Some scholars say that Brigid, the secondary (to Patrick) patron saint of Ireland, is
merely a transmogrified pagan goddess.
But most say that she was merely named after that goddess, as many
Irish girls must have been in the 5th century, when Christianity was
new to the area. Brigid's feast day falls on February 1, the traditional pagan celebration of Imbolc. Saint Brigid's day is sometimes still celebrated in Ireland with the making of crosses, woven basket-like from rushes. The crosses are fastened in the rafters of houses and left there
throughout the year to protect the dwelling from harm.
It is said that Brigid, in her travels around Ireland, used to take a
handful of rushes from the floor of the place she was visiting (in
those days, rushes were a common floor covering), and weave them
together into the shape of a cross. When asked what she was doing,
she explained that she was making a cross in honor of the Virgin Mary's son, who died upon a cross of wood. She would then go on to tell how Christ came to save mankind by His death. She apparently converted many pagans in this manner.
Although there are few written records of Brigid's life, there are a
a great many stories about her. It's impossible to
know which ones are true, so most of the following is best taken with a grain of salt.
Most of the stories agree that her father's name was Dubthach, and
that he was wealthy (maybe even some sort of a king). Her mother's
name is agreed upon too: Broicsech. It is also generally agreed that
her mother was Christian, and her father probably was not. Broicsech
seems to have been a slave in Dubthach's household. When Dubthach
impregnated her, his wife became jealous and forced him to send
So Dubthach sold Brigid's mother to a poet. In those days, a poet
was a respectable thing to be. Poets were scholars who recorded
historical events and genealogies in verse.
Dubthach did not sell Brigid herself, though. The unborn child was to
be returned to him when she was old enough to work in his house.
The poet to whom Broicsech was sold, sold her to a Druid, who
brought her to his house. It was there that Brigid was born, around
the middle of the 5th century. She probably lived with her mother in
the Druid's household until she was about ten years old. Then she was
sent to her father's home.
She was, by all accounts, a feisty girl. Charged with
responsibilities in the kitchen and the dairy at her father's house,
she began to give away his property to the poor without restraint
until Dubthach complained that she would make a beggar of him. Then
Brigid insisted on going to visit her mother, in spite of Dubthach's
protests. She went without her father's permission, and found her
mother working at a dairy and suffering from some sort of disease of
Brigid took over her mother's work. The Druid, whom her mother still
served, was so impressed by Brigid's efficiency (and her generosity,
for she gave away the Druid's goods as well as her father's) in the
dairy that he gave her a herd of cows and freed her to go back to her
father's house. Brigid refused the cows, asking instead for her
The Druid allowed Brigid's mother to go, and insisted that Brigid take
the cows as well. Brigid took the cows and gave them away to the
poor. The Druid was so impressed, the story goes, that he was
baptized and became a Christian.
After winning her mother's freedom from the Druid, and taking
Broicsech back to her people, Brigid returned to her father.
She continued to give away his goods to the poor, until Dubthach's
wife became angry and accused Brigid of stealing and insisted that he
get rid of her. Dubthach took her, in his chariot, to sell to the
King of Leinster. He left her at the gate while he went into the
household to settle the business.
Not surprisingly, the king asked Dubthach why he wished to sell his
daughter. When Dubthach complained of Brigid's excessive generosity,
the king asked to see her. When he came out to fetch Brigid, Dubthach
found that she had given away his sword to a leper. He was furious.
When she was introduced to the king, he said to her "You take
your father's wealth and distribute it. How much more would you take
my wealth and my cattle, seeing that I am nothing to you, and give
"The Son of the Virgin knoweth," she replied, "that if
I had your might, with all Leinster and all your wealth, I would give
them to the Lord of the Elements." Like Saint Patrick
her and Mother Teresa
after her, she spoke of her charity as
something she was doing to serve God in the form of His creatures.
To Dubthach, the king said "You and I are not fit to bargain
about this maiden. Her merit is higher before God than before
men." The king advised Dubthach to give the girl her freedom,
and consoled Dubthach by giving him a sword to replace the one that
Brigid had given away.
Now that Brigid was a free woman, Dubthach's family wished her to
marry. Brigid, of course, had no interest in marriage. She was a
pretty girl, and she prayed that she would become ugly so that nobody
would want to marry her. Her prayer was answered and she
became quite unattractive. Her father gave up the idea of marrying her off, and allowed her to become a nun.
At the time, there were no religious houses for women in Ireland.
Most women who entered the religious life continued to live with their
families, who were likely to still be pagans. Others lived with
priests when their pagan families kicked them out.
Brigid set out with seven other young women who wanted to be nuns, to
find a Bishop, Saint Mel, who might confer upon them "the order
of penitence." At last they found the Bishop, and were
consecrated. It is sometimes said that he accidentally
consecrated Brigid as a bishop. Bishop or not, Brigid's beauty
reappeared as soon as she was consecrated. A story tells that
during the ceremony, Brigid held onto a wooden beam that supported the
altar. The wood supposedly became green, and although the church
burned down several times in the following centuries that beam always
remained fresh and intact beneath the ashes.
Fable says that Brigid asked the aforementioned king of Leinster
for a piece of land. When he hesitated to give it, Brigid said that
she would be content with what her cloak could cover. The king
agreed, but when her cloak was thrown down it began to spread until
it seemed likely that it would grow to cover all of Ireland. The
place became Kildare (Cill Dara, the Church of the Oak), and
Brigid set up her convent there. Eventually a double monastery,
housing both monks and nuns, was established there. This double
monastery, run by Brigid and Saint Conleth (who was a bishop), was
unique in Ireland.
Many stories of Brigid's life concern her adventures on the
road. She travelled extensively, ministering to the poor and the
sick, converting pagans, and setting up convents across Ireland.
Many cures and other miracles are attributed
to her, and she continued to be extremely generous.
Brigid died of natural causes at Kildare around 525 A.D., and is
buried in Downpatrick, Ireland with Saint Patrick and Saint
Columba (except for her head, which was apparently moved to a Jesuit
church in Lisbon, Portugal). She is the patron saint of babies, blacksmiths, boatmen,
cattle, chicken farmers, children whose parents are not
married, dairymaids, dairy workers, fugitives, infants,
Ireland, mariners, midwives, milkmaids, newborn
babies, nuns, poets, poultry farmers, sailors, scholars,
travellers, and watermen.