Tuesday 8 February 2022

The History of the Mantle of Saint Brigid

We conclude the series of posts in honour of Saint Brigid with a look at the history of the relic of her mantle, preserved at the Cathedral de Saint Sauveur in Bruges. In the previous post we looked at what the examinations of 1866 and 1935 revealed about the nature of the relic, as described by Henry McClintock. But what of its origins? How did la manteline de Saint Brigide d'Irlande come to Belgium? Let's start with a brief reminder of how the relic is displayed today:

What the visitor actually sees is a glazed frame of Gothic design, not unlike the fame of a picture, and underneath the glass, an ancient and, much worn, piece of cloth, roughly two feet square, of a dull crimson colour and of a strange make quite unlike any modern cloth with which we are now familiar. Its surface instead of being smooth is covered all over with tufts of curly wool so that at first sight it looks more like a piece of sheep skin's or astrakhan fur dyed red than any sort of fabric woven on the loom.

 Next, McClintock sketches the interesting provenance of this relic which goes back to the Saxon royal house:

The history of this piece of cloth is as strange and romantic as its appearance. It is said to have been brought to Bruges and presented to the Cathedral by the Princess Gunhild of England, a sister of King Harold, who took refuge there after the defeat and death of her brother, as well as that of her husband, at the battle of Hastings, 1066. The first documentary record of the relic is in the year 1347, and this earlier part of its history rests only on tradition, but there is no reason to doubt its truth and indeed there is much to confirm it. It is, for instance, a historical fact that Princess Gunhild settled in Bruges after the battle of Hastings and ultimately died there twenty-one years later; while the story is further supported by the fact that there was as close connection between her family and Ireland, for when her father, Earl Godwine, then the wealthiest and most powerful man in England, quarrelled with the King - King Edward the Confessor - in the year 1051 and was exiled to Flanders, two of his sons, Harold and Leofwine, went to Ireland where they stayed with the King of Leinster, Diarmaid Mac Mael-na-mbo, and busied themselves in collecting ships and men to help their father in gaining his restoration. Having thus raised a force they set sail for the English Channel and joined Godwine who had come with auxiliaries from Flanders, and the two fleets proceeded together along the south coast of England taking hostages and receiving promises of help and thence up the Thames to London where, at a conference with the King, matters were settled and Godwine was allowed to return and his property was restored. Now nothing could have been more likely, or more in keeping with the spirit of those days, than for the the two young princes, before embarking on a desperate adventure like this to have visited a famous shrine like that of St Brigid at Kildare in the heart of Diarmaid's kingdom, and to have returned with a relic of the saint in memory of their pilgrimage. This relic would have been carried with them during their subsequent successful expedition and would thenceforward have become one of the most treasured possessions of their family. It would, therefore, be only natural for their sister to rescue it with her other valuable possessions and to take it with her for safety to Flanders.
Sadly, the author declines to devote much time to the later history but nevertheless manages to include some interesting details, especially of how the relic was used for healing:

I will pass over the subsequent history of the relic - how about the year 1400, it was enclosed in a sumptuous covering of yellow silk and gold lace in the form of a cape, which used to be placed on the shoulders of the sick, and especially those of sick women, and was exposed for veneration of the 1st of February in each year; how it, together with other Church valuables, was preserved and placed in safety when the the Cathedral was destroyed during the French revolution....
McClintock, H. F. (1951). The “Mantle of Saint Brigid” at Bruges. Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society, 12 (3), 119–122. https://doi.org/10.2307/27728777

As this is the Octave Day of the Feast of Saint Brigid I will close with the traditional prayer from her Office:

Deus, qui nos hodierna die beatae Brigidae Virginis tuae annua solemnite laetificas: concede propitius; ut ejus adjuvemur meritis, cujus castitatis irradiamur exemplis. Per Dominum. 

