Brigit of Kildare

Brigit of Kildare
Brigid of Kildare
Virgin, abbess, inspirer
Born 453
Died 524
Honored in Catholicism,
Feast February 1
Patronage babies; blacksmiths; boatmen; cattle; chicken farmers; children whose parents are not married; children with abusive fathers; children born into abusive unions; Clan Douglas; dairymaids; dairy workers; fugitives; infants; Ireland; Leinster, mariners; midwives; milk maids; nuns; poets; poor; poultry farmers; poultry raisers; printing presses; sailors; scholars; travellers; watermen[1]

Saint Brigit of Kildare, or Brigit of Ireland (variants include Brigid, Bridget, Bridgit, Bríd and Bride), nicknamed Mary of the Gael (Irish: Naomh Bríd) (c. 451–525) is one of Ireland's patron saints along with Saints Patrick and Columba. Irish hagiography makes her an early Irish Christian nun, abbess, and founder of several monasteries called the Brigidine order of Roman Catholic nuns, including that monastery of ‘Kildare’ Ireland, which was considered legendary and was highly revered. St Brigid and the Brigidine nuns founded and run many Roman Catholic schools internationally. Her feast day is 1 February, celebrated as St Brigid’s Day or Imbolc in Gaelic Ireland.



According to tradition, Brigit was born at Faughart near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. Because of the legendary quality of the earliest accounts of her life, there is much debate among many scholars and even faithful Christians as to the authenticity of her biographies. According to her biographers her parents were Dubhthach, a pagan chieftain of Leinster, and Brocca, a Christian Pict and slave who had been baptised by Saint Patrick. Some accounts of her life suggest that Brigit's father was in fact from Lusitania, kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave, in much the same way as Saint Patrick. Many stories also detail Brigit's and her mother's statuses as pieces of property belonging to Dubhthach, and the resulting impact on important parts of Brigit's life story.

Saint Brigit is celebrated for her generosity to the poor. According to one tale, as a child, she once gave away her mother's entire store of butter. The butter was then replenished in answer to Brigit's prayers.[2].

Although some tradition indicated that Saint Brigit was "veiled" or received by Saint Maughold (Macaille), at Croghan, it is far more possible that she took her vows from Saint Mel of Ardagh, who also granted her abbatial powers. She followed Saint Mel into the Kingdom of Teathbha, which is made up of sections of modern Meath, Westmeath and Longford. This occurred about 468.

Brigit's small oratory at Cill-Dara (Kildare) became a center of religion and learning, and developed into a cathedral city. She founded two monastic institutions, one for men, and the other for women, and appointed Saint Conleth as spiritual pastor of them. It has been frequently stated that she gave canonical jurisdiction to Saint Conleth, Bishop of Kildare, but, as Archbishop Healy points out, she simply "selected the person to whom the Church gave this jurisdiction", and her biographer tells us distinctly that she chose Saint Conleth "to govern the church along with herself". Thus, for centuries, Kildare was ruled by a double line of abbot-bishops and of abbesses, the Abbess of Kildare being regarded as superior general of the monasteries in Ireland.

Brigit also founded a school of art, including metal work and illumination, over which Conleth presided. The Kildare scriptorium produced the Book of Kildare, which elicited high praise from Giraldus Cambrensis, but which has disappeared since the Reformation. According to Giraldus, nothing that he had ever seen was at all comparable to the book, every page of which was gorgeously illuminated, and he concludes by saying that the interlaced work and the harmony of the colours left the impression that "all this is the work of angelic, and not human skill".


The earliest extensive life of Brigit is the Vita Brigitae of Cogitosus and is thought to have been written no later than 650. Differing biographies written by different authors, give conflicting accounts of her life, however three of those biographies agreed that she had a slave mother in the court of her father, Dubhthach, a king of Leinster. An ancient account of her life is by Saint Broccan Cloen:

Ni bu Sanct Brigid suanach
Ni bu huarach im sheirc Dé,
Sech ni chiuir ni cossena
Ind nóeb dibad bethath che.

Saint Brigid was not given to sleep,
Nor was she intermittent about God's love of her;
Not merely that she did not buy, she did not seek for
The wealth of this world below, the holy one.

