptized by Saint Patrick. They name her father as Dubhthach, a chieftain of Leinster.
The vitae say that Dubthach's wife forced him to sell Brigid's mother to a druid when she became pregnant. Brigid herself was born into slavery. Legends of her early holiness include her vomiting when the druid tried to feed her, due to his impurity; a white cow with red ears appeared to sustain her instead.
As she grew older, Brigid performed miracles, including healing and feeding 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 Brigid's prayers . Around the age of ten, she was returned as a household servant to her father, where her habit of charity led her to donate his belongings to anyone who asked.
In two Lives, Dubthach was so annoyed with her that he took her in a chariot to the King of Leinster to sell her. While Dubthach was talking to the king, Brigid gave away his jewelled sword to a beggar to barter it for food to feed his family. The king recognized her holiness and convinced Dubthach to grant his daughter her freedom.
It is said that Brigid was "veiled" or received either by St Mac Caill at Croghan, or by St Mél of Ardagh at Mág Tulach (the present barony of Fartullagh, County Westmeath), who granted her abbatial powers. It is said that in about 468, she and St Maughold (Macaille) followed St Mél into the Kingdom of Tethbae, which was made up of parts of the modern counties Meath, Westmeath and Longford.
According to tradition, around 480 Brigid founded a monastery at Kildare (Cill Dara: "church of the oak"), on the site of a pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid, served by a group of young women who tended an eternal flame. The site was under a large oak tree on the ridge of Drum Criadh.
Brigid, with an initial group of seven companions, is credited with organizing communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland. She founded two monastic institutions, one for men, and the other for women, and invited Conleth (Conláed), a hermit from Old Connell near Newbridge, to help her in Kildare as pastor of them. It has often been said that she gave canonical jurisdiction to Conleth, Bishop of Kildare, but Archbishop Healy says that she simply "selected the person to whom the Church gave this jurisdiction", and her biographer tells us that she chose Saint Conleth "to govern the church along with herself". 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. Her successors have always been accorded episcopal honour. Brigid's oratory at Kildare became a centre of religion and learning, and developed into a cathedral city.
Brigid is credited with founding a school of art, including metalwork and illumination, which Conleth oversaw. The Kildare scriptorium made the Book of Kildare, which drew high praise from Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis), but disappeared during the Reformation. According to Giraldus, nothing that he ever saw was at all comparable to the book, every page of which was gorgeously illuminated, and the interlaced work and the harmony of the colours left the impression that "all this is the work of angelic, and not human skill".
According to the Trias Thaumaturga Brigid spent time in Connacht and founded many churches in the Diocese of Elphin. She is said to have visited Longford, Tipperary, Limerick, and South Leinster. Her friendship with Saint Patrick is noted in 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 St 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.)
The monk Ultan of Ardbraccan, who wrote a life of Brigid, recounts a story that Darlugdach, Brigid's favourite pupil, fell in love with a young man and, hoping to meet him, sneaked out of the bed in which she and Brigid were sleeping. However, recognising her spiritual peril, she prayed for guidance, then placed burning embers in her shoes and put them on. “Thus, by fire,” Ultan wrote, “she put out fire, and by pain extinguished pain.” She then returned to bed. Brigid feigned sleep, but was aware of Darlugdach’s departure. The next day, Darlugdach revealed to Brigid the experience of the night before. Brigid reassured her that she was “now safe from the fire of passion and the fire of hell hereafter” and then healed her student’s feet. So devoted was the student to her teacher that when Brigid lay dying Darlughdach expressed the wish to die with her, but Brigid replied that Darlugdach should die on the anniversary of her (Brigid’s) death.
St Brigid is said to have been given the last rites by St Ninnidh when she was dying. Afterwards, he reportedly had his right hand encased in metal so that it would never be defiled, and became known as "Ninnidh of the Clean Hand". Tradition says she died at Kildare on 1 February 525.
Upon St Brigid’s death, Darlugdach became the second abbess of Kildare. Brigid's prediction has traditionally been considered to have been realized inasmuch as the Catholic Church records Darlugdach’s date of death as 522 and Brigid’s as 521 and has assigned February 1 as the feast day of both saints. (The name Darlugdach (also spelled Dar Lugdach, Dar Lugdacha, or Dar Lughdacha) means "daughter of the god Lugh".)
