St. Brigid is the second patron saint of Ireland, whose feast day is her birthday — the first day of spring, 1st February (Lá Fhéile Bhride). Brigid is also known as Muire na nGael or “Mary of the Gael,” which means Our Lady of the Irish.
St. Brigid – The Early Years
St. Brigid was born in Faughart, Dundalk, Co. Louth in A.D. 450. Her father, Dubhthach, was a pagan Chieftain of Leinster and her Christian mother, Broicsech, was possibly born in Portugal, kidnapped by Irish pirates, and sold to Dubhthach as a slave. After Brigid was born, her mother was sold to a chieftain in Connaught and Brigid was sent to be raised and educated by the Druids. Brigid grew into a beautiful woman and when she was old enough she returned to her father’s house as a semi-slave. She eventually went to Connaught to find her mother and brought her home to Dubhthach’s house. Brigid lived at the time of St. Patrick, who inspired her to convert to Christianity and she wanted to serve her life looking after the poor and the sick in the name of God. This angered her father, but Brigid was so generous in giving his wealth away to the poor, he finally conceded when she gave away his most precious jewel encrusted sword to a leper. At 18 years of age Brigid entered religious life at the convent of St. Macaille and she inspired many other young girls to join her.
St. Brigid the Abbess and the Miracle of the Cloak
Brigid founded many convents, the most famous of which in Kildare and she became known as Brigid of Kildare. Kildare in Irish is Cill Dara, ‘Cill’ meaning church and ‘Daire’ meaning oak tree, so Kildare means ‘Church of the Oak’, another connection to the Goddess Brid as the oak was sacred to the Druids. In c470 she founded a double monastery for nuns and monks in Kildare and became Abbess. The Abbey of Kildare became famous throughout Europe as Irish missionaries spread the story of the kind and generous St. Brigid. It is said that St. Brigid went to the King of Leinster requesting land for the Abbey; she had found the perfect spot – near a forest for firewood and a lake for water and fertile land. The King refused and Brigid prayed that he might change his mind. She asked the king ‘will you give me as much land as my cloak will cover?’ The King, looking at Brigid’s small cloak, laughed and agreed. Brigid began to spread her cloak on the ground, four friends held a corner of the cloak and started walking north, south, east and west. The cloak grew and grew and covered acres of land. When the King saw this he realised Brigid was indeed a holy woman and he offered her food and supplies. The King converted to Christianity and began to help the poor. The miracle of the cloak was the first of Brigid’s many miracles.
St. Brigid’s Cross
Brigid was requested to sit with a pagan chieftain in Kildare, who was delirious and raging on his death-bed. The Chieftain was so delirious it was impossible for Brigid to talk to him, so she just sat with and comforted him. Brigid began to weave rushes from the floor into the shape of a cross. The Chieftain quietened as he began to notice Brigid and he asked what she was doing.
However, some believe this style of cross was first used by Brid, the Celtic Goddess of Fire, long before Christianity and that the cross was inspired by the pagan symbol of the sun-wheel.
Either way, the belief still holds true to this day that the St. Brigid’s cross protects a house from fire and evil. Traditionally, a new cross is made each year on St. Brigid’s feast day, and the old one burned to ward off fire, although many homes in olden days kept all their crosses preserved in the thatched roofs, as fire would have been a huge concern for houses that had thatch and wooden roofs
The Brigid’s Cross is usually made from rushes and reeds or straw and is a woven centre square with four spokes, which are tied at their ends. Hung near the front door, the St. Brigid’s Cross is traditionally an Irish gift for a new home. The St. Brigid’s Cross is often also spelt Brighid’s Cross or Brigit’s Cross and the Irish translation is Cros Bríde, Cros Bhrighite, Crosóg Bríde or Bogha Bríde.
St. Brigid A.D. 450-525
St. Brigid died aged 75 in A.D. 525 on the same day she was born, 1st February. She was placed in a jewelled casket and buried in a tomb at the High Altar of her Abbey church. As protection from Norse invaders her remains were exhumed in 835 and placed to rest at Downpatick with St. Patrick and St. Columcille. Although her skull was extracted and taken by three knights to the Holy land, however, they perished near Lisbon, Portugal, and St. Brigid’s skull is enshrined in a special chapel in the church at Lumier. It is reported that a tunic belonging to St. Brigid is kept at St Donatian’s, Bruges, Belgium, and a jewelled shoe made of silver and brass is displayed at the National Museum in Dublin.
Apart from being the second patron saint of Ireland, St. Brigid is also the patron saint for babies; blacksmiths; boatmen; cattle; chicken farmers; children whose parents are not married; dairymaids; dairy workers; fugitives; infants; mariners; midwives; milk maids; poultry raisers; printing presses; sailors; scholars; travellers; watermen; creativity scholars and poets.