Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Saint Brigid by Daphne Pochin Mould

Cover illustration by Piet Sluis
I have been enjoying a re-read of the late Daphne Pochin Mould's 1964 book on Saint Brigid, one of a number of worthwhile titles on the early Irish church and its saints published by Clonmore and Reynolds. I find them one of the more interesting Irish publishing houses, Clonmore being the Anglo-Irish aristocrat Viscount Clonmore, who at some personal cost converted to Catholicism in the early 1930s. He also acted as translator for a number of books originally written in French, titles such as the Daniel-Rops collection The Miracle of Ireland which this publisher made available for an Irish audience. Saint Brigid is a slim but important volume as the author had access to the research notes for a projected book on Saint Brigid by Father Felim Ó Briain, O.F.M. Sadly, this was left unfinished at the time of the scholarly Franciscan's death, a great pity indeed since Father Ó Briain had published a number of pioneering studies of Irish hagiography and early Church history. Dr Mould admits at the end of the first chapter:
I do not pretend to Father Felim's scholarship, and this is not the book that he would have written had be lived. I would however like to present it as a tribute to the memory of a very learned Irishman who was not afraid to describe St. Brigid's place in the world as standing "head and shoulders above all the saints of the Gael".
D.D.C. Pochin Mould, Saint Brigid (Dublin and London, 1964), 12.

Over the course of seven chapters and seventy-five pages the author examines:

1. The Enigma of St. Brigid
2.  St. Brigid's Ireland
3. The Historical St. Brigid
4. The Legend of St. Brigid
5. The Veneration of St. Brigid
6. St. Brigid's Festival
7. St. Brigid and Modern Ireland

Whilst it is obvious that this book predates the current New Age interest in the goddess Brigid, as well as the raft of recent scholarship on hagiography and historical revisionism of cherished positions about that 'Miracle of Ireland', it is by no means an uncritical study. For example, the very first words of the book make a candid admission:
Nobody would have any difficulty in writing the certain facts about St. Brigid of Ireland on the back of a postage stamp, an ordinary small stamp, not a large special issue.
This leads to an appreciation of the difference between hagiography and history or biography. Nor is this the only thorny issue the author confronts as she tackles the issue of the saint's relationship to the goddess head on too:
There really is no half-way house. Either Brigid is a hoax, a whitewashed fertility goddess, or she is Ireland's greatest woman saint to date, one indeed of the world's great saints and great women.

The book sets out to provide an answer using all of the sources available - hagiographical, genealogical, liturgical and historical. There is a very good summary of the cult of Saint Brigid in countries outside Ireland, although the chapter on Saint Brigid's Festival relies heavily on Scottish Gaelic sources. Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica is itself something which has come under critical scrutiny since this book was written. But overall this volume packs a lot of punch in its seventy five pages and as I like to mark the feasts of our Irish patrons with an octave of posts in their honour I will bring a few more selections from it over the next week.

Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2016. All rights reserved.

1 comment: