About Saint Brigid
Brigid's Place is named for St. Brigid, a fifth-century Irish Celtic saint who founded a monastery of nuns and monks based on the social concept of equality between men and women. The religious in this monastery were known for their wisdom and compassion, their hospitality and healing.
Brigid of Ireland—the patron saint of poets, blacksmiths and healers—was born at Fauchart near Dundalk, c.450. She was the daughter of Dubhtach, poet-laureate of King Loeghaire, and his bondmaid Brotsech. Because of the jealousy of Dubhthach's wife, Brigid and her mother were forced into slavery. She spent her childhood serving the family of a Druid priest performing the burdonsome tasks associated with running a household and a farm. Early in her life she became a Christian.
Legend holds that she received baptism from St. Patrick, but this is unlikely. As an adolescent she returned to her father who commanded her to marry. Rather than obeying him, she chose to become a nun receiving the nun's veil from Bishop Macaile of Westmeath. Afterward, gathering a group of women around her, she founded a nunnery at Kildare (Church of the Oak). Needing to have the sacraments performed, Brigid prevailed upon Conlaed, the leader of a nearby group of anchorites, to receive episcopal consecration and to move with his followers to a site adjacent to the nunnery. This seemingly "mixed house," based upon the Celtic social concept of equality between men and women, was unique among Irish religious foundations.
Brigid, as abbess of Kildare, influenced Irish church affairs and headed a network of nunneries as well. Kildare prospered under royal favor in the seventh century, becoming one of the most magnificent churches in Ireland during this time. When Brigid died in c.525, she was buried alongside Conlaed beneath the altar at Kildare. Three centuries later her body was translated to lie beside the remains of St. Patrick at Downpatrick, one of Ireland's most holy shrines. The shrine was despoiled during the Reformation and its relics dispersed.
Her first biographer, Cogitosus (writing c.650) attributed to Brigid a number of miracles. Her childhood miracles were associated with the multiplication of food such as providing butter for the poor. As abbess, with the assistance of angels, she caused cows to give milk three times on one day to enable visiting bishops to have enough to drink. Brigid was also credited with taming a wolf at the request of a local chieftain whose pet dog had been killed accidentally by a peasant.
Brigid's fame spread rapidly throughout Ireland, and as Irish monks wandered throughout England, Wales and the Continent, they carried Brigid into those areas, as well. In England, at least 19 churches were dedicated to her, most notably St. Bride's Church on Fleet Street in London. Brigid is still venerated in Alsace, Belgium and Portugal. Writing in the late 12th century, Gerald of Wales noted a feature of her followers on a visit to Kildare in 1186. There, a sacred fire maintained daily by 20 nuns burned continuously. The walls of the firehouse remained on the hill by the abbey church until the 18th century. Today, only the foundations remain.
One of Ireland's most beloved saints, Brigid is known as the "Mary of the Gael." She is most noted for her compassion to others, especially to victims of violence, the impoverished and lepers. On one occasion she gave away her father's sword to a leper. Her father, unaware that it was an act of charity, became enraged and at a loss to control this daughter.
Plaited crosses fashioned from rushes are associated with Brigid. Her iconography depicts her with a cow lying at her feet. Brigid's feast day is February 1, long held sacred as Imbolg, the Celtic festival of spring.