February 1: Brigid (Bride), 523

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About this commemoration

Next to Patrick, Brigid is the most beloved of Irish saints. Born at Fauchart about the middle of the fifth century, she may have met Patrick as a young girl. She was said to be the daughter of Dubhthach, poet laureate of King Loeghaire, and was reared in a Druid household. She decided early in life to dedicate her life to God alone as a Christian. She received a nun’s veil from Bishop Macaile of Westmeath.

Gathering around her a group of women, Brigid, in 470, founded a nunnery at Kildare, a place whose name meant “Church of the Oak.” Here had flourished the cult of a pagan goddess, from which it was said to have derived the sacred fire, which she and her successors maintained. To secure the sacraments, Brigid persuaded the anchorite Conlaed to receive episcopal ordination and to bring his community of monks to Kildare, thus establishing the only known Irish double monastery of men and women. Brigid actively participated in policy- making decisions in Church conventions. One story has it that she received episcopal orders, which may reflect only the fact that she exercised the jurisdictional authority that was customarily wielded by medieval abbesses.

Many stories are told of Brigid’s concern for the poor and needy. When a leper woman asked for milk she was healed also of her infirmity. Two blind men were given their sight. Best known is the tale that tells of Brigid’s taming of a wolf at the request of a local chieftain whose pet dog had been killed accidentally by a peasant. The Gaelic name given to the oyster-catching bird, galle-brigade, attests to her affinity for birds. Her feast day itself, February 1, was long held sacred as Imbolg, the Celtic festival of Spring.

Brigid died about 523 at Kildare, outside whose small cathedral the foundations of her fire-house are still shown to tourists. Her remains are said to have been re-interred, at the time of the Danish invasions of the ninth century, with those of Patrick, at Downpatrick.

Brigid, also known as Bride, was very popular both in Scotland and England, where many churches have been dedicated to her. The best known of them is that church which was designed by Christopher Wren on Fleet Street in London. In Wales, Brigid achieved fame under her Gaelic name Ffraid.

St. Brigid cross

I    Everliving God, we rejoice today in the fellowship of thy blessed servant Brigid, and we give thee thanks for her life of devoted service. Inspire us with life and light, and give us perseverance to serve thee all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
II    Everliving God, we rejoice today in the fellowship of your blessed servant Brigid, and we give you thanks for her life of devoted service. Inspire us with life and light, and give us perseverance to serve you all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Judges 4:4–9

1 Corinthians 1:26–31
Matthew 6:25–33

Psalm 138

Preface of a Saint (2)

Text from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

Additional link: http://www.fisheaters.com/customstimeafterepiphany2a.html – includes additional information on Feast of St. Brigid commemorations, including celebration recipes.

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16 thoughts on “February 1: Brigid (Bride), 523