O GOD, Who year by year dost cause us to rejoice as upon this day, in the feast of Thy blessed hand-maiden Brigid, mercifully grant us help for her sake, the bright ensample of whose chastity doth still shed its light upon us. Through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

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Monday 7 February 2022

The "Mantle of Saint Brigid" at Bruges

Derricke's Image of Ireland, 1581

The "Mantle of Saint Brigid" at Bruges is the title of a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in 1936. The author, Major Henry Foster McClintock (1871-1959), had a particular interest in historical dress and published a book on the subject, Old Irish and Highland Dress, in 1943. He was born in Dublin the first child of the sailor and polar explorer Francis Leopold McClintock, who was instrumental in uncovering the fate of the lost Antarctic expedition led by Sir John Franklin. After a military career Henry McClintock returned to Ireland in 1928 and settled in Ardee, County Louth. In his paper on Saint Brigid's mantle, McClintock begins by pointing out that the name of this relic is somewhat misleading:

...the name of "Mantle" is really a misnomer; it is not a complete cape or garment of any sort but simply a rectangular piece of woollen cloth measuring about 21 by 25 inches, of a dark crimson colour, and covered all over on its face with tufts of curly wool resembling the fleece of a sheep.
However, he goes on to explain that at one time this fleecy woollen cloth was enclosed in what sounds like a type of fabric reliquary in the form of a silk cape:

Until about 70 years ago it had the appearance of a cape, or shoulder-cloak, of yellow silk interwoven with gold thread and decorated with gold lace...But in 1866, when it was examined ..the cape was found to be merely a decorative covering  which appeared from the nature of its materials to have been made in about the year 1400. The original relic was discovered inside, and was found to consist of a piece of shaggy cloth, with some sort of lining of blue and green linen which showed signs of wear. It was at this time that the silk covering was removed and the relic enclosed in the glazed wooden case in which it is now kept...
The cloth was next examined in 1935 by a staff member of the Department of Textiles of the Royal Museum, Brussels, and McClintock provided a translation of the report. This is how the relic was described on that occasion:

In its present condition the fragment of St Brigid's cloak consists of a rectangular bit of stuff measuring 0.545m. wide and 0.64m. long (about 21 by 25 inches), kept in a modern triptych-shaped reliquary. It consists of a deep violet woollen fabric, to which a light lining of red silk taffeta was added - by oversewing it to the edges - after its official recognition in 1866. This woollen fabric is characterised by a thick curly fleece which entirely covers its outer surface, giving it the effect of astrakhan fur. The reverse side is perfectly smooth, and thus it is easy to follow the interlacements of the threads of the warp and weft which is of the simplest form, being that used in making linen...We must add to this that the fabric underwent some alterations in 1866; darning in several damaged places and putting back strands which had become detached.

 McClintock, H. F. (1936). The “Mantle of St. Brigid” at Bruges. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 6 (1), 32–40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25513808

McClintock saw this type of cloth as typical of the 'Shag-rug Mantles' worn in sixteenth century Ireland and mentioned by various English Tudor commentators. Some illustrations of these cloaks also survive including that from Derricke's Image of Ireland (1581) which I have reproduced above. It shows an Irish Chief with his wife and retinue at dinner. McClintock explains that "The Chief's wife is wearing a mantle with a shaggy exterior, while the two Friars appear to have similar mantles with the shaggy sides worn inwards." He admits that he cannot prove such mantles were made in the time of Saint Brigid but feels that it is reasonable to suggest that the weaving of such garments had a long history in Ireland and were part of a wider European tradition going back to the Bronze Age. He adds that a chemical analysis of a bit of the wool showed that the main dye used was iron oxide. The Belgian textile expert also informed McClintock that "she saw no signs of the green and blue lining said to have been attached to the piece of shaggy woollen cloth when the relic was examined and re-arranged in 1866."

 In 1951 Major McClintock published a second article on The Mantle of Saint Brigid in the and in the next post we will examine the fascinating provenance of the relic and trace its journey from Ireland to Belgium.

