Thursday, 9 February 2017

Saint Columba's Hymn to Saint Brigid

We conclude the series of posts on Saint Brigid on the octave day of her feast with a hymn attributed to her fellow-patron, Saint Colum Cille. He enjoyed a reputation as a prolific writer, as the compiler of the 'authoritative sources' tells us:

Saint Columba was passionately fond of books and learning in all its branches. He himself, we are told, copied out many hundreds of verses and also wrote poems himself, one of the latter being the following hymn on Saint Brigid, for whom he entertained a great affection: -

"Bridget the good and the virgin,
Bridget our torch and our sun,
Bridget, radiant and unseen,
May she lead us to the eternal kingdom,
May Bridget defend us,
Against all the troops of hell,
And all the adversaries of life,
May she beat them down before us,
All the ill-movements of the flesh.
This pure virgin whom we love,
Worthy of honour without end,
May she extinguish in us.
Yes, she shall always be our safeguard,
Dear Saint of Lagenia;
After Patrick she comes the first,
The pillar of the land,
When old age comes upon us,
May she be to us as the shirt of hair;
May she fill us with grace,
May Bridget protect us."

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 71-72.

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Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Vision of Saint Brigid

A curious episode today from the Life of Saint Brigid, her childhood vision of the trouble ahead for the Irish church. By the 10th century hagiographers were keen to put our national patroness in the company of our national apostle and thus the two meet at various gatherings, with Saint Brigid and her nuns eventually preparing a burial shroud for the dying Saint Patrick. In this case she sees the pristine purity of the Patrician church under threat from outsiders, most commentators suggest that this is a reference to the Vikings but of course they are only the first of a number of invaders to threaten Ireland:

Saint Brigid was brought by some friends to hear Saint Patrick speak of heavenly things. While the Apostle was discoursing, Saint Brigid fell into a state of ecstasy. Saint Patrick commanded Saint Brigid to tell the assemblage what she had seen in her vision. "I saw" said the child, "a herd of white oxen among white crops; then I beheld spotted animals of different colours; and after these appeared black and darkly coloured cattle.  Afterwards, I saw sheep and swine and lastly dogs and wolves worrying each other."

The Apostle interpreted this vision for his hearers: "The Church he had founded would enjoy peace for a time. Her brow would be adorned with snow-white flowers typical of the purity of her children and her peaceful progress through the first three centuries of her existence. The flowers would be then changed to a crown of thorns which she would have to wear for many long and weary centuries to come."

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 46.

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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Saint Brigid and the Anchorite

Today we meet a holy anchorite who denies his disciples the chance to meet with Saint Brigid and to receive her blessing. His reluctance arises from his vow not to be in the company of women, but of course Saint Brigid is not just any woman....

A bond of holy friendship existed between Saint Brigid and Saint Erc of Slane, on the banks of the Boyne. It appears from her Acts that she paid him a visit and accompanied him on a tour to his native province of Munster. We are told an anecdote in connection with this visit. The Saint was resting by the sea, not far from Saint Erc's house. Close by this an Anchorite and a number of disciples were resting while on their journey to form a hermitage. The news had reached them that Saint Brigid and her nuns, of whom they had heard so much, had taken up their abode not many miles away and the disciples approached the Father and asked him to allow them to visit Saint Brigid to get her blessing. To which request the Anchorite replied: "My children, you know already my vow to visit no woman."

When they arrived at a hospice in which they were to pass the night, they discovered that the greater portion of their luggage had been left behind on the road. They at once attributed their loss to their neglect on not having sought the blessing of Saint Brigid when passing her cell. In atonement for their fault they spent the night in fasting and prayer. 

Saint Brigid called her nuns round her and bade them carry into the Convent the property which these holy men had left on the wayside, and there the monks with their leader, who had returned for their belongings found them. They humbly knelt for Saint Brigid's blessing and remained three days and as many nights near where she lived. At the earnest request of the Anchorite and his brethren, our Saint accompanied them for one day, on their return journey and imparted a special blessing to them on her leave-taking. 

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 55.

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Monday, 6 February 2017

Saint Brigid gives King Dunling a Lesson in Charity

Today we have a concrete example of the generosity of Saint Brigid spoken of so approvingly in yesterday's post as our saint shows an Irish king the meaning of Christian charity. For the ability of the saints to speak fearlessly and frankly to those in secular authority is also something recorded in hagiography:

C. Chandler, The Red Book of Saints (1958)

Another story showing how exceedingly charitable the Saint was is taken from Colgan. It relates that when Dunling, King of Leinster, reproved her for having given to a poor man the jewelled sword he had with his own hand given to her father in token of friendship and esteem, she replied to him thus: "Do not wonder, O King, that I have bestowed what was in my keeping on the poor, since, were it in power to do so, I would give them all that is possessed by you, O King, and by my father; for God will give eternal rewards in exchange for such temporal riches." The king was deeply impressed by this answer, and he repented that, in a moment of anger, he had used harsh words to one who had shown him a striking example of the exercise of Christian charity. To signify his approval of an act, the motive of which he now understood, he bestowed another sword of greater value, and a number of rich gifts, upon Dubhtach, to show that he now admired her conduct.

