|Cover illustration by Piet Sluis|
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:
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: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.
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.
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