One, the Life of Brigit dates from the closing years of the eighth century, and is held in the Dominican friary at Eichstatt in Bavaria. It expounds the metrical life of Saint Brigit, and versified it in Latin. The earliest Latin "life" of Brigit was a short vignette composed by Colman nepos Cracavist around 800. Brigit is at times known as "the Patroness of Ireland" and "Queen of the South: the Mary of the Gael" by a writer in the "Leabhar Breac". Brigit died leaving a cathedral city and school that became famous all over Europe. In her honour Saint Ultan of Ardbraccan wrote a hymn commencing:

Christus in nostra insula
Que vocatur Hibernia
Ostensus est hominibus
Maximis mirabilibus
Que perfecit per felicem
Celestis vite virginem
Precellentem pro merito
Magno in mundi circulo.

Christ was made known to men
On our island of Hibernia
by the very great miracles
which he performed
through the happy virgin of celestial life,
famous for her merits
through the whole world.

The sixth life of the saint is attributed to Coelan, an Irish monk of the 8th century, and it derives a peculiar importance from the fact that it is prefaced by Saint Donatus, also an Irish monk, who became Bishop of Fiesole in 824. Donatus refers to previous lives by Ultan and Ailerán. When dying, Brigit was attended by Saint Ninnidh, who was afterwards known as "Ninnidh of the Clean Hand" because he had his right hand encased with a metal covering to prevent it ever being defiled, after being the medium of administering the last rites to "Ireland's Patroness".

Various Continental breviaries of the pre-Reformation period commemorate Brigit, and her name is included in a litany in the Stowe Missal.

In addition, Brigit is highly venerated by many Eastern Orthodox Christians as one of the great Western saints before the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches. Her feast day, as in the West, is February 1, although churches following the Julian calendar (as in many Orthodox countries) celebrate her feast on February 14, the corresponding date on the Julian calendar. The troparion to her is in Tone 1:

O holy Brigid, thou didst become sublime through thy humility, and didst fly on the wings of thy longing for God. When thou didst arrive in the Eternal City and appear before thy Divine Spouse, wearing the crown of virginity, thou didst keep thy promise to remember those who have recourse to thee. Thou dost shower grace upon the world, and dost multiply miracles. Intercede with Christ our God that He may save our souls.

The corresponding kontakion is in Tone 4:

The holy virgin Brigid full of divine wisdom, went with joy along the way of evangelical childhood, and with the grace of God attained in this way the summit of virtue. Wherefore she now bestows blessings upon those who come to her with faith. O holy Virgin, intercede with Christ our God that He may have mercy on our souls.

According to the tradition of the Orthodox church, Saint Brigit lost one of her eyes which saved her from being married against her will. Another legendary story of St Brigid losing her eye, is that she suffered an accident making her lose her eye, but St Brigid prayed to God and was able to miraculously put her eye back in its socket in her head, restoring and healing her own eye, herself. The following are the first and second troparia of the fourth ode of the canon of the saint from the Orthodox Matins service:

Considering the beauty of the body as of no account, when one of thine eyes was destroyed thou didst rejoice, O venerable one, for thou didst desire to behold the splendour of heaven and to glorify God with the choirs of the righteous.

Spurning an earthly betrothed, and praying beyond hope that the refusal of thy parents be changed, thou didst find aid from on high, so that the beauty of thy body was ruined.[3]

Veneration and relics

It seems that Faughart was the scene of her birth. Faughart Church was founded by Saint Moninne in honour of Brigit. The old well of Brigit's adjoining the ruined church still attracts pilgrims. There is evidence in the Trias Thaumaturga for Brigit's stay in Connacht, especially in County Roscommon and also in the many churches founded by her in the Diocese of Elphim. Her friendship with Saint Patrick is attested by the following paragraph from the Book of Armagh: "inter sanctum Patricium Brigitanque Hibernesium columpnas amicitia caritatis inerat tanta, ut unum cor consiliumque haberent unum. Christus per illum illamque virtutes multas peregit". (Between Patrick and Brigid, the columns of the Irish, there was so great a friendship of charity that they had but one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many miracles.) At Armagh there was a "Templum Brigidis"; namely the little abbey church known as "Regles Brigid", which contained some relics of the saint, destroyed in 1179, by William FitzAldelm.

Brigit was interred at the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, and a costly tomb was erected over her. Over the years her shrine became an object of veneration for pilgrims, especially on her feast day, February 1. About the year 878, owing to the Scandinavian raids, Brigit's relics were taken to Downpatrick, where they were interred in the tomb of Patrick and Columba. The relics of the three saints were discovered in 1185, and on June 9 of the following year were reinterred in Down Cathedral.