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Sunday 6 February 2022

Saint Brigid's Cloak


We continue the series of posts in honour of Saint Brigid with a reminder of one of her most famous relics - the Mantle or Cloak preserved at Bruges Cathedral. I have already brought a brief account here from an Irish writer who saw this relic in the 1880s, but an Australian newspaper of 1937 picked up on a paper by a 'Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries' which re-examined it. This is a reference to the 1936 article 'The "Mantle of St. Brigid" at Bruges ', published by H.F. McClintock in the Society's journal. I will bring a summary of his paper in the next post, but for now here is an introduction to the main details of the relic as published in the Auckland Star newspaper of January 16, 1937:


It had often been found, says the "Children's Newspaper," that tradition is founded on fact.

It has always seemed unlikely that the piece of curly woollen fleece said to be part of St. Brigid's cloak, which has been treasured for 900 years in the cathedral of St. Sauveur at Bruges, was actually worn by the Irish saint, who was born as long ago as the fourth century.

Now some remarkable evidence has been found in ancient documents by a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries that the fabric, which is very ancient and shows signs of hard wear, actually may have been part of St. Brigid's mantle.

It is a piece of shaggy, dark crimson material, about 21in by 25in, and was, taken to Belgium by an English princess, after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Before he became King of England, Harold had lived in Ireland as an exile. While he was the guest of the King of Leinster it is likely that, when making a pilgrimage to the tomb of the saint at Kildare, he acquired this relic.
Shaggy weaving, which is extremely ancient in Europe, was probably an Irish custom long before Brigid's time, and there are many allusions in old manuscripts to shag-rug mantles. It has been found that the piece of shag-rug at Bruges was coloured with dye made from iron oxide, and artists of the future will be able to represent the exact tint of her mantle.

ST. BRIGID'S CLOAK. Auckland Star, Volume LXVIII, Issue 13, 16 January 1937, Page 7 (Supplement)

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Saturday 5 February 2022

A Legend of Donegal

Today we are staying at Saint Brigid's holy well in Donegal to explore another piece of its associated folklore. Whilst rural Catholics cherished holy wells and the rituals which took place at them, the sites themselves were often in the ownership of Protestant landlords who could be hostile to their tenantry's traditions. Such a story is told of the landowner of the site of Saint Brigid's well and it is typical of the type of accounts uncovered by folklore collectors in the nineteenth century. This tale of how the Protestant landlord tries to impede access to the well, only to have a vision of a beautiful maiden hover protectively over it, was published in the American periodical The Sacred Heart Review in 1889. The illustration above is a postcard from my own collection showing Saint Brigid hovering ethereally above the stream at her reputed birthplace of Faughart, in County Louth:


Not far from the picturesque little village of Stranorlar, renowned as the last resting-place of Butt, the founder of the Home Rule movement, lies a calm, placid sheet of water, known to the peasantry as Loch Lawne. In its southern side, about three feet from the pebbly shore, is the famous well of St. Brigid, surrounded by a mound of small white stones brought from almost every part of Ulster, and surmounted by pieces of linen, sticks, and crutches, left by those who had the happiness of being cured by its healing waters. It has long been considered a pious custom for the pilgrim, on his first visit, to place three white stones on the ever-increasing mound. 

In the year 18 —, the concourse of pilgrims being larger than usual, the owner of the estate on which the lake is situated, under pretence that his crops were in danger of being destroyed, closed all ingress to the holy well. The peasantry became excited; threats were indulged in by some; petitions were made by others, but in vain. He was a man of gentle, but by times (as in the present instance), of stubborn manner. He knew no fear, and threats as well as petitions were entirely disregarded. For three months his hateful mandate was in force. One morning the inhabitants of Stranorlar awoke to find the following placard on the trunk of a large beech-tree, long used for public notices. It was signed by the owner of the estate: 


Many were the suppositions of the pious villagers as to the cause of his relenting; some said that his cattle were all dying; others, that good St. Brigid had sent him a warning from heaven. Be this as it may, a great change had come over him; his toleration was the wonder of all. Pilgrims might trample his oats, break his fences; he would only remark, "I will be nothing the poorer." 