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Brigid is celebrated for her generosity to the poor. In her case, most of the miracles associated with her relate to healing and household tasks usually attributed to women.
Brigid is said to have been buried at the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, and a costly tomb raised 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, Brigid's purported relics were reburied in the tomb of Patrick and Columba. In 1185, John de Courcy had their remains reburied in Down Cathedral.
Brigid, "the Mary of the Gael," is esteemed highly in Ireland.
St Brigid’s popularity made the name Brigid (or its variants such as Brigitte, Bridie, and Bree) popular in Ireland over the centuries. One writer noted that at one time in history “every Irish family had a Patrick and a Brigid”. In the nineteenth century as many Irish women emigrated to England seeking jobs as housemaids, the name Brigid became virtually synonymous with the word woman.
A skull said to be Brigid's has been preserved in the Igreja São João Baptista (Church of St. John the Baptist) in Lumiar in Portugal ( .) (near Lisbon Airport) since 1587 and is venerated on 2 February (not 1 February, as in Ireland). St Brigid's head was reputedly carried to King Denis of Portugal in 1283 by Irish knights travelling to the Aragonese Crusade. According to Denis Murphy, when the relics of the saints were destroyed in the sixteenth century during the deputyship of Lord Grey, Brigid's head was saved by some of the clergy who took it to the Neustadt, in Austria. In 1587 it was presented to the church of the Society of Jesus in Lisbon by Emperor Rudolph II.
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."
In 1905 Sister Mary Agnes of the Dundalk Convent of Mercy took a purported fragment of the skull to St Bridget’s Church in Kilcurry. In 1928, Fathers Timothy Traynor and James McCarroll requested another fragment for St Brigid’s Church in Killester, a request granted by the Bishop of Lisbon, António Mendes Belo.
The city of Armagh had several associations with St Brigid. In the twelfth century, the city had two crosses dedicated to Brigid, though, according to the Monasticon Hibernicum, purported relics of the saint reposing in Armagh were lost in an accidental fire in 1179. In the seventeenth century Armagh also had a street named Brigid located near Brigid’s church in the area called “Brigid’s Ward.”
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. Early hagiographers portray Brigid's life and ministry as touched with fire. According to PW Joyce, tradition holds that nuns at her monastery kept an eternal flame burning there. Leitmotifs, 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, 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. Kildare, the church of the oak Quercus petraea, is associated with a tree sacred to the druids. The colour associated with Brigid is white, worn not only by the Kildare United Irishmen during the 1798 rebellion, but also by Kildare sports teams in more recent times.
Kilbride ("Church of Brigid") is one of Ireland's most widely found 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 Kilbreedys 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. A number of placenames are derived from Cnoic Bhríde ("Brigid's Hill"), such as Knockbridge in Louth and Knockbride in Cavan. In Wales, the villages of Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain, Llansantffraed and Llansantffraid, Ceredigion are named after her; "llan" meaning "church of" and "Ffraid" or "Ffraed" being the Welsh for "Bride". In Scotland, East Kilbride and West Kilbride are called after Brigid.
The Biddy is honoured every year at the weekend closest to the feast day of St Brigid, 1 February in the mid-Kerry region, with Biddy groups visiting rural and public houses. They carry a hay-stuffed Brídeóg doll with them to ensure evil spirits are kept away from humans and animals for the coming year. The Biddy heritage is a mixture of Christianity (St Bridgid) and ancient Celtic traditions (Imbolc). Imbolc is one of the four Celtic festivals, along with Lá Bealtaine (Mayday), Lughnasa (1 August) and Samhain (1 November). Traditionally, a visit from the Biddy guaranteed good luck, fertility, prosperity and to not receive a visit was considered a slight.In 2017 a festival was created to celebrate the Biddy tradition. The highlight is the torchlight parade of the Biddys through Killorglin town and the King of the Biddys contest held in Library Place.
Brigid of Ireland, or of Kildare, has been venerated since the early Middle Ages, along with Patrick and Columba, as one of the three national Christian patron saints of Ireland. ... At least two Latin Lives had been composed by the end of the seventh century describing her as a nobleman's daughter who chose to consecrate her virginity to God, took the veil as a Christian nun, and became the leader of a community of religious women, or perhaps of both women and men-certainly by the seventh century there was an important double monastery at Kildare that regarded her as its founder.