Sunday 17 March 2024

Saint Patrick: His Prayers

Marking the feast of Saint Patrick with a 1909 Australian newspaper account recalling the Moses tradition of Saint Patrick, who, like the leader of the Israelites ascends a holy mountain, fasts for forty days, asks for God's mercy on his people and that he may be their judge at the end of time. It's a wonderful testimony to the power of prayer and to perseverance as well as to the reputation of Croagh Patrick as Ireland's holy mountain. Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig Oraibh Go Léir!

Saint Patrick


St Patrick's Day falls in the middle of Lent, but it is always a feast-day. Legend tells that the patron saint of Ireland himself fasted once for 40 days. Cruach Patrick is one of the most beautiful mountains in Ireland, and the view from the summit embraces sea and land, lakes and rivers. It was on this venerable and venerated eminence that St Patrick, according to his biographer, won the highest gift for Ireland. He went to the summit to appeal to Heaven by prayer.  "It was the begining of Lent when he climbed the mountain," says the ancient chronicler “and he remained there forty days, fasting, praying, saying Mass and weeping. He suffered greatly during that time. He made four kinds of petitions on the mountain. He asked that Ireland should be tree for ever from slavery to barbarians. And he prayed that the people who would say his prayer from the words 'Christ be with me' to the end, and who would do penance in Ireland, should be saved. He asked that he himself should be the judge of the Irish people on the day of general judgment, and particularly he prayed that Ireland should never lose the faith. After the first request the Angel of the Lord came and said, ' You get your request. Go down now from the mountain.' ' I will not go,' said Patrick, ' I am not satisfied yet.' After the second petition the Angel came again and said: 'Your petition is granted; go down from the mountain. You have got enough'  'I will not go,' said Patrick, 'I suffered much on the mountain. My cowl is wet with the rain, and and many and exceeding great have been the temptations I suffered here. I will not go down till all my petitions are granted'. The Angel then departed from him and went up to Heaven. Then the demons came and made a desperate attack on Patrick. Great was the conflict and the battle but Patrick fought valiantly, and with prayer, and with the sign of the Cross, finally putting them to flight. And it is said that at the same time he banished the serpents and large reptiles out of Ireland and drove them into the ocean. In the evening the Angel came again. ' What news do you bring now?' said Patrick.  'All your requests are granted ' replied the Angel.. ' I will go down, then,' said Patrick, 'I am satisfied. Thanks to the generous King, who gave heed to my petitions.' "

 It is no wonder that the Irishmen love and respect Cruach Patrick, and that there is a pilgrimage there even to this day. Cruach Patrick is the Mount Horeb of Ireland; it is the holy mountain of the country.

 The Border Chronicle, Friday, March 19, 1909, page 3.

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Thursday 8 February 2024

Saint Brigid: Greatest of Irishwomen

We conclude the series of posts in honour of the feast of Saint Brigid with an account from the Catholic Press in Sydney of the translation of her skull relic from Lumiar in Portugal to Killester in County Dublin. Canon O'Hanlon's full account of the history of this relic can be read at the blog here. In the 1929 newspaper account below, which seems to be based on the sermon preached on the occasion by the Very Rev. E. Cullen, C.M., D.D., President of St. Patrick's Training College, Drumcondra, we have a sketch of the history of the Killester area and its elusive former nunnery. We see the saint placed in the context of her patronage of Leinster but also as one of the three national patrons, indeed as 'the central figure in Ireland's wonder-working triad'. There were some very lofty hopes expressed on the occasion of this translation in 1929, looking back almost one hundred years later I am not sure we can say that they were ever realized.




All the roads of Leinster led to Howth road, Clontarf, on Sunday, January 27, when his Grace Most Rev. Dr. Byrne, Archbishop of Dublin, performed the ceremony of enshrining a relic of St. Brigid in, the beautiful new church at Killester, dedicated to the Patroness of Ireland. There was High Mass at noon, at which the Archbishop presided, and the Very Rev. E. Cullen, C.M., D.D., President of St. Patrick's Training College, Drumcondra, preached. 