  1. Brigid (Bride), 523
    Brigid is worth knowing about, and commemorating. The write-up seems helpful.
    Doesn’t it diminish Brigid to start with reference to Patrick? Move opening sentence to start of third paragraph.
    Paragraph two. In “Conlaed” sentence, “episcopal ordination” sounds like he was made a bishop; omit “episcopal” there. And, can you explain why they perpetuated a pagan fire at her nunnery?
    Paragraph three. In the “wolf” sentence there are details that are not explained and could well be omitted: (1) “by a peasant,” (2) “accidentally,” (3) “whose pet dog had been killed,” (4) “at the request of a local chieftain.” (The story is about Brigid’s taming of a wolf. The rest of the details don’t help with no connecting narrative.)
    In the following sentence I’d like to be told (or better “shown” with a story) that she liked birds. (I googled “galle-brigade” and oddly the only references to it were those that quoted this paragraph.)
    Paragraph four. I don’t know what her “fire-house” was – maybe it’s where the “sacred fire” was maintained? On first reading the phrase, what came to my mind was a place where the fire trucks were kept. Could we add a word of explanation?
    Paragraph five. If her Gaelic name is Ffraid, where did “Bride” arise? Should the three names be grouped, perhaps at the beginning of the paragraph? Is there a disconnect in saying she “was very popular both in Scotland and England” while not mentioning or including Ireland, concluding with a reference to Wales?
    THE READINGS: The OT reading leaves me unsatisfied: it builds up to “for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Deborah and Brigid are women. Is that “it”? It seems like a feeble choice. (There’s nothing in the bio about war, or even a divisive issue, yet a major battle of armies is what the reading talks about.) Isn’t there some OT or Apocryphal passage that is both non-sexist AND illustrates spiritual leadership better than this one?
    Psalm 138 is good but for “enemies” again (this is NRSV’s translation):
    7) “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;
    you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.”
    Easily overlooked, but odd to have both OT and response deal with conflict.
    The NT selections are unobjectionable while also not really connected to Brigid’s biography or ministry. “God uses the weak and foolish” (1 Cor) is universal in its message, as is the “seek first God’s kingdom” gospel. It would be better if something in one of these were strongly resonant with her story or her situation.
    THE COLLECT: A thanksgiving with a petition for inspiration (O, that he would!), and a virtual “so that” clause directed to the object of our serving God. It’s as generic as white bread and lacks any hint of Celtic style, but it’s a collect. It could be improved. It might help to peruse Carmichael’s “Carmena Gadelica” for models of Celtic prayer, then do some revising in that direction.

    All in all, a good commemoration.

    • The “1” of “1 Corinthians” appears (here) on the previous line, at the end of the “Judges” verses. Often, this has been correct in the print edition and only a typo here on the blog. I don’t have my paper copy to check. Michael will verify this, I am confident. (Thanks, Michael!)

      • Thanks, John; it indeed was a blog typo and not a print edition typo! It’s been corrected.

    • About the “oyster-catching bird” — is it really called that? I don’t picture oysters as eluding capture very well. How fast does a bird have to fly to catch an oyster?.

    • To respond to at least one of these comments. The Judges reading is GREAT! Lappidoth is not an actual figure and the name means “flame.” So, she is the wife of Flame, or the Woman of Fire. Hence – the connection with Brigid. Barak also means light.

      Also, the Psalm is a lovely hymn of thanks by one who is in complete harmony with God’s will in her life. There is not a hint anywhere that Brigid ever questioned or resisted her calling.

      With the wolf, the complete miracle entails restoring a pet to a man who’s dog was killed, not just taming the wolf.

      Ffraid, Bride, and Brigid are only the beginning of her names! Brid (pronounced Bree) is another.

      I’d love it if a passage from Galatians were used, since they are a Celtic people too and Paul calls them foolish!

  2. Oystercatchers are wading shore birds, widely distributed throughout the world.. They are black or black on top and white underneath. They do indeed eat oysters and other small shellfish and crustaceans, either piercing their shells with their strong beaks or dropping the shellfish from the air onto rocks to jar the shells open. In flight, they are graceful, but they don’t have fly very fast to get those oysters!

    • Thank you, Cynthia. I looked under the single term you used and wikipedia had a good article with still pix and links to videos! I’m a happy birder now.

  3. One of the problems with nearly ALL your collects is that they don”t ask the persons whose feast we celebrate to pray for us. I’m well aware that the invocation of saints is a controversial issue in the Church – some believe in it, some don’t – but perhaps there could be alternate collects, one invoking the saint and one not – or some language to that effect in brackets for optional use. That way you accommodate everyone, which is the essence of the Anglican approach

