Monday, 1 February 2016

1‭ ‬February‭ ‬523/25:‭ ‬The death 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

Though according to another account the key dates in her Life were as follows:

Birth of St.‭ ‬Brigid,‭ ‬on a Wednesday,‭ ‬the‭ ‬8th of the February moon‭; ‬on a
Wednesday,‭ ‬the‭ ‬18th,‭ ‬she received the veil,‭ ‬with eight virgins‭; ‬on a
Wednesday,‭ ‬the‭ ‬28th,‭ ‬she rested.

Chronicon Scotorum‭ ‬439‭ ‬AD

Whatever the true story of Brigid’s Life we are capable of putting the outlines of her story.‭ ‬She was born to a mother called‭ ‬Brocca,‭ ‬a Christian from Britain who was not married to but subserviant to Dubhthach,‭ ‬a Gaelic Cheiftan 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 weel 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 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.‭

We are not quite sure of the exact year of Brigit's settlement here‭; ‬but it probably occurred about‭ ‬485,‭ ‬when she was thirty years of age.‭ ‬Hard by the church she also built a dwelling for herself and her community.‭ ‬We are told in the Irish Life of St.‭ ‬Brigit that this first house was built of wood like the houses of the people in general‭; ‬and the little church under the oak was probably of wood also,‭ ‬like most churches of the time.‭ ‬As the number of applicants for admission continued to increase,‭ ‬both church and dwelling had to be enlarged from time to time‭; ‬and the wood was replaced by stone and mortar.‭ ‬Such was the respect in which the good abbess was held,‭ ‬that visitors came from all parts of the country to see her and ask her advice and blessing:‭ ‬and many of them settled down in the place,‭ ‬so that a town gradually grew up near the convent,‭ ‬which was the beginning of the town of Kildare.

From‭ ‘‬The Wonders of Ireland‭’ ‬by P.‭ ‬W.‭ ‬Joyce,‭ ‬1911

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 Springtime.‭ ‬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],‭ ‬a reworking of the more traditional one and possibly based on an even more ancient design.

Numerous‭ ‘‬Lives‭’ ‬were written about her of which we know the following:

The first of them is contained in a hymn in very ancient Irish,‭ ‬written by St.‭ ‬Broegan Claen,‭ ‬abbot of Rosturk,‭ ‬in Ossory,‭ ‬on‭ “‬The Titles and Miracles of the Saint.‭”

The second‭ ‬Life‭ ‬is by Cogitosus.‭ ‬It is in Latin prose.‭ ‬Most probably he was a monk of the monastery of Kildare that was under the rule of St.‭ ‬Brigid in ancient times,‭ ‬for he describes,‭ ‬in great detail,‭ ‬the architecture,‭ ‬ornaments,‭ ‬and arrangements of the church,‭ ‬as if lie had it before his eyes every day.

The third‭ ‬Life‭ ‬is by St.‭ ‬Ultan,‭ ‬of Ardbraccan,‭ ‬in Meath,‭ ‬the same who induced St.‭ ‬Breogan to write the metrical‭ ‬Life‭ ‬already mentioned.

The‭ ‬4th‭ ‬Life‭ ‬is by Anmchad,‭ ‬Latinized Animosus:‭ ‬it is in Latin metre.‭ ‬Who this Anmchad was‭ — ‬whether he was Bishop of Kildare and died in‭ ‬980,‭ ‬or another‭ — ‬we have not sufficient grounds for saying with anything like certainty.‭ ‬The work seems to be that of one well acquainted with Kildare and its surroundings,‭ ‬and is more detailed than the others already mentioned.
The‭ ‬5th‭ ‬Life‭ ‬is the work of Laurence of Durham,‭ ‬a Benedictine monk,‭ ‬who lived about the year‭ ‬1100.

Lastly,‭ ‬there is the‭ ‬Life‭ ‬by St.‭ ‬Caelan,‭ ‬a monk of Iniscealtra,‭ ‬in the Shannon,‭ ‬near Scariff.‭ ‬It is in Latin hexameters.‭ ‬It was discovered by an Irish Benedictine in the library of the mother-house of the Order,‭ ‬at Monte Cassino.‭ ‬The author lived in the first half of the eighth century.

Saint Brigid of KildareBy the Rev.‭ ‬Denis Murphy S.J.

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