A Golden Link.

This in an epoch-marking event, and one that is likely to stand out in our ecclesiastical history through the ages to come. It is, indeed, an event to stir the hearts of Irish Catholics the world over — a landmark in the annals of the Faith in Ireland, said Dr. Cullen. The sacred relic — a bone of St. Brigid 's head from her famous shrine at Lumiar, in Portugal — spans the wide gulf of fourteen hundred years to form a precious link between our age and the Golden Age of our country's history, when Christianity in Ireland was nearing its full meridian splendour. 

A Proud Distinction. 

And what Cill-dara of St. Brigid was to our forefathers for nearly half a thousand years after Brigid's death, while it still held her holy relics — a place of national pilgrimage — St. Brigid's Church, Killester, should in time become. Of all the churches in Ireland to-day it alone possesses an actual fragment of the sacred body of our beloved Patroness, our own Brigid, the Mary of the Gael. What a singular privilege, not alone for Killester and the parish of Coolock, but for the Archdiocese of Dublin. 

Killester's Tradition. 

This new church of St. Brigid is but carrying on a particular veneration of the national Patroness, for which the neighbourhood of Killester was noted in earlier times. Far back in the ages of the Faith there was a church of St. Brigid adjoining the narrow by-road, known now as Killester Lane, the fragmentary ruins of which may still be seen in the old graveyard lying between the Malahide and Howth roads. 

Beyond the facts that it was an appendage to Christ Church Cathedral in the days of St. Laurence O'Toole, and passed at length into Protestant hands — like the ancient St. Bride's in Dublin city — little is known of its story. 

Brigidine Nunnery. 

That there was also a convent here in the distant past, probably a pre-Reformation nunnery under the rule and patronage of St. Brigid (as there was in the neighbouring parish of Swords), may be inferred from a name, 'The Nuns' Walk,' by which a secluded path near the old church Is still known. Though D"Alton who wrote his history of County Dublin ninety years ago, says nothing on the subject of a convent at Killester, the Ordnance maps mark a building 'Convent in ruins' in the immediate neighbourhood. 

Claimed by Leinster. 

Although born within the ancient division of Ulster, and regarded as a national figure even while she lived, Brigid has always been claimed by the people of Leinster as peculiarly their own. Thus in a very ancient Gaelic poem she is addressed as the 'princess of the men of Leinster,' while the hymn composed in her honour by St. Columcille alludes to her as the 'dear saint of Lagenia.' St. Ultan of Ardbrechan, who also sang her praises in elegant verse, leaves no doubt as to his own belief that there were special grounds for the claim when he exclaims: 'I shall be saved in all things by my Leinster saint.' Later writers have found a cause for this claim in the theory that Brigid's father was a chieftain of Leinster, whose principal fort was in Kildare, and that the birth of the saint took place at Faughart, north of Dundalk, during a visit of the family to that district. 

The Three Patrons. 

Be this as it may, the fact remains that Brigid is primarily a national saint, the central figure in Ireland's wonder-working triad — Patrick, Brigid, and Columcille. Patrick, the Apostle had planted the standard of the Faith in every part of the island when Brigid entered on her career, and to her as Abbess of Kildare he entrusted the duty of consolidating the marvellous victory over pagan error he himself had lived to achieve. When Brigid, in turn, was called to heaven, the entire land (which up to the coming of Patrick had been the 'Insula Sacra' of Druid worship) had been won for the Risen Christ; and Columcille was already a stripling of fair promise. 

Beloved by All.

