Wednesday 2 February 2022

Saint Brigid in the Empire of the Gael

When I first established this blog it was my custom to make an octave of posts in honour of Saint Brigid and it is a tradition which I am pleased to revive. Over the ten years that this blog has been running I have written a number of times on the devotion to Saint Brigid outside her native land. Earlier posts can be found tagged here. Today we have a brief reminder of the honour paid to our patroness on the continent of Europe as found in an Australian newspaper of 1929, the centenary year of Catholic Emancipation. The reputation of Saint Brigid that was carried to continental Europe by Irish missionaries was that she was 'the Mary of the Gael'.  The German reference in the article is to the (in)famous complaint of an anonymous poet that in Erfurt, the Irish when they were drunk claimed that 'Brigit is God's Mum'. Obviously the Irish traditions about Saint Brigid as 'another Mary, mother of the great Lord', suffered somewhat in translation!

In the Empire of the Gael

THERE are few countries that can boast of as great an empire as Ireland can — an empire not won by oppression and slaughter, but by the Gospel of Christ, as preached by the early Irish monks and priests. It has in truth been called the Spiritual Empire of the Gael. A cursory glance at the ecclesiastical map of Europe reveals the number of religious foundations which were the work of Irish monks of the seventh and eighth centuries.

Irish Missionaries and Saints

A remarkable feature of their work was the preaching of devotion to their national saints, St. Patrick and St. Brigid. Everywhere they preached they told the story of their home saints, and caused to spring up a devotion to them which has; lasted when all memory of the preachers and their foundations has faded out of popular memory and traditions.

Indeed, so great was the propaganda spread, consequently their popularity, that it raised the ire of a German writer of the 12th century. He poked fun at the exaggerations the Irish foreigners, as he styled them, were led into by their unlimited admiration for the saints of their race.

Doubtless the exaggeration he referred to was the custom of referring to St. Brigid as 'the Mary of the Gael.' Even in the poetic 12th century the Gaelic imagination was too much for the realistic mentality of the German.

St. Brigid Abroad.

The saint of Kildare, says Dom Gougaud, enjoyed a remarkable popularity through all Europe. She seems to have captured the imagination of the people, and was honored above all the women of her time. 

As far back as the seventh century her festival was kept in Germany. The peasantry of Wallon knew of her kindness to animals in the eighth and ninth centuries, and they invoked her aid for their cattle and crops in the chapel dedicated to her honor in the town of Fosse — a town which owes its origin to an Irish saint, and which is linked once more with Ireland through the White Canons. The return of her relic from Portugal has told us of the veneration she enjoyed at Lumier. Cologne, Strasbourge, Liental, Genoa, Liege, are a few of the many places that know and honor the 'Pearl of Ireland.' In order to follow her cult, says Gougaud, it is only necessary to let the eye' roam over the map of Irish establishments on the Continent. Where an Irish monastery was, there Brigid was honored.

Brittany is a land full of odd memories, full of old churches, and full, too, of old pilgrimages and Pardons. Amongst all these old memories of saints and pilgrimages the memory of St. Brigid of Kildare is still found.

There is no saint — after their own national saint— enjoys such a popularity as the saint of Kildare. The tenacity of the Breton in clinging to old beliefs and devotions have often expressed itself on her behalf.

The celebration of a saint's festival is called a 'Pardon' in Brittany. Saint Brigid's festival, February 1, is celebrated by a Pardon at La Turbaille in Brittany, and all the neighborhood gather for this day of prayer and festival in honor of the Brigid of Kildare. On February 1, on the banks of the Loire, the sweet clear voices of Breton boys and girls rise in chant in honor of our dear saint from the Church of the Oaks.

 This year calls up the glories of the past — the glory of those who suffered for the faith of Patrick and Brigid at home and abroad.

In 'Irish Catholic.'

SAINT BRIGID (1929, June 20). Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW: 1850 - 1932), p. 34. 
Retrieved December 18, 2017, from
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