  4. As far as I can tell, this is the only bio that ranks one saint compared to another. How do you define “beloved”? How is belovedness measured? Do you have polling data to support the ranking?
    The ranking is ironic because prior to 680, Brigid was Ireland’s best known saint, and Patrick had been almost entirely forgotten. At the Lateran Council of that year, however, Wilfrid of York (and the Synod of Whitby) vouched for the orthodoxy of not only his own diocese but of the Irish as well. Fearing (probably correctly) that Wilfrid was claiming metropolitan jurisdiction over them, the see of Kildare put forward Brigid’s consecration as a bishop as a proof of their ancient autonomy. Armagh saw Kildare’s defense as an attack on its own claims of primacy. As The Oxford Companion to the Year puts it, “Armagh recalled what little it knew about its own founder St. Patrick, and wrote down a whole lot more, trumping a woman with a man, and a quasi-bishop with a real one.”
    As recently as 1882, Sabine Baring-Gould describes Brigit (as he spells her name) as “the Patroness of Ireland” and notes that Picts, Britons, Angles, and Irish dedicated more churches to her memory than to any other saint. He adds that “she was regarded by the Scots, Picts, and Irish as second only to the B. Virgin Mary.” I think that trumps Patrick, bishop or not.
    As for Kildare being the only known double monastery in Ireland, I always understood that the Anglo-Saxon double monasteries (like Whitby) were established by Irish missionaries, who seem unlikely to have invented the practice or borrowed it from the Romans.
    I’m not sure what the bit about Brigid meeting Patrick contributes to her bio, as it’s no better attested than her episcopal consecration by Bishop Mel. That, at least, is a good story, and se non è vero ben trovato.
    Baring-Gould, by the way, says the pet the peasant killed was a trained wolf (not a dog). The land for the abbey of Kildare was provided by the King of Leinster. The king had a tame wolf that performed many tricks. One day, a peasant killed the wolf, mistaking it for an ordinary one, and brought the carcass to the king to collect the customary bounty. Instead, the enraged king sentenced the man to death and his wife and children to be sold as slaves. Saint Brigid hurried to the court to intercede, praying for help as she rode. A wild wolf jumped into her chariot and nestled under her robe. When they reached the castle, the wolf jumped out and began to perform all the dead wolf’s tricks. The delighted King released the man and his family.
    It was the abbey itself that was known as the House of Fire. Brigid’s nuns kept a fire always buring in her memory until 1220. The fire was then extinguished on the orders of Henry of London, the Archbishop of Dublin, “to take away all occasion of superstition.” All this might make better sense if you noted that the pagan goddess whose fire was kept at Kildare before the Irish adopted the True Faith was named Brigit. Brigit was goddess of the hearth and, especially, of its fire. She was also patron of poets, skilled craftmen, and prophets. By some versions of her myth, Brigit had two sisters of the same name. Her sister Brigit was patroness of the healing arts, while her other sister Brigit inspired metal workers.
    Given Edward Sellner writes in Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, “The Lord performed many miracles and marvels for Brigit [sic], so many that no one could declare them all unless Brigit’s own soul or an angel of God should help them,” it seems to me that you might devote more space to Brigid’s reputation for charity, hospitality, and scholarship. How kings and bishops, as well as common folk, sought her advice, and other houses adopted the rule she wrote for her abbey. How, under her leadership, Kildare was “head of almost all the churches of Ireland and overtopping (like a mountain peak) all the monasteries of the Irish.”
    And her legacy, as described by Cogitosus, a monk of Kildare, who wrote less than one hundred fifty years after Brigid’s death, “Who could convey in words the supreme beauty of her church and the countless wonders of her city . . . within whose limits — marked out by the saint herself — no enemy is feared? For the city is the safest place of refuge among all the towns of the Irish. It is a place where the treasures of kings are kept, and in supreme good order.”
    This alread too long a post, and I haven’t even gotten to complain about what you’ve left out: the sunbeam, blind Dara, the circumstances of Brigid’s birth . . .

    • I love it! Sign me up for a copy when your “Companion to HWHM” is released! Thank you for all that wonderful background!

  5. PS: Sorry again about the length. And the italics. They should have stopped after “trovato.” HTML and Italian are Greek to me, but I’m reliably informed the proverb means “If it’s not true, it’s still a good story.”

  6. I suggest that the title be simply “Brigid”, leaving the alternative to the text.

    I suggest adding a subtitle, such as “Abbess and Monastery Founder”.

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