Unlike the two others, Brigid lived her entire life in the island of the Gael. Her missionary labours brought her into every province and into close association with the mightiest as well as the lowliest in the land. In her cell of the Oak, the Kildare of our days, she was consulted by bishops and visited by kings, and yet was so. sympathetic and accessible that hunted slaves threw themselves into her arms for protection, while the simple poor ran to her for counsel and comfort in their everyday troubles Little wonder she was so personally beloved in her own time, or that the generations have crowned her spiritual queen of the Irish race, the Mary of Ireland. 

Her Name Cherished. 

Not alone did the fraternity of the olden poet-saints of Ireland — Fiaac, Nathfriach, and Ultan; Columcille, Brendan, and Brogen Cloen; Ninnidh and Kilian of Inisceltra — write each a metrical life of the Patroness, or compose a hymn in her honour, but local rulers assumed her name. Under the pious title of O'Maoilbrighde the 'majestic chiefs of Bredagh' in the West figure in song and story. This name, .according to Dr. O 'Donovan, was in later times shortened to O'Mulbride, and finally anglicised MacBride. 

Others linked her name to their own, and had their children christened Giollabrighde, signifying the Servant of Brigid; while priests and monks took the name in religion of Brigidianus or Calvus Brigitae, the Shaveling or Tonsured of Brigid. Thus, and in a hundred other ways, has the memory of the great St. Brigid survived as an intimate and tender part of the lives of her people down to our own times.

The shrine in which the relic of St. Brigid will repose in Killester Church is modelled on the exquisite shrine for St. Patrick's Bell, was designed by Mr. Robinson, the architect of St. Brigid's, and made by Messrs. Gunning.

Catholic Press, Thursday 21 March 1929, page 10.


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Wednesday 7 February 2024

Saint Brigid, Prototype of Religious Life


We continue the series of posts in honour of Saint Brigid with a late nineteenth-century article which reminds us that Saint Brigid was first and foremost a nun. I am not sure of the identity of the person behind the pseudonym 'Iota', but s/he has used episodes from hagiography and the lessons from the Roman Breviary to present a picture of Saint Brigid as a consecrated virgin who embodies the monastic virtues of humility and chastity. This piece reminds us too of the days when there were so many vocations to the religious life in Ireland that Irish nuns were to be found serving missions all over the world. The final paragraph sees the writer defending the religious life to those 'who look upon it with eyes other than the eyes of faith' (perhaps a reminder that this piece was written in predominantly Protestant Australia), and asserts the value of those who are dedicated to a life of prayer in averting the wrath of God:

By Iota.

She once was a lady of honour and wealth,
Bright glow'd on her features the roses of health ;
Her vesture was "blended of silk and of gold,
And her motion shook perfume from every fold.

Behold her ye worldly! behold her ye vain!
Who shrink from the pathway of virtue and pain
Who yield up to pleasure your nights and your days,
Forgetful of service, forgetful of praise;
Ye lazy philosophers, self-seeking men,
Ye fire-side philanthropists, great at the pen;
How stands in the balance your eloquence weigh'd,
With the life and the deeds of that high born maid ?

Gerald Griffin's, Sister of Charity.

Last week, and the week before we were occupied in reflecting upon the life of St. Patrick. Now these reflections on St. Patrick would be incomplete were we not to say some thing about two Saints who were intimately connected with him — St Brigid and St. Columba of Iona. This week then we shall treat of the life of St. Brigid, or, as our fathers loved to call her, the Mary of Ireland. At some other time we shall treat of the life of St. Columba.

From the days of St. Brigid there has streamed out upon Ireland such a radiance of chastity as alone would be argument sufficient of the sanctity of Saint Patrick's teaching. The innumerable number of nuns, who through the length and breadth of Ireland, devote themselves to the service of God, and to the service of God's poor aye, the innumerable numbers of young virgins who devote themselves to God, who quit their homes, their kith and kin, that, in far foreign lands they' may minister to the poor, and the lowly, the sick, and the infirm, the widow and the orphan — all, all those faithful daughters of Innisfail, look back to St. Brigid as to their model, their patron, their example, their guide, their mother.

