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Sunday, 1 February 2015

1 February 523/25: The Feast Day of Saint Brigid/ Naomh Bhríde aka ‘Mary of the Gael’ and the ‘Fiery Arrow’ on this day. Or as the Irish Annals are fond of stating ‘according to some’.

1 February 525 AD: Saint Brighit, virgin, Abbess of Cill Dara, died. It was to her Cill Dara was first granted, and by her it was founded. Brighit was she who never turned her mind or attention from the Lord for the space of one hour, but was constantly meditating and thinking of him in her heart and mind, as is evident in her own Life, and in the Life of St. Brenainn, Bishop of Cluain Fearta. She spent her time diligently serving the Lord, performing wonders and miracles, healing every disease and every malady, as her Life relates, until she resigned her spirit to heaven, the first day of the month of February; and her body was interred at Dun, in the same tomb with Patrick, with honour and veneration.

Annals of the Four Masters

Whatever the true story of Brigid’s Life we are capable of putting together the outlines of her story. She was born to a mother called Brocca, a Christian from Britain who was not married to but subservient to Dubhthach, a Gaelic Chieftain and the father of Brigid. Her place of birth was at Faughart in what is now north Co Louth. Whether Brocca was merely an attractive slave girl or a trophy mistress taken on a raid is an open question but its possible that Brigid did not know her father well while a child and was more or less raised by her Mother. Her name Brigid was taken from that of a Celtic Goddess and this considered Diety was apparently worshipped in her Father’s Household. This female diety was the goddess of Fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge.

As she grew to womanhood she showed signs of piety and generosity to those less fortunate than herself. While the date is not quite certain she was perhaps took the veil in around 468 AD and was received into Holy Orders by Saint Mel. If this be true she might have already have been a devotee of Brigid and as the daughter of a powerful man who was won over to Christianity she would have been a important convert to the Church.

She is believed to have founded her first convent in Clara, County Offaly, other ones followed after her fame grew. But it was to be in Kildare that her major foundation would emerge. Her father seems to have had his base around here and have used his local influence to secure her a good site, perhaps on the locus of an earlier Shrine to Goddess herself. Around 470 she founded Kildare Abbey, a double monastery, for nuns and monks, on the plains of Cill-Dara, "the church of the oak", her cell being made under a large oak tree. As Abbess of this sacred place she wielded considerable power. She became famous for her great spiritual powers over men and women and the animals that she encountered. She was also reputed to have powerful gifts of divination and the ability to impose herself on the powers of Nature. Perhaps in a throwback to her earlier devotion she maintained a Sacred Flame at her abbey of Kildare that was never allowed to go out.

But eventually St Brigid went the way of all flesh and on her death her mortal remains were buried beside the High Alter of her beloved Church in Kildare. Years later when the Viking Raids moved inwards her remains were dug up and moved to Downpatrick and eventually interred along with those of Saints Patrick and Columba (Colmcille). Alas we now know not their exact place of burial but it is believed they may be buried underneath or near Downpatrick Cathedral.

In Down, three saints one grave do fill,
Patrick, Brigid and Columcille

After her death the 1st February became known in Ireland as Féile Brígíd and it replaced the old Celtic Festival of Imbolc that celebrated the beginnings of Spring time. For nearly 1,500 years the eve of her day was marked throughout the Country but especially in Leinster with the St Brigid’s Cross, [above] that possibly based around an even more ancient design.