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 44.

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Sunday, 5 February 2017

Saint Brigid 'the best and most generous benefactress'

If one has to identify a single virtue which the sources claim typified Saint Brigid, it would have to be her generosity to those in need. The compiler of the series of vignettes we have been enjoying since her feast certainly thought so:

A virtue that drew all hearts irresistibly to the Patroness of Ireland was her wonderful sympathy with and charity toward the poor and afflicted. She looked upon them as her dearest friends and loved to have them around her. They came to her in their need, and they found her to be their best and most generous benefactress. She was never happier than when giving food or raiment to those who asked it of her, and no doubt felt that, although so young, she was old enough to bring happiness to many that had not her advantages or position. It must have been pleasing and profitable to behold this little child distributing her gifts to the poor. The air was filled with blessings and benedictions upon her head, the cry of distress was stifled; the impoverished and needy bodies were strengthened, the wan look of hunger was exchanged for that of radiant joy and delight, as the saint poured her charity into the outstretched hands of the crowds that followed her. we are told that she had a storehouse  erected, into which she placed everything she could collect, whether food or clothes, or other necessities of the age. The meals, necessary for her own nourishment, were often also placed in this hiding place.

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 43.

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Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Testimony of Saint Brigid on the Angels

Continuing the vignettes from the life of Saint Brigid with a follow-up episode to yesterday's angelic intervention. Saint Brigid has been able to save her father's household from burning by an enemy thanks to the warning of an angel. Now back in her newly-established convent at Kildare she elaborates on her relationship with the heavenly host:

C. Erskine, Angels in Art (1898)

When she returned to her new home one of the sisters said to her: "I pray that the angel of the Lord may always assist you, as he had done, during the past night, by the liberation of yourself, your father and his family".  "Not only this night," said the saint, "but in every age, I shall have the Lord's assistance in all things, through the ministry of His angels. For daily I experience a great joy of spirit, while I hear through divine inspiration songs, spiritual canticles and strains of heavenly organs. I am able also to hear every day those sacred Masses which are offered in honour of the Almighty in distant parts of the world, in like manner as if I were present at their celebration, while the angels of God present my prayers to heaven day and night. Wherever I am the Lord always hears me, as I will show by the following two incidents:

On a particular occasion a certain woman, who was a leper and infirm, asked me to bring her water and to perform some other charitable offices for her. Whereupon, I blessed the vessel, which was  filled with water, and presented it, telling her to place the vessel between herself and the wall, so that no person should be able to touch it until her return. But in my presence, the angel of the Lord blessed that water and it was turned into whatever kind of liquid the leper desired; thus it had the taste of honey when this was wished for, again the taste of wine, of beer, of milk, or of any other liquid that infirm woman especially required.

Again, when I was a little girl, I fashioned an altar-stone in honour of my God, yet with child-like intent. Then an angel of the Almighty, in my presence, perforated the stone at its four angles and placed at each of them four wooden feet. That you may glorify Our Lord Jesus Christ I have mentioned, O my daughter, these two interpositions of my Angel Guardian. Thus the grace of God hath always continued within me."

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 59-60.

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Friday, 3 February 2017

An Angel Warns Saint Brigid of Danger

Continuing the octave of posts in honour of Saint Brigid with another vignette drawn from her hagiography:

Having selected the site which was to be the scene of her labours for the remaining years of her life, St. Brigid paid a visit to the house of her father. Her mother had died during the saint's long absence in other parts of Ireland. She remained only one night under the parental roof, and an account is given of a dream she had while she was there and of its result.

For it appears that during her sleep an angel appeared to her and warned her of a terrible disaster which threatened the lives of those near and dear to her by ties of blood. Thus spoke the angel: "Arise immediately and arouse your father with his whole family and your religious daughters, now sleeping, for with an intention of murdering your father and his household an enemy approaches. But the Lord will prevent such intention on your account. Depart instantly from this house, for the foe will set it on fire."

The saint obeyed the order and warned the inmates and they all fled from the house in time to save their lives. They had only gone a short distance when they beheld with sorrow, their home devoured by fire, which the hands of their enemies had kindled. Dubhtach cried out to his daughter: "O holy Brigid, thy blessing has preserved us this night from impending death. We are now conscious of all those wonderful things predicted concerning thee." St. Brigid answering said "Not only this night, but so long as you live, blood shall not be shed within your dwelling."