Who, then, was this glorious St. Brigid? She was lineally descended from Eocad, brother to Con of the hundred battles, monarch of Ireland. She was born at Fochard, near Dundalk, about the year 453. When St. Brigid was a mere child, her father beheld men, dressed in white, pouring oil upon her head. This was considered a foresign of her future sanctity. In her youth she selected Jesus Christ, her heavenly spouse, as her portion. Consequently when on account of her extreme beauty and comeliness she was anxiously sought after in marriage, we need not wonder that she asked Almighty God to take away from her that beauty which caused her so much annoyance and perplexity. Her prayer was heard, and, as we read in the Roman Breviary, suddenly one of her eyes becomes inflamed, and all her beauty and comeliness forsook her. The result of this miraculous change was that the heralds of the prince who sought the hand of our saint left in disgust.
Although St. Brigid was intimately acquainted with St. Patrick, it was not from him she received the religious veil. St. Maccaille gave it to her in one of the earliest established convents in Ireland. She travelled into every portion of Ireland, founding religious houses as she passed, and doing good unto all. In 480 she founded her greatest house, at Kildare, or, as it is called, the Church of the Oaks. This became the largest and most celebrated convent that ever existed in Ireland. So large, so extensive was it that a holy ancorite named Conlath was consecrated Bishop to perform the pontifical duties which became necessary in it. The countless numbers of young girls and young widows who thronged around St. Brigid for admission to her convent proclaims trumpet-tongued the perfect conversion of Ireland to Catholicity.

St. Brigid's most distinguishing virtue was her excessive humility —the foundation of all other virtues. We have it related that she not unfrequently fed with her own hand the convent cattle. The habit of her order was white, and for centuries after her time her rule was the only one observed in the convents of Ireland.

Almost innumerable were the miracles performed by St. Brigid during her lifetime. At the time of her religious profession she touched with her hand the wooden altar step, and forthwith it that was arid and dry became green and fresh, and with the miraculous revival of the wood was restored to St. Brigid all her former beauty and comeliness. During her lifetime she cleansed the lepers, restored health to the sick, sight to the blind, and perhaps the most extraordinary miracle of her life was one performed in favour of a Bishop. A certain woman accused Broonus, a Bishop, of being the father of her illegitimate child. St. Brigid made the sign of the Cross on the lips of the infant, and forthwith the babe spoke and declared, who was its father. Thus, through St. Brigid, was the good name of a holy Bishop restored. St. Bridgid, too, was endowed with the gift of prophecy, she even foretold the time of the death of St. Patrick, whom she reverently called the father of her soul.

There is a dispute regarding the time of the death of St. Brigid, as well as regarding the place of her burial. The annals of the four masters say she died in 525. This is the most probable date. Some authors contend that her remains were buried on one side of the altar in the Cathedral church of Kildare, while others hold that her ashes commingle with those of St. Patrick at Dourepatrick [Downpatrick]. We do not desire to enter upon this controversy, yet we hold with the Roman Breviary that she and our glorious Apostle, St. Patrick, or rather their ashes, rest awaiting a glorious resurrection in the same tomb at Downpatrick.

Many writers who look only at the severe side of conventual life, and who look upon it with eyes other than the eyes of faith, consider it excessive and unnecessary. I differ very widely from these writers. The religious life, the conventual life, if you will, isolates the individual professing it from all others. By their vows they break the ties that bind them to the world. Friendship and family disappear as far as they are opposed to the object of religious life, namely, union with God. The religious is a person who, though dwelling upon earth, is entirely consecrated to the things of heaven. Property, that powerful link which unites individuals and families, and makes them cling to a fixed place as trees cling to the earth from which they receive life, does not exist for a religious. Yes, the religious, for the love of Jesus, renounces everything. Yes, the religious is, by the vow of poverty, freely made, condemned to possess nothing. The vow of chastity deprives the religious of family. The vow of obedience does not permit the religious to select one place of abode in preference to another. The religious is an exception to all others in everything save the love of God. The life of a religious is wholly absorbed in God, and when as in the time of Noe, God seeing that the wickedness of men was great on the earth, and when God feels inclined to say as he said then in the day of his wrath that it repented Him that He had made man, when he feels inclined to say again, I will destroy man whom I have created, what is it that restrains His hand? It is the prayers of the holy monks or the prayers of the holy nuns who, like unto their prototype, St. Brigid, pour forth acts of adoration, love and reparation, to the throne of the most high God, before Jesus, ever present in the Adorable Sacrament of the Altar.