Sitting one evening by his blazing peat-fire, many years after, he said to me: "I will tell you an incident that happened long years ago. You were then a mere boy. One morning I found my fences thrown into the lake. I became angry, and falsely suspecting the pilgrims, I poured forth threats and curses against them, and closed all ingress to the well; I even determined to drain it by means of a channel connecting it with the lake. To accomplish this spiteful work, I chose a clear, moonlight night. Taking a gun and spade, I set out by the shortest route to the well. Judge of my surprise on finding it illuminated as if by hundreds of candles! Trembling, I aimed my gun and fired. Not a light was extinguished; on the contrary, I seemed only to have increased the brilliancy of the scene. As I was pausing, not knowing whether to proceed to the well or return home, I saw a beautiful maiden rising, as it were, from the lake, attired in a long-flowing white robe, girded by a blue sash. On her breast sparkled gems more dazzling than the sun. She glided as I have seen swallows, without touching the earth, and hovered over the well. No doubt it was St. Brigid. . . . I often think of calling on Father C , and joining the Catholic Church." 

He is dead now, but his son, who inherits his liberal spirit, has made an excellent road to St. Brigid's well. And the peasants thereabout tell the strangers that linger on that romantic way the story I have told you.— S.D. in the Ave Maria.

 The Sacred Heart Review, Volume 1, Number 24, 11 May 1889, p6.

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Friday 4 February 2022

St Brigid's Well in Donegal

Saint Brigid, like many Irish saints, has holy wells dedicated to her throughout the country. These sites were an important part of popular Irish devotion to the saints, and often involved the performance of set rituals on the saint's feast day plus the use of the well water for therapeutic purposes.  These activities could be rather shocking though to observers from outside the rural Catholic communities which practised them. Nineteenth-century writer Mary Frances Cusack (1829–1899), defended holy wells against the charge that their use and the rituals surrounding them were no more than pagan superstition:

...in Ireland, the people happen to believe that God hears the prayers of saints more readily than their own; and acting on the principle which induced persons, in apostolic times, to use "handkerchiefs and aprons" which had touched the person of St. Paul as mediums of cure, because of his virgin sanctity, in preference to "handkerchiefs and aprons" of their own, they apply to the saints and obtain cures. But they do not believe the saints can give what God refuses, or that the saints are more merciful than God. They know that the saints are His special friends, and we give to a friend what we might refuse to one less dear. Lege totum si vis scire totum, is a motto which writers on national customs should not forget

 M.F. Cusack, An Illustrated History of Ireland (London, 1868), p.105.

The article below is from a 1936 Australian newspaper which describes a Donegal holy well dedicated to Saint Brigid. Interestingly, the emphasis here is less on Ireland's patroness and more on Ireland's experience of religious persecution in the centuries following the Reformation. For this well has an inscribed stone recording that "Father James Gallagher said his last Mass in Penal Days at Tobar Brighde." Although the 'Mass Rock' is the most iconic outdoor setting for Mass in the Penal times, holy wells also served this function and form part of its folklore. There are stories, for example, of strange mists descending at wells which hid the celebrants from the prying eyes of the 'priest hunter'. The account below suggests that in 1936 the popularity of Saint Brigid's well was undimmed, with Sunday the most popular day for visiting:



In the heart of the Finn Valley, in Donegal, is the Well of St. Brigid. Eager workers from in and around Clady, the nearby little village across the Tyrone border, have now fashioned a grotto near the Well, and placed there a statue of the saint. Below the grotto, in black letters on a white slab, is the simple inscription: "Father James Gallagher said his last Mass in Penal Days at Tobar Brighde."

