Friday, February 01, 2008
Feast of St. Brigid (Bride) of Cille-Dara
Today is the feast of St. Brigid, who is also called St. Bride. Next to St. Patrick, she is the most beloved of Irish saints. She is known as one who was generous, handsome, and brave. Born in Fauchart around the year 452, she may have actually met St. Patrick as a young girl. She was the daughter of a wealthy chief name Dubhtach and his slave Brocessa. According to the miracle-filled "Life of St. Brigid" written in the eighth century, she was baptized by three angels who also anointed her with oil. When Brigid was very young her mother was sold to a Druid, so she actually grew-up in a Druid household. She, however, was a Christian and remained true to her faith throughout her stay in that pagan household. A few years later she was returned to her father's household. She remained a slave but it seems that she had a special standing in the household. She became known for her generosity, especially her generosity with her father's possessions. Nothing was safe; she would give anything she owned away and once she ran out of things she would give away the belongings of the household. Once while watching a flock of sheep a poor young man came up to her and asked for some alms. She gave him one of the flock without question. He, however, having heard of her generosity, came back seven times that day, receiving a sheep each time. It seems that everyone in the village knew what was going on, but they were all shocked when, at the end of the day, Brigid returned with the flock and not one sheep was missing!
She was very beautiful and many young men approached her father asking for her hand, but Brigid told him that she didn't want to be married, she wanted to dedicate herself to the Lord. According to the Life of St. Brigid she prayed that God would disfigure her so that she would no longer be attractive to all the young men. While she was praying her eyeball melted (ew!), making her no longer attractive to the young men (or anyone else for that matter!). Her father was so angry at her that he decided to sell her to the King of Leinster. While her father was talking to the king, trying to set up a deal, she gave her father's sword to a poor person to sell for food. The king asked her why she gave away her father's sword, she answered, "I gave it to Christ, and if God asked me for all your wealth and the wealth of my father I would give it to the poor to please God." The king looked at her father and said, "Your daughter is of far too much worth for me to buy and of even greater worth to be sold by you!" He sent Brigid and her father on their way. Her father finally allowed her to become a nun, and she received the veil from Bishop Macaile of Westmeath. In the year 470 she gathered seven young women with her and started a convent at at Cille-Dara, which means "Church of the Oak" in Gaelic. It is now known as Kildare. She wanted to insure that she and her nuns would always receive the blessed sacrament of holy communion, so she convinced a monk named Conlaed to be consecrated Bishop and had him and his monks bring their community to Cille-Dara. They established the first Irish double monastery of men and women. Brigid was made Abbess of the monastery, becoming the first woman to lead both men and women religious. She also participated in policy-making decisions of the Celtic church. There are some stories that she was made a bishop but most scholars believe that this story may only reflect the fact that she exercised the jurisdictional authority that was wielded by an abbess.
As I mentioned earlier, Brigid was known for her generosity and love for the poor, and there are many stories of her generosity and miracles performed on behalf of the poor. Once she and her nuns were traveling in a carriage when they saw a poor man and his family walking along the road weighed down by their heavy burdens. Brigid stopped the carriage and gave the horses to the poor family. She and her nuns were stuck with a carriage and no horses. A captain heard of what Brigid had done and brought her two wild horses, which she immediately tamed and harnessed to the carriage. They resumed their travel when they met three lepers. Brigid stopped the carriage and this time gave the lepers the horses AND the carriage! Another time she had but one garment to give to two poor men. She tore the garment in half and it immediately became two perfectly good garments. Another story tells that she gave all the Bishop's vestments away to the poor for clothing (now that sounds like fun!). When the time came for the bishop to vest for the Mass, Brigid told him that she had given all the vestments away. Before he had time to react or answer her, a carriage appeared full of Episcopal Vestments which were even better and more beautiful than the ones she gave away. She gave the Bishop the vestments he needed and then gave the rest of the vestments and the carriage away to the needy. It was said that Brigid never let the poor leave her empty handed.
Brigid is also known for her great love for animals. There is a story about her taming a wolf for a local chieftain whose pet dog had been accidentally killed by a peasant. Here are two stories from The Life of St. Brigid:
Once a lone wild boar that was being hunted charged out of the forest,
and in the course of its panicked flight careered into a herd of pigs that
belonged to the most blessed Brigid. She noticed its presence and she
blessed it. Immediately the creature lost its sense of fear and settled
down quietly among the herd of pigs. See, my friends, how even the
wild beasts and animals could not resist either her bidding or her will,
but served her docilely and humbly.
On another occasion the blessed Brigid felt a tenderness for some ducks
that she saw swimming on the water and occasionally taking wing. She
bid them fly to her, and a great flock of them flew toward her, without
any fear, as if they were humans under obedience to her. She touched
them with her hand and embraced them tenderly. She then released
them and they flew into the sky. And as they did so she praised God the
Creator of all living things, to whom all life is subject, and for
the service of whom all life is gift.
From these and many other episodes that demonstrated her power,
it is certain that blessed Brigid could command the affections of wild
animals, cattle and the birds of the air.
Brigid died around the year 524, at Cille-dara. The cathedral in the town of Kildare were built on the foundations of her fire house. Her relics were moved to Downpatrick with those of St. Patrick during the time of the Danish invasions of the ninth century. Her cult was very popular in England and Scotland and many churches there are named after her.
St. Brigid was the physical manifestation of the Celtic Ideals of one who was Generous, Handsome, and Brave. She never let the poor leave empty-handed, she saw Christ in all people, and that is why we remember her today.
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.
I See You!
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