Perth, July 14, 1896.

"ST. BRIGID." The W.A. Record, 18 July 1896.

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Tuesday 6 February 2024

Sweet Saint Bride


We continue the series of posts with a Scottish view of Saint Brigid, or Saint Bride as she is called here, from 1905. I am struck by how the author (despite her archetypal Scottish name) includes a distinctly English perspective and compares Saint Brigid with the great northern English female saint, Hilda of Whitby. By making a clear distinction between 'Hilda the Teuton' and 'Bride the Gael' the writer reflects racial stereotypes of hard-headed, practical Saxons and dreamy, otherworldly Celts common at this time. The Celtic twilight fantasies of 'Fiona Macleod' also make an appearance. Since the posts in this series have all been drawn from the archives of the Australian and New Zealand press, I am surprised by the claim that Saint Brigid's Day is 'a holy day to few or none outside her own country'. On the contrary, these newspaper accounts testify to the feast of the Irish patroness being very much alive on the other side of the world:

By Jessie Mackay

Paul said, and Peter said. 
And every saint in heaven said 
That none had a fairer face 
Than sweet Saint Bride.

Thus, or all but thus, runs the legend beneath a late Academy picture in London; a picture of Saint Bridget, who was also the adored Saint Bride of Scotland, and the Isles, Saint Bride of Bothwell,  patroness of the wild Douglases: Saint Brigid or Brigitta, venerated at many shrines both in France and Germany. So much is attested by place, name, and by chronicle; and in the luxuriant maze of old Celtic tradition, Saint Bride bore higher titles yet, being called by her own people, "Mary of the Gael,'' or "Mary of Ireland"; while in medieval French  books of church service she was styled without limitation, '"Altera Maria,"' the Other Madonna. 

 Under the immense mass of legendary miracle attached to the name of St .Bridget, there lies undoubtedly the reality of a life renowned, devoted, and pure; a life which, judging by its lingering impress on time, has been called the very female flower of Celtic Christianity. It is impossible to think of her thus without a curious pathetic linking of her name with that of the later-born Hilda of Whitby, who bore the same high relation to the Teutonic Christianity of Britain. Types of race they were, in their lives of like aim, but unlike result. It is beyond doubt that Bride the Gael was the greater in her lifetime, the more widely known and revered; but it is the work of Hilda the Teuton that has come down in a clearer light of history to us. A hundred bards tuned their lyres to the lays of heaven at the voice of Bride; far and wide they bore the new songs of peace in that wild age; but they long since passed to their own, leaving but echoes melting in the nameless sea-winds of the west; whereas the one home-abiding English singer, reared in the house of the home-abiding Hilda, has made Whitby immortal; after 14 hundred years, the name of Caedmon is yet green. Loving, high-souled, mystical, the spirit of the Celt dispersed itself, not vainly, but intangibly, amid the western sea winds; the spirit of the Teuton remains, the emblem of possession.

