St. Brigid, the woman and the legend, is one of my favorites, as she is my name saint. 🙂
Brigid was a beautiful maiden of Kildare. Her father was a pagan chieftain of Leinster and her mother was one of his slaves (possibly from Lusitania- modern day Portugal). Dark haired and fair of skin, Brigid was considered a beauty in Ireland. She had many suitors who wanted to marry her. Brigid, however had a higher calling. She thwarted her father’s every attempt to marry her off to some of the most noble Lords of Ireland. It can be assumed that her father was fond of his beautiful daughter, because this was a time when a father could command his daughter to marry when and where he desired. She was in no position to say no.
Some stories say that her father was trying to gently get rid of her, because her kind heart was becoming bothersome. One legend says that she sold a precious and sentimental jeweled sword of her father’s to feed the poor. Other legends say that she gave away valuable livestock and crops freely to any who came in need. Her father tried to marry her off so that her husband would have to deal with her charitable tendencies. For some reason, Brigid managed to dodge these suitors left and right.
One wealthy lord is said to have asked for her hand and she told him she had given her virginity to God, but if he went into the woods behind her father’s house he would find a beautiful maiden who would be the love of his life. Supposedly this was a true story and the Lord ran off with the milk maid. After some time her father was growing impatient. He was a Lord who followed what was the Old Ways: the nature religion of the Celts… Christianity was still pretty new to Ireland. Brigid wanted to follow her calling and take the veil, but her father wanted her to marry and ally his good family with another. His daughter was known as a serene, young and beautiful maid. She had much value within the marriage market.
However one can never ignore a calling to serve God. Brigid’s father was becoming insistent. He told her she would not turn down the next proposal. Brigid prayed for a miracle. She asked that God would take away her beauty so these suitors would stop seeking her out. Even though her looks never changed to her father, the suitors stopped coming. He could not understand it. His daughter was as beautiful as ever, and growing more beautiful each day. It was like all the suitors suddenly thought she was plain. They were no longer interested in her. Brigid, explained that her destiny was to the Christian God and do His good works. Marriage was not for her. Finally her father gave in and Brigid took the veil.
Brigid performed many miracles. She healed the sick and cared for the poor. She became an Abbess and at her Abbey she cared for Orphans and unwed mothers. She was also ordained, the first and only female Bishop. Brigid was also a patron of religious art, which included metal work and illumination. Her scriptorium produced the Book of Kildare. This book was lost or destroyed during the reformation. But… perhaps it secretly lies in the Vatican Library… Oh to be able to take a look around that place!!!
It is also said that aside from miracles, Brigid had the power to curse as well… Birgid has been associated with the Celtic Goddess by the same name (Brighid) who was a Celtic version of Virgin Goddess Vesta. The Cross of St. Brigid is her symbol, but was also the symbol of the Celtic Goddess inspired by the Pagan Sun Wheel. This merger of Pagan and Christianity is very strong in Celtic Lands. Ireland was wild and untouched by the rest of the world and its influence. They never really lost their roots and held on to much of the “Old Ways” and “Old Religion” within their culture. It is a part of a pure culture fairly untouched… The only way to convert these Celtic Pagans was to weave some of their traditions and beliefs into the Christian faith. This is why many Saints of Ireland have pagan symbols and have pagan deity counterparts. St. Brigid was real, but she eventually took the place of Brighid. Even important Christian Saint feast days and holidays take place during or around the old pagan ones. It’s actually part of the miracle of Christianity in this part of the world, for the complete conversion of these peoples happened rather quickly and peacefully when compared to the rest of the world. Irish Catholicism is very unique and so is the old Celtic religion. It is worth it to study them both and compare and contrast.