Saturday, 8 June 2013

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Saint Brigid Exonerates Saint Brón

June 8 is the feast day of Saint Brón of Kilaspugbrone whom hagiography links with both Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid. In the Patrician texts Brón is depicted as an early disciple of our national apostle, appointed by him to found a church in the County Sligo district of Cassell-Irra, now known as Killaspugbrone, literally 'the church of Bishop Brón'. In the Irish Life of Saint Brigid, however, Brón is accused of raping a woman and of being the father of her child. Fortunately, although Saint Patrick is present at the gathering where this accusation is made, Saint Brigid arrives with another of her episcopal mentors, Bishop Mel, and saves the day. There are a number of charming aspects to this account. First, the ever-modest Saint Brigid is depicted as being reluctant to perform a miracle in the presence of Saint Patrick but nevertheless deals firmly with the issue. The mother's sins very publicly find her out and she is ultimately condemned by her own child. Then while the onlookers clamour for the woman caught in the lie to be burned, Saint Brigid is content for the sinner to do penance. Thus she demonstrates her characteristic virtues of modesty and mercy. The last line really says it all: 'The people are delighted, the bishop is liberated, and Brigit is glorified’.


Thereupon they come to Tailtiu. Patrick was there. They were debating an obscure question there, namely a certain woman had come to accuse a priest of Patrick’s household of being the father of her child. Brón was the priest’s name. ‘How has this been made out’, said everyone. ‘Not difficult’, said the woman, ‘I had come to Brón to have the veil blessed on me and to offer my virginity to God. This is what this wicked priest did, he debauched me, so that I have borne him a son.’ As they were debating thus, Brigit was coming towards the assembly. Then Mel said to Patrick: ‘The holy maiden Brigit is approaching the assembly and she will find out for you by the amount of her grace and the proximity of her miracles whether this is true or false; for there is nothing in heaven or earth which she might request of Christ which would be refused her. And this is what should be done in this case: she should be called apart out of the assembly about this question, for she will not perform miracles in the presence of holy Patrick. ‘ Brigit comes thereupon. The crowd rises up before her. She is immediately called aside out of the assembly to address the woman, and the priests except Patrick accompany her. ‘Whose is this child?’ [said Brigit] to the woman. ‘Brón’s’, said the woman. ‘That is not true’, said Brigit. Brigit made the sign of the cross over her face and immediately her head and tongue began to swell. Patrick then comes to them into the great hall. Brigit addresses the child in the presence of the people of the assembly, though it had not yet begun to speak. ‘Who is thy father?’ said Brigit. ‘Brón the bishop is not my father but a certain ill-shaped man who is sitting in the outermost part of the assembly; my mother is a liar.’ They all return thanks to God and demand that the guilty one be burned. But Brigit refuses saying: ‘Let this woman do penance’. This was done and the head and tongue lost their swelling. The people are delighted, the bishop is liberated, and Brigit is glorified’.

M.A. O’Brien, ‘The Old Irish Life of St. Brigit: Part I. Translation’, in Irish Historical Studies, Volume 1, no.2 (1938), 132-133.

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