Thursday 8 August 2013

Saint Brigid and the Blind Nun

August 8 is the commemoration of Saint Daire, one of three female saints commemorated on the Irish calendars who bear this name. In his account of Saint Daire, which can be read at my other site here, Canon O'Hanlon suggests that she may have been the blind nun Daire, who features in a poignant episode from the hagiography of Saint Brigid. The miracle of the blind nun was rendered into verse by the poet Aubrey de Vere (1814-1902), whose work was widely quoted by Catholic writers like Canon O'Hanlon in their work on the Irish saints:


ST. BRIGID is the mother, all men know,
Of Erin's nuns that have been or shall be
From great St. Patrick's time to that last day
When Christ returns to judge the world with fire.
Her life was full of marvels; here is one
Some deem than miracle miraculous more.

'Twas summer eve: upon a grassy slope
Which overlooks Cill Dara's boundless plain
She sat, and by her side a fair blind nun
Of them that followed her and loved her rule,
And sang her nocturn psalms. They spake of God,
The wonder of His dread inscrutable Being,
Round all, o'er all, in all; the wonder next
That man, so slight a thing, can move His love,
Can love Him, can obey: the marvel last
Of God made Man; the Infinite in greatness
By infinite descent a creature made,
Perchance within the least of peopled worlds

For saving of all worlds. The sun went down:
Full-faced the moon uprose: the night-wind sighed:
It broke not their discourse. For them it swayed
Not Dara's oaks but boughs of Olivet,
Brightened their midnight dews.

The dawn returned:
It flushed the clouds: it fired the forest's roof :
It laughed on distant streams. The splendour burned
In the green grass and lived in brake and bush:
Transfigured earth upreared a face as when
Man his terrestrial to celestial changed
Shall look upon his Maker ; such a face
As angel-hosts raised to God's universe
"When, first evoked, it burst upon their sight
From night primeval and that chaos old.

St. Brigid gazed upon that dawn: a thought
Keen as a lance transfixed her heart: she mused,
'Alas, this poor blind Sister sees it not ! '
She clasped that Sister's hand, she raised, she kissed
That blind one spake: ' Why weepest thou, Mother
Thy tears are on my hand! ' The Saint replied;
'I weep because thou canst not see yon dawn,
Nor in it God's great glory.' Then the nun;
'If that thought grieves thee, pray and I shall see.'
St. Brigid knelt ; and, lo, the blind one saw!

'Twere sin to paint in words that creature's gladness:
 It lasted long: it passed: by slow degrees
A twilight shadow tinged the sweet, pale face:
She spake: 'Great Mother, you can watch yon dawn
Yet nothing lose of that more heavenly vision
"Which lights God's inner realm within our hearts.

That inner world hath been my comfort; there
Ever I saw my Jesus, first a Babe
Couched in His crib, a Boy within the Temple,
At Cana's marriage feast, by Lazarus' tomb,
Upon the mount of His Beatitudes,
Upon the mount of His Transfiguration;
I tracked His steps through fields of Palestine;
I heard His Parables; I saw Him lay
His hand upon the blind, the dumb, the dead;
I knew that voice in all its holy changes,
His footstep, and the joy upon the face
Of those who heard that footstep though far off
Martha, or Mary, or the loved disciple;
Daily these things I saw: that vision pales,
Dazed by the earthly splendours of this dawn,
Dim as earth dimmed when blindness near me drew.
Never be blindness mine to heavenly things!
Still let me feel when other help is none
That God is nearest to me, Mother mine!
A weakling I; grant me what weaklings need!
Kneel down once more, and give me back my blindness.'

Then knelt the Saint and prayed once more, and God
Restored to her she loved her holy blindness:
For forty years it lasted: then she died.

Aubrey de Vere, The Poetical Works of Aubrey de Vere, Volume II, (1895), 402-5.

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