In modern Ireland, "Mary of the Gael" remains a popular saint, and Brigit remains a common female Christian name. Moreover, hundreds of placenames in her honour are to be found all over both Scotland and Ireland, e.g. East Kilbride, West Kilbride, Kilbride, Brideswell, Tubberbride, Templebride, etc. Places named Brideswell and Tupperbride commemorate in their names the presence of a sacred well ("Tobar" in Gaelic) dedicated to Brigit or her pre-Christian antecedent. Brigit's hand is preserved at Lumiar near Lisbon, Portugal, since 1587, and another relic is at St. Martin's Cologne.

Further, Saint Brigit, in the alternative spelling of her name, Bride, was patron saint of the powerful medieval Scottish House of Douglas. The principal religious house, and Mausoleum of the Earls of Douglas and latterly Earls of Angus being St. Bride's Kirk, Douglas.


As with all saints, Brigit was not able to be declared so without proof of her miracles. These were commonly recorded by those who had witnessed the miracles or had some relation to a person who had. In Saint Brigit’s case, most of her miracles were related to healing and domestic tasks usually attributed to women. If Brigit wished or predicted something to occur then it came to pass. A few examples of her miracles are described below.

Several of Brigit’s miracles occurred on Easter Sunday. On this day, a leper had come to Brigit to ask for a cow. She asked for a time to rest and would help him later; however, he did not wish to wait and instead stated he would go somewhere else for a cow. Brigit then offered to heal him, but the man stubbornly replied that his condition allowed him to acquire more than he would healthy. After convincing the leper that this was not so, she told one of her maidens to have the man washed in a blessed mug of water. After this was done, the man was completely cured and vowed to serve Brigit.

On another occasion, Brigit was traveling to see a physician for her headache. They were welcomed to stay at the house of Leinsterman. His wife was not able to have children that survived except for two daughters that had been dumb since their birth. Brigit was traveling to Áth with the daughters when her horse suddenly startled, causing her to wound her head on a stone. Her blood mixed with the water here. Brigit then instructed one of the girls to pour the bloodied water onto her neck in God’s name causing the girl to be healed. The healed sister was told to call her sister over to be healed as well, but the later responded that she had been made well when she bowed down in the tracks. Brigit told the cured sisters to return home and that they also would birth as many male children that their mother had lost. The stone that Brigit had injured herself cured any disease of the head when they laid the head on it.

Brigit also performed miracles that included curse elements as well. When on the bank of Inny, Brigit was given a gift of apples and sweet sloes. She later entered a house where many lepers begged her for these apples, which she offered willingly. The nun who had given the gift to Brigit was irritated by this saying that she had not given the gift to the lepers. Brigit was angered at the nun for withholding from the lepers and therefore cursed her trees so they would no longer bear fruit, rendering them barren. Yet another virgin also gave Brigit the same gift as the nun, and again Brigit gave them to begging lepers. This time the virgin asked that she and her garden be blessed. Brigit then said that a large tree in the virgin’s garden would have twofold fruit from its offshoots, and this was done.[4]

Connection with pagan Brigid

Saint Brigit of Kildare, the Christian saint, is often confused as being the same person as the Celtic pagan goddess Brigid who was a goddess of fertility who blessed many births and harvests to Celtic pagans. The goddess Brigid long preceded the saint from Kildare who, born of a pagan father Dubtach who was a powerful magical warlock, was given the name of the highly honored Celtic pagan goddess. Some neo-pagans and historians question the historicity of St. Brigid, or how much of her life as traditionally recounted is historically accurate.

See also

Saint Brigit of Kildare, the Christian saint, is often confused as being the same person as the Celtic pagan goddess Brigid, who was a goddess of fertility, that 'blessed' many births to pagans.


  1. ^ Saint Brigid of Ireland at Patron Saints Index
  2. ^ Wallace, Martin. A Little Book of Celtic Saints. Belfast. Appletree Press, 1995 ISBN 0-86281-456-1, p.13
  3. ^ The Menaion of the Orthodox Church, vol. 6, February, translated by Reader Isaac E Lambertsen and published by The Saint John of Kronstadt Press, Liberty TN
  4. ^ "Bethu Brigte." UCC Home Page. CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a Project of University College. Web. 20 Nov. 2011. <>.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed (1913). "St. Brigid of Ireland". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. 

Further reading

  • Charles-Edwards, T. M. (2004), "Brigit (439/452–524/526)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.), Oxford University Press, 
  • Ó Catháin, Séamus (1995). The Festival of Brigit: Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman. Dublin. 
  • Ritari, Katja (2009). Saints and Sinners in Early Christian Ireland: Moral Theology in the Lives of Saints Brigit and Columba. Brepols Publishers. ISBN 978-2-503-53315-5. 

External links

Saint Brigid's cross

Legends about Saint Brigit


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