This Well links the people of the Valley of the Finn with the not too distant days when the heads of priests were bought for a few pounds and the more distant times when the work of saints like Brigid made possible the triumphant bridge that has been built ever the Penal Days. On Sundays there is a constant stream of visitors, and last Sunday made a record. Motor cars, cycles, and horse-drawn vehicles were parked along the road sides.

A circular wall has been built around the well five feet high, with coping stones on top, set in cement. Over the grotto covering there is a construction of rough stones, and on top a Celtic cross. At one side of the well is the raised grotto containing the Saint's statue, and again on the right is another with a statue of Our Lady. 

LINK WITH PENAL DAYS (1936, December 10). Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 - 1954), p. 9.

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Thursday 3 February 2022

Where Brigid is Honoured

We stay with the theme of devotion to Saint Brigid in Europe with a 1929 piece from Irish Benedictine writer Dom Patrick Nolan. He is perhaps best known for his 1908 book The Irish Dames of Ypres which looked at the history of the Irish Royal Abbey of Ypres founded by seventeenth-century Catholic exiles. Here, however, he provides us with a gazetteer of places outside Ireland which cherished Saint Brigid and describes some of the history and traditions associated with them. As the immediate inspiration for Dom Patrick's reflections seems to have been the return of a portion of the relics of Saint Brigid to Killester in 1929, he concludes with a brief sketch of the history of her relics:


Europe's Devotion to Irish Saint.


A recent interesting article in the 'Irish Independent' on St. Brigid and the celebrations in her honour at Killester, prompts me to remind Irish people that devotion to this great saint is not confined to Ireland, and that her 'cultus' is as far flung as are the numerous lands evangelised by Irish missionaries.

Devotion to St. Brigid has been a constant European tradition, and her fame has extended far beyond our Continent. It may, indeed, be said to be greater in some Continental countries than in her own native land.

St. Brigid and Britain.

On Sunday January 27, I announced to the congregation, mostly English Catholics, of a small Oxford village that Friday, February 1, would be kept as the feast of St. Brigid of Ireland throughout the diocese of Birmingham, and rightly so.

The ancient Saxon kingdom of Mercia, which comprised the territory of the present Archdiocese of Birmingham, was evangelised by the children of St. Brigid many long centuries go, and the erection of the present nourishing diocese was a direct result of the extensive immigration of St. Brigid's children in the 'forties and 'fifties of last century.

In Scotland.

Our Scottish kinsfolk do not yield to their Irish forebears in their veneration for our great Irish saint. To the Scottish Gael, as Fiona Macleod reminds us, she is the 'Fair Lady of February,' 'St. Bride of the Kindly Fire,' and 'St. Bride of the Shores.' February is her own month, the month of 'Bride Min,' gentle Brigid; or 'Brighid boidheach Muime Chriosd,' Bride the Beautiful, Christ's Foster Mother.

In the Gaelic Highlands and storm-swept Isles of the West her emblems are the dandelion, the lamb and the sea-bird known to the common folk as the 'oyster-opener.'

The humble dandelion, the harbinger of Spring and of St. Brigid, the dealan Dhe, 'the little flame of God,' or bhearnan Brighde, 'St. Bride's forerunner,' has from remotest times been associated with St. Brigid by the Scottish Gael.

St. Bride's Flocks.

'To this day shepherds on Ah Fhiell Brighde,' St. 'Brigid's feast, 'are wont to hear among the mists the crying of in numerable young lambs, and this without the bleating of ewes, and so by that token know that Holy St. Bride has passed by, coming earthward with her flocks of countless lambs. . . .'

'In these desolate far isles where life is so hard ... a rejoicing sound is that in truth when the Gille-Bhride is heard calling along the shores.' And well may this welcome visitor to the bleak Scottish coasts be called the 'Servant of Bride,' for does not its incessant, cheery cry 'gilly-breed, gilly-breed, ' come to Gaelic ears like an invocation to the Mary of the Gael?


It is a far cry from Scotland to Alsace, but there too the traditional devotion to our Irish saint still flourishes.