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 58-59.  

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Thursday, 2 February 2017

Saint Brigid in Connaught

We begin a series of posts to mark the Feast of Saint Brigid with a vignette taken from a 1908 volume on Saint Patrick and the Irish saints. It is unattributed to any author but draws upon the hagiography of the saints to illustrate their lives. In the episode below Saint Brigid is in Connaught when on her way home she encounters some rather ungallant boatmen who foolishly believe they are going to get the better of her....

The ancient lives of the Saint record many miracles performed by her in Connaught to strengthen the faith of the new converts, and to attract the followers of the Druidical worship to the Christian belief, and these were performed before large gatherings of people.

In her return journey to her native Leinster, we are told in her Fourth Life, St. Brigid arrived at Ath-Luain, the historic town of Athlone... It was in Athlone that the miracle related in many of her ancient lives took place, in presence of a large gathering of people. The boatmen refused to row herself and her companions across the Shannon to the Meath side, on their homeward journey to her native province, without payment of an exorbitant fee. They told the ferryman that they would walk across rather than pay such an impossible sum. The boatmen and many of the crowd laughed at this threat. One of the nuns turned to St. Brigid and asked her to bless the swollen waters of the river so that they might so decrease as to permit them to ford it and dispense with the services of the boatmen. To the astonishment of those assembled to watch the departure of the Saint and her religious following, the angry waters subsided to such an extent that they reached scarcely to the knees of St. Brigid and the nuns.

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 56-57.

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Wednesday, 1 February 2017

'This extraordinary woman' : Saint Brigid

February 1 is the feast of Saint Brigid, secondary patron of Ireland and to mark the occasion below is a summary of her life from a County Mayo born historian and journalist, Martin Haverty (1809-1887). The author draws on the major episodes from hagiography and ends with a dismissal of the later medieval tradition that Saint Brigid shares a common grave in Down with Saint Patrick:

...of all the Irish saints of the first century of Christianity in this country the highest position, next to that of St. Patrick himself, is unanimously yielded to St. Brigid. This extraordinary woman belonged to an illustrious race, being lineally descended from Eochad, a brother of Conn of the Hundred Battles, monarch of Ireland in the second century, and was born about the year 453, at Fochard, to the north of Dundalk, where her parents, although a Leinster family, and therefore belonging to Leath Mogha, or the southern part of Ireland, were then sojourning. As she was remarkable for sanctity from her childhood, it is possible that she had become known to St. Patrick, by whom her biographers say she was baptized. She received the veil from St. Maccaille, in one of the earliest convents for religious women founded in Ireland, and her zeal for establishing nunneries was exercised throughout her life with wonderful results. She travelled into various parts of Ireland for this purpose, being invited by many bishops to found religious houses in their dioceses: and at length the people of Leinster became jealous of her attention to the other provinces, and sent a deputation to her in Connaught entreating her to return, and offering land for the purpose of founding a large nunnery. This was about the year 480, or shortly after; and it was then that she commenced her great house of Kildare, or the Church of the Oak, which soon became the most famous and extensive nunnery that has ever existed in Ireland. A bishop was appointed to perform the pontifical duties connected with it, an humble anchorite named Conlaeth being chosen for that office; and the concourse of religious and pilgrims who flocked to it from all quarters, soon created in the solitude a city which became the chief town of all Leinster. The vast numbers of young women and pious widows who thronged round St. Brigid for admission into her convent, present a singular feature in a country just emerging from paganism; and the identity of that monastic and ascetic form which Christianity, in all the purity and fervor of its infancy, thus assumed in Ireland, as in all other countries, with the form which it has continued to retain, in all ages, in the Catholic Church, must strike every student of history. St. Brigid has been often called "The Mary of Ireland;" a circumstance which shows, not that the primitive Irish Christians confounded her with the Mother of Our Lord—a silly mistake which some modern writers have thoughtlessly attributed to them—but that they felt that the most exaggerated praise which they could bestow upon their own great saint was to compare her with the Blessed Virgin.

One of the most distinguishing virtues of St. Brigid was her humility. It is related that she sometimes attended the cattle on her own fields; and whatever may have been the extent of the land bestowed upon her, it is also certain that a principal source of subsistence for her nuns was the alms which she received. The habit of her order was white, and for centuries after her time her rule was followed in all the nunneries of Ireland.

The Four Masters record the death of St. Brigid at the year 525; and according to Cogitosus, one of her biographers, her remains were buried at the side of the altar, in the Cathedral Church of Kildare, and not, as some late traditions have it, in the same tomb with the apostle of Ireland in Downpatrick.

Martin Haverty, The History of Ireland from the Earliest Period to the Present Time (New York, 1871), 75-77.

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