Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Saint Brigid and Somerset

I am always interested in the cult of Saint Brigid and our other native saints as found outside of Ireland. As I noted in an earlier post here, Saint Brigid was even more widely-known in medieval England than our national apostle, Saint Patrick. The English monastery of Glastonbury in particular led claim to relics of our patroness and below is a summary of this particular aspect of Brigid lore from a Somerset newspaper. Many of the themes it raises can be explored further in this post on Saint Brigid and Glastonbury.

St Brigid and Somerset


The Churches of Chelvey and Brean are the only ones in Somerset dedicated to this saint. But the county is peculiarly interested in St. Bridget, for it is said she came to Glastonbury about A.D. 488, and that she passed some years in a certain island called Beckery, where there was earlier still a chapel dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, and that on her return to Ireland, shortly before her death, she loft her wallet, her rosary, and her weaving tools at Beckery, which things, in consequence of the sweetness of her memory, were there preserved as reliques and reverenced. Moreover, the chapel was afterwards known by her name, in which chapel there was, in the southern part, a hole, through which all who passed would, according to common belief, receive forgiveness of their sins. Beckery lies nearly due west from Glastonbury— it consists of a ridge of no great elevation, stretching from near the site of the present railway station to the River Brue. St. Bridget is fabled to have nursed St. Patrick at Glastonbury in his last illness, and embroidered his shroud for him.

She is also said to have been buried at Glastonbury, although Kildare and Downpatrick in Ireland, and Abernethy, in Scotland, claim to have received her body. St. Bridget is pictorially represented as sitting with a bowl of milk in her lap, and a Glastonbury church tower bears a sculpture of what appears to be a dairymaid milking a cow. Mr. Bligh Bond attributes this as representing St. Bridget, who is reputed to have possessed many good characteristics. It is said that "wild ducks, swimming in the water, or flying in the air, obeyed her call, came to her hand, let her embrace them, and then she let them fly away again." In the Breviary of Sarum it is reported to be recorded that when she was sent a-milking to make butter, she gave away all the milk to the poor, that when the rest of the maids brought in their milk she prayed, and the butter multiplied; that the butter she gave away she divided into twelve parts, "as if it were the twelve Apostles," and one part she made bigger than any of the rest, which stood for Christ's portion, "though it is strange," says Bishop Patrick, "that she forgot to make another inequality by ordering one portion of the butter to be made bigger than the remaining ones in honour of St. Peter, the prince of the Apostles."

W. G. Willis Watson.

Calendar of Customs, Superstitions, Weather-lore, Popular Sayings and Important Events Connected with the County of Somerset. Reprinted from The Somerset County Herald (1920), 35-6.

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