The Canons of Old St. Peter's at Strassburg used to distribute 'St. Brigid 's Bread,' their best wine was known as 'St. Brigid's Wine.' Alsatian farmers had such devotion to her that they placed their fields and field work under her special protection, and 'Buren-bridel' was a generic title for Alsatian farmers' daughters, many of whom bore the name of Brigid, a name still not uncommon in Southern Germany.

The festival of St. Brigid was solemnly kept almost universally throughout the mediaeval German Empire, and by all the religious Orders. Churches and chapels were dedicated to her at Cologne, Mainz,
and elsewhere, from an early date.

At Fosses, in Belgium, an ancient chapel of St. Brigid still tops the hill so conspicuous from the railway station. At Piacenza, in North Italy, there is a church of St. Brigid, said to have been founded in 868 by the Irish saint, Donatus, Bishop of Fiesole. Annexed to it was a hospice for Irish pilgrims on their way to Bobbio or Rome.

Story of St. Brigid's Relics.

Much more could be said about the 'cultus' of St. Brigid on the Continent, but I must conclude with a few remarks as to her relics.

Cogitosus tells us that St. Brigid's relics were kept in a richly-decorated shrine in Kildare. It is not known when they were 'translated' and placed with St. Columba's and St. Patrick's at Downpatrick, but Columba's relics were still at Iona in the beginning of the ninth century.

During native political broils, devotion to the saint nagged and all knowledge of the whereabouts of her relics was lost. But they were miraculously re-discovered through the prayers of a holy Bishop, Malachy, in the year that Earl, later King John, came to Ireland (1185), as related in a special office for the day, printed in Paris in 1620. 

The Shrine Desecrated.

They were solemnly authenticated, or translated, on June 9 (St. Colum's day) in the presence of a Cardinal Legate, specially sent from Rome, and 15 Bishops; but the shrine was desecrated by Lord Leonard Gray, Viceroy of Henry VIII.

The head of St. Brigid is said to have been previously transferred to Newstadt in Austria, where it was venerated in the chapel of the imperial citadel. Later on the Emperor Rudolph II. gave it to John Borgia, son of St. Francis Borgia, and Ambassador of Philip II., who took it to Spain in 1587, and gave it to the Lisbon Jesuits, who kept it in the chapel of their house of studies at St. Roch, the solemn translation, one of the most magnificent ever seen, taking place in 1588.

St. Roch or Lumiar.

But Cardosus says that the head of St. Brigid is preserved with very great veneration in the church at Lumiar, formerly known as. St. John the Baptist's, but now as St. Brigid's. Three Irish knights are said to have taken it into Portugal to King Dionysius, or Denis (d. 1225).

Don Philip O'Sullivan Beare supports the Lumiar tradition, so that we may suppose the relic at St. Roch's, Lisbon, to be that of another St. Brigid, for there have been more than one saintly imitator of the great Irish original. We presume the great St. Brigid of Sweden had the Irish saint for her patron and model, and we know that Scandinavian pilgrims frequented the hospice of St. Brigid at Piacenza.

"WHERE BRIGID IS HONOURED." The Catholic Press, 28 March 1929
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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 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118097731
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Tuesday 1 February 2022

Saint Brigid: 'a type of all that is best in the character of the Irishwoman'

Today to mark the feast of Saint Brigid of Kildare we can enjoy a nineteenth-century view of her which I came across in the Papers Past digital newspaper archive of the National Library of New Zealand. It is one of the many items relating to Irish saints which were syndicated from a worldwide variety of publications. This particular one from 1888 is attributed to The Woman's Suffrage Journal and it is fascinating to see the view of Ireland's patroness presented by this historic feminist source. For one thing, there is no mention whatever of a goddess, for it was only in 1880 that the Continental Celticist, Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville, first suggested that the saint had inherited some of the supposed attributes of a pagan deity. The anonymous writer of the piece below is happy to draw upon the traditional hagiography of Saint Brigid and to see the various supernatural events connected with her as evidence that she was no ordinary woman. Victorian feminism advocated for women to be allowed to exercise a positive moral influence on society and the writer is thus delighted by the stories which show Saint Brigid as someone whose opinion was sought by Bishops. Indeed, the writer feels that 'Brigid appears a type of all that is best in the character of the Irishwoman' before concluding with a short list of her virtues which she hopes 'the daughters of Erin' will long emulate. Wishing everyone the blessings of the Feast of our national patroness, Saint Brigid!