Certain facts, however, seem authenticated in the life of this remarkable woman. She was born, it appears, about the year 453, very shortly after the landing of the English in Kent. Her father was one of the petty princes of Ulster. During that century, Ireland was converted to Christianity by the preaching of the Scottish-born Patrick, who requited a youth of slavery in pagan Ireland by a life of strenuous mission work in that country. In the transition time Bride was born, and as a child threw her whole heart into the new faith; it is said she was but 14 when she took the monastic vow — for already the corrosion of asceticism was eating into Continental Christianity, and was borrowed into the Celtic faith. Yet one cannot imagine that it was by austerity and seclusion that the girl won so complete an ascendancy over her own people, and moreover made her name a lamp of light throughout Western Europe. "Bridget" means, it will be remembered, the Bright Shining One. Rather let us suppose Bride a winsome leader, a tireless toiler in the vineyard, replete with all that unaging charm that still renders the women of her country the most enduringly fascinating women on earth. That fervent oratory, that winning address, that personal magnetism must have been hers in fullest measure, backed up by a power of organisation at least as great as that of Hilda of Whit by. No less than four religious houses for women were founded by her, the earliest of these, the famous Kil-Dara, or Kildare, being the first of its kind in Ireland. Here, as in the others, Bride must have wrought hard as teacher, leader, expounder of all good and gentle crafts and manners of living. Well did she succeed among the wild clan-folk, for in succeeding years, when Ireland, uplifted, among nations in her golden age of fervid faith and peaceful learning, was the Insula Sacra of the west, Bride was counted, with; Patrick and Columba, one of the three supreme saints of the Sacred Isle. Moreover, if Bride visited a little of the shrines called by her name in England, Scotland, and the Continent, she must have been a famous traveller. Unfortunately, her most famous English shrine, St. Bride's Well, of Fleet street, was degraded into a women's prison during Tudor times; hence "bridewell," a female reformatory. In Galloway her name remained long as the adopted saint of the fierce Douglases, kings of Galloway. One of the small islands of the Hebrides was called Brigidiani after her, and she had yet another famous shrine at Abernethi, said to be the old Pictish capital of the Highlands. Here relics of her were displayed after her death; Ireland was not permitted to retain the ashes of this her most famous daughter; the head of Saint Bride was said to be kept in the chapel of the Jesuits at Lisbon. Giraldus Gambriensis asserts, however, that up to 1185 her body lay in a vault at Dourepatrick, also the last resting place of Saint Patrick himself. Her death, after about 70 years of strenuous labour, took place in 523, about the time when Arthur was fighting his 12 battles.

The miracles attributed to her made her special shrine of Kildare famous for many centuries; there also burned her sacred fire, which was only put out so late as 1220. These signs, however, are now known to be the transferred remains of the heathen cult of Ceredwen, the Celtic Ceres, whose shrine was at Kildare. Moreover, Fiona Macleod infers, doubtless on authority, that there may have been some confusion between the attributes of Bridget and those of Brighid, a kind of Gaelic muse invoked in Druidic times.

In view of the strenuous, noble, selfless life which alone could have left such lasting and apostolic; warfare against heathenism, it is difficult to listen with patience to the puerilities manufactured about her by priestly miracle-mongers in after days. One homely tradition, indeed, gives her the very earthly credit, of obtaining from Saint Patrick, on behalf of her sex, the privilege of proposing in Leap Year! Nor does it neglect to add that she followed up the concession by an immediate offer of her own hand, which Patrick dutifully declined.

But the love of the Celtic heart, and fertility of the Celtic imagination invested Bride of Kildare with every grace and power of supreme sainthood, and did not hesitate to sweep away the bonds of time and space to hail her as the foster mother of Christ in Bethlehem. Some 10 years ago Fiona Macleod embodied these floating myths in a strange fantasy, dreamy, quaint, and tender, called "Mary of the Gael."' In it she tells how Brighid, herself a creature of miraculous and holy birth, was reared by her reputed father in exile at Iona, than a Druid sanctuary, and how she beheld beforehand in a crystal pool the figure of the Virgin Mary. As in a kaleidoscope, the scene shifts and shimmers, now in Scotland, now in Palestine; and so it chances that Brighid, alone of humankind, succours the wandering Joseph and Mary, and takes in her aims the new-born King, wrapped in her own mantle; which action gave her one of her Scottish titles, Brighid of the Mantle. In that supreme hour the old Druidic High Priest of Iona was granted sight of the new-born Saviour in the arms of Brighid, and fell dead in an ecstacy, calling to his acolytes, 

Bridget Bride upon her knee, 
The king of the elements asleep upon her breast!

