Saint Brigid Religious Education
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Who is Saint Brigid?

Feast Day: February 1

According to tradition, Brigid was born in 452 in Faughart in Ireland. Her biographers say that her parents were Dubhthach, a pagan chieftain and Brocessa, a Christian slave. The slave girl was sent to a cabin at the foot of the Cooley Mountains near Dundalk, Co Louth, to have the child. The baby was a healthy girl, which was no great joy to Dubhtach who wanted a son. It is said that a Bishop, a follower of St. Patrick, met Brocessa and predicted that the child she was carrying would do great things. It is said, too, that a Druid of Dubthach's household had predicted that there would soon be born one who "shall be called from her great virtues the truly pious Brigid; she will be another Mary, Mother of the great Lord."

Brigid was given the same name as one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion, which her father Dubhthach practiced. Brigid was the goddess of fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge.

While she was still very young, Brigid's mother was sold to a pagan, so Brigid became a member of his druidic household. Quite beautiful, she turned down the marriage her father arranged and the brave girl disfigured her face so that men would find her unattractive. She had a generous heart and could never refuse the poor who came to her father's door. One day her charity angered her father. He thought she was being overly generous to the poor and needy when she dispensed his milk and flour to all. She left him so frustrated that it is said that he decided to sell her to the King of Leinster. The King decided not to complete the deal when Brigid managed to give away her father's jeweled sword to a Leper. Dubhthach realized that perhaps her disposition was best suited to the life of a nun. Brigid finally got her wish and she was sent to a convent.

The exact circumstances of her conversion to Christianity are unknown, though it is certain that her Christian mother was a guiding influence. Some claim that she personally met St. Patrick, which is possible since she was ten years old before he died. Whatever the circumstances, she finally convinced her father that marriage was not in her future, and she took her vows as a nun with seven other women before St. Mel (St. Patrick's nephew). Needing a place to establish the first community of religious women in Ireland, Brigid settled on Kildare, and established her monastery, Irelandís first Christian religious community of women, at the site of a shrine to the Celtic Goddess Brigid. Legend tells that upon her acceptance of her vows, fire appeared above her head.

In time the eternal flame that virgins had guarded for the Goddess was tended instead by nuns who dedicated it to Christ. The monastery that became a joint facility for nuns and monks under Brigidís leadership also became a center of learning and school for the arts.

As the Abbess of this foundation she wielded considerable power. Many legends surround her. According to one legend, an elderly bishop, as he was blessing her during a ceremony, inadvertently read the rite of consecration of a bishop and this could not be rescinded under any circumstances. Brigid and her successor Abbesses had an administrative authority equal to that of a Bishop until the Synod of Kells in 1152.

One legend said that she made the cross from rushes she found on the ground beside a dying man in order to convert him. Just as the shamrock is associated with St Patrick, a cross made from rushes is the symbol of St Brigid. This is one of the most widespread Irish customs associated with her. Legend tells how she picked up rushes from the floor and began to weave them into a cross while she sat at the deathbed of a pagan chieftain. When he asked what she was doing, she told him about Jesus and his death on the cross. Before he died, the chieftain asked to be baptized. Crosses are traditionally made from rushes, but they can also be made from wheat stalks, grasses, or reeds. If the reeds or rushes are dry and brittle, soak them to soften them. The crosses are typically made on the eve of St. Brigidís Day and placed above the door of the house for blessing and protection. To this day its origin remains the custom in many houses in Ireland to have a St. Brigid's Cross in honor of the saint.

Brigid was famous for her common-sense and most of all, for her holiness. In her lifetime she was regarded as a saint. Kildare Abbey became one of the most prestigious monasteries in Ireland, famed throughout Christian Europe.

The saint traveled by chariot throughout Ireland, carrying on Patrick's work of conversion. Many miracles of healing are attributed to Brigid, such as curing lepers and giving speech to the dumb. There are tales of her turning water into ale or stone into salt, and many concern her rapport with animals. She also negotiated the release of captives.

She died at Kildare at age 70 around the year 525, and was buried in a tomb before the high altar of her abbey church. After some time, her remains were exhumed and transported to rest with the two other patron saints of Ireland, Patrick and Columba. Her skull was extracted and brought to Lisbon, Portugal by three Irish noblemen, where it remains. There is widespread devotion to her in Ireland where she is known as the "Mary of the Gael".

Brigid was one of the most remarkable women of her times, and despite the numerous legendary, extravagant, and even fantastic miracles attributed to her, there is no doubt that her extraordinary spirituality, boundless charity, and compassion for those in distress were real.

St. Brigid's feast day was the first festival of the year and was held on February 1. It was the beginning of Spring; the working season for farmers and fishermen, and a time of husbanding of animals, and the Celts called on Brigid to bless their work, and bonfires were lit in her honor. She is the patron saint of babies; blacksmiths; farmers; fugitives; Ireland; midwives; nuns; poets; sailors; scholars and travelers.

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