Out of the mists of miracle there looms before us, 13 centuries ago in Ireland, the figure of a mighty woman — Brigid (or Bridget) of of Kildare. A woman, who without any doubt, impressed her personality on her time and country, but whose character and actions can only be outlined by the uncertain light of the traditions of miracle and legend which both conceal and. reveal her life.

In whatever way the stories strike us, that a globe of fire hovered over the place where Brigid was born; or that the frighted mother came home from the fields one day to find her cottage all ablaze, and to the baby lay laughing with rosy cheeks unscathed amid the flames; or that a pillar of light shone over the head of the maiden when she took her vows— believe we these things or believe we them not, they mark one unmistakeable truth — they point to a life of no common order.

Through the halo of these and many other legends which surround her, Brigid appears a type of all that is best in the character of the Irishwoman. We see her first as a bright, assiduous child, sharing all she has with the poor; then as an earnest girl, striving to fulfil her filial duties under difficult and complex conditions; finally as the self-sacrificing, devout woman, who felt that throughout all her life in all things she had the help of an angel of God while she spent her life for others, teaching and healing their quarrels as well as their diseases.

That her father was of noble birth all the accounts agree. The earlier narratives relate that her mother was a bond-woman, a second Hagar. May it not be that the difficulties brought to her earlier years by the unequal conditions of her parents aided to develop in Brigid that universal sympathy for all living creatures which she seems to have possessed — she not only fed the starving dog, but the wild boar from the woods, rushing down on the swine she was watching, at a word from her became tame. The wild fowl at her call came hovering around, and let her fondle them.

Whether a temporary and opportune blindness really came to her aid in the matter or not does not alter the fact that she overcame the plans her father had made for the marriage of his beautiful and attractive daughter and early devoted herself to a religious life.

The great apostle of his age and country, St. Patrick, received her us his daughter, and became to her as a father. What the great, council of bishops was which sought her opinion is not apparently very clear, nor the occasion of the visit paid by seven bishops to the saint at Kildare, but those references to her opinion show that her judgment was valued, and that she inspired confidence in the best minds of her time.

Her birthplace was at Fochart, in County Louth, but her childhood and youth were, passed partly in the west, partly in the south. When her fame grew the inhabitants of Leinster besought her to return to them, and she, seeing in their wishes a divine call, fixed her place of abode under an oak which she much loved — the thenceforth famous Kildare (Church of the Oak), where in after years a holy fire was kept perpetually burning on her shrine. Then, during her life both a monastery and a nunnery grew up, under her rule, with one church in common. At Kildare she was buried, and thence, about 1185, her remains were translated to the tomb of St. Patrick and St. Columba, that the remains of Ireland's three greatest saints might rest side by side. There are churches to her honour in many lands, and many places have sought to be connected with her.  She is said to have dwelt, for a time on the Isle of Man. Abernethy in Scotland, Glastonbury in England have claimed to be her place of burial, the fame of lesser Brides being absorbed in the light, of this greatest; Bride, Brigid, or Bridget, 

Who rode on the waves of the world, 
As the sea-bird rides upon the billow.

Strong in affection, ready in pity, clear in judgment, bright in spirit — long may Brigid be the type of the daughters of Erin. —  Woman's Suffrage Journal.

SAINT BRIDGET OF KILDARE. Otago Witness, Issue 1921, 14 September 1888.

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