Monday 5 February 2018

Father Knowles on Irish Devotion to Saint Brigid

We continue with the reading of the 1907 book, Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland, with a look at how the author, Irish Augustinian Joseph Knowles, viewed devotion to Saint Brigid in her own country. As I noted in the previous post, he is determined to make sure that Saint Patrick receives his share of the credit for Saint Brigid's greatness. Also, as we saw yesterday, Father Knowles believes that pagan Ireland was uniquely responsive to the Christian message and thus he sees the wonder that was Saint Brigid as a heavenly 'reward for the warm-hearted and generous welcome extended to the Apostle' sent to us. That said, he also claims that 'St. Brigid received from her people a worship which history accords to no other saint', which sounds like yet another demonstration of the supposed uniqueness of Early Christian Ireland:
Devotion to St Brigid is not a matter of to-day or yesterday. It began during her earthly life, growing in intensity as the shadows closed in around her mortal career. The fame of her sanctity and her miraculous power rang during her days from end to end of her Island-home. After the National Apostle, she was proclaimed by all the greatest and best beloved of the Saints whose names enrich the Calendar of the Irish Church. St. Brigid received from her people a worship which history accords to no other saint. The nation fell prostrate at her feet, offering to her the sweet incense of a tender and deep-seated love and devotion. The people beheld in her the noblest and best type of womanhood, raised to the most elevated plane attainable by the children of men this side of the grave. They recognised in her the realization of that blessing, which the Almighty had specially bestowed on their race, as a reward for the warm-hearted and generous welcome extended to the Apostle He had sent to teach them His heavenly doctrines. A people who had so readily opened their hearts to the teachings of their Apostle could not but rise to the highest pitch of enthusiastic devotion to her, who was the brightest and most exalted product of St. Patrick's ministry. She typified the perfect woman, nurtured and fed on the word of God. She was the light that shone over their Island to direct the footsteps of the daughters of Erin in the paths of virtue and sanctity.
 And how did the devotion of the Irish people to this 'perfect woman' manifest itself?
In speaking of her they discarded the prefix Saint, and called her, in homely, yet reverent fashion, "Mo Brighe" — or "My Bride." The children received her blessed name at the baptismal font. The sturdy sons of the Irish race added her name to those usually adopted by their sex. With one chorus of acclamation, she was proclaimed the Patroness of their land, the Protectress of their daughters' virtue, and the strength of their warrior sons in defence of Faith and Fatherland. 

I think that in his final sentence Father Knowles has encapsulated the entire spirit of the Irish national revival of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Rev. J.A. Knowles, O.S.A., Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland, (Dublin, 1907), 7-8.

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