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Some scholars say that Brigid, the secondary (to Patrick) patron saint of Ireland, is merely a transmogrified pagan goddess. But most say that she was merely named after that goddess, as many Irish girls must have been in the 5th century, when Christianity was new to the area. Brigid's feast day falls on February 1, the traditional pagan celebration of Imbolc. Saint Brigid's day is sometimes still celebrated in Ireland with the making of crosses, woven basket-like from rushes. The crosses are fastened in the rafters of houses and left there throughout the year to protect the dwelling from harm.

It is said that Brigid, in her travels around Ireland, used to take a handful of rushes from the floor of the place she was visiting (in those days, rushes were a common floor covering), and weave them together into the shape of a cross. When asked what she was doing, she explained that she was making a cross in honor of the Virgin Mary's son, who died upon a cross of wood. She would then go on to tell how Christ came to save mankind by His death. She apparently converted many pagans in this manner.

Although there are few written records of Brigid's life, there are a a great many stories about her. It's impossible to know which ones are true, so most of the following is best taken with a grain of salt.

Most of the stories agree that her father's name was Dubthach, and that he was wealthy (maybe even some sort of a king). Her mother's name is agreed upon too: Broicsech. It is also generally agreed that her mother was Christian, and her father probably was not. Broicsech seems to have been a slave in Dubthach's household. When Dubthach impregnated her, his wife became jealous and forced him to send Broicsech away.

So Dubthach sold Brigid's mother to a poet. In those days, a poet was a respectable thing to be. Poets were scholars who recorded historical events and genealogies in verse. Dubthach did not sell Brigid herself, though. The unborn child was to be returned to him when she was old enough to work in his house. The poet to whom Broicsech was sold, sold her to a Druid, who brought her to his house. It was there that Brigid was born, around the middle of the 5th century. She probably lived with her mother in the Druid's household until she was about ten years old. Then she was sent to her father's home.

She was, by all accounts, a feisty girl. Charged with responsibilities in the kitchen and the dairy at her father's house, she began to give away his property to the poor without restraint until Dubthach complained that she would make a beggar of him. Then Brigid insisted on going to visit her mother, in spite of Dubthach's protests. She went without her father's permission, and found her mother working at a dairy and suffering from some sort of disease of the eyes.

Brigid took over her mother's work. The Druid, whom her mother still served, was so impressed by Brigid's efficiency (and her generosity, for she gave away the Druid's goods as well as her father's) in the dairy that he gave her a herd of cows and freed her to go back to her father's house. Brigid refused the cows, asking instead for her mother's freedom.

The Druid allowed Brigid's mother to go, and insisted that Brigid take the cows as well. Brigid took the cows and gave them away to the poor. The Druid was so impressed, the story goes, that he was baptized and became a Christian.

After winning her mother's freedom from the Druid, and taking Broicsech back to her people, Brigid returned to her father. She continued to give away his goods to the poor, until Dubthach's wife became angry and accused Brigid of stealing and insisted that he get rid of her. Dubthach took her, in his chariot, to sell to the King of Leinster. He left her at the gate while he went into the household to settle the business.

Not surprisingly, the king asked Dubthach why he wished to sell his daughter. When Dubthach complained of Brigid's excessive generosity, the king asked to see her. When he came out to fetch Brigid, Dubthach found that she had given away his sword to a leper. He was furious. When she was introduced to the king, he said to her "You take your father's wealth and distribute it. How much more would you take my wealth and my cattle, seeing that I am nothing to you, and give them away?"

"The Son of the Virgin knoweth," she replied, "that if I had your might, with all Leinster and all your wealth, I would give them to the Lord of the Elements." Like Saint Patrick before her and Mother Teresa after her, she spoke of her charity as something she was doing to serve God in the form of His creatures.

To Dubthach, the king said "You and I are not fit to bargain about this maiden. Her merit is higher before God than before men." The king advised Dubthach to give the girl her freedom, and consoled Dubthach by giving him a sword to replace the one that Brigid had given away.

Now that Brigid was a free woman, Dubthach's family wished her to marry. Brigid, of course, had no interest in marriage. She was a pretty girl, and she prayed that she would become ugly so that nobody would want to marry her. Her prayer was answered and she became quite unattractive. Her father gave up the idea of marrying her off, and allowed her to become a nun.

At the time, there were no religious houses for women in Ireland. Most women who entered the religious life continued to live with their families, who were likely to still be pagans. Others lived with priests when their pagan families kicked them out.

Brigid set out with seven other young women who wanted to be nuns, to find a Bishop, Saint Mel, who might confer upon them "the order of penitence." At last they found the Bishop, and were consecrated. It is sometimes said that he accidentally consecrated Brigid as a bishop. Bishop or not, Brigid's beauty reappeared as soon as she was consecrated. A story tells that during the ceremony, Brigid held onto a wooden beam that supported the altar. The wood supposedly became green, and although the church burned down several times in the following centuries that beam always remained fresh and intact beneath the ashes.

Fable says that Brigid asked the aforementioned king of Leinster for a piece of land. When he hesitated to give it, Brigid said that she would be content with what her cloak could cover. The king agreed, but when her cloak was thrown down it began to spread until it seemed likely that it would grow to cover all of Ireland. The place became Kildare (Cill Dara, the Church of the Oak), and Brigid set up her convent there. Eventually a double monastery, housing both monks and nuns, was established there. This double monastery, run by Brigid and Saint Conleth (who was a bishop), was unique in Ireland.

Many stories of Brigid's life concern her adventures on the road. She travelled extensively, ministering to the poor and the sick, converting pagans, and setting up convents across Ireland. Many cures and other miracles are attributed to her, and she continued to be extremely generous.

Brigid died of natural causes at Kildare around 525 A.D., and is buried in Downpatrick, Ireland with Saint Patrick and Saint Columba (except for her head, which was apparently moved to a Jesuit church in Lisbon, Portugal). She is the patron saint of babies, blacksmiths, boatmen, cattle, chicken farmers, children whose parents are not married, dairymaids, dairy workers, fugitives, infants, Ireland, mariners, midwives, milkmaids, newborn babies, nuns, poets, poultry farmers, sailors, scholars, travellers, and watermen.


www.adena.com/adena/sts/brigid.htm
www.brigidsplace.org
www.catholic.org
www.catholic-forum.com
www.cin.org
www.irelandseye.com/irish/people/saints/brigid.shtm
www.newadvent.org

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