These legends might be multiplied ad infinitum; but enough has been said to show the real ascendancy of Bride of Kildare in the Irish Golden Age, itself one of the veritable romances of history. And if her own appointed festival, the first of February, is now a holy day to few or none outside her own country, we Scottish Gaels do not well utterly to forget a woman of our race whose life was undoubtedly a beacon lamp in a dark and stormy world.

SWEET SAINT BRIDE Otago Witness, Issue 2662, 22 March 1905.

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Monday 5 February 2024

Saint Brigid, 'type, ideal, and model of Irish maidens'

In 2024 Saint Brigid has been reinvented as a feminist icon, champion of the struggle against the patriarchy. One hundred years ago Saint Brigid's meaning for women was very different, at least in the view of the anonymous author below in this piece from 1921, published in The New Zealand Tablet. The press in countries with large Irish immigrant populations often syndicated articles like this, so I would be interested to know who wrote this particular one and when and where it was first published.  The writer sees Saint Brigid as being uniquely placed, thanks to the providence of God,  to bring 'the faith of Saint Patrick' to the women of Ireland. Whilst we find the usual racially-based speculations on the 'Celtic' mind, soul and personality, it is the significance of Saint Brigid for women which is this author's main concern. And as the concluding paragraph shows, our patroness upholds the traditional nurturing role of women within the domestic sphere for she 'was home-loving and home-like', 'the type, ideal, and model of Irish maidens and of Irish mothers. She is the queen of the Irish home'. I do though appreciate the author's contention that part of the attraction of Saint Brigid (or Bridh as she is called here) is the homely quality which makes her accessible and approachable. 'She was, a saint who is still all the more a saint because ever and always she is one of ourselves'.


In carrying out His wise Providence in the world, God chooses fit instruments for His work. Hence, in order to plant the faith of St. Patrick deep in the hearts of the woman of Ireland, and in order through them to make it live with perennial bloom and sweet fruitfulness within our Irish homes, God raised up a saint whose special natural and supernatural characteristics gave her a special power to charm the Celtic mind and to fascinate the Celtic soul. We may pause for some short moments to contemplate what these characteristics were.

First of all, she was a great saint, and, therefore, her holy soul was in immediate, intense, and constant union with God. But this union had special personal aspects of its own. The Four Masters write of her: "Brigid was she who never turned her mind or attention from the Lord for the space of one hour, but was constantly meditating and thinking of Him in her heart and mind."

On her long and frequent journeys, in all her work, whether in her convent home or in the fields or forests or amongst friends or strangers, amidst the many, various and incessant occupations which seemed to absorb all her hours by day and often even by night, the conscious sense of the Great Presence never left her. God was ever and always visible to her soul. God spoke to her not only through the mysterious splendour and spiritual loveliness of Revelation, but, as to the great St. Francis of Assisi, so also through the sights and sounds of Nature, through its melodious messages and speaking images, through its meaning and its music, did the Divine Spirit, in a simple, yet mysterious way, appeal to the soul of St. Bride.

The mountains, the meadows, the forests, the fields, the song of the rippling river, or the chorus of the foaming cataract —the hymns of the birds or the prayerfulness of the pine woods, the rising or the setting sun, the moon, the stars—all Nature taught her lessons, and lifted up her love to God. To her music was in a strange, true, real sense a Divine language. Thus, one day, when many friends and strangers, chiefs and nobles, men and women, priests and nuns were gathered together, in the great hall of a king, wishing to express in a language understood by all the holy thoughts and sacred emotions which she would impart to all, she bade some young men in the company to take the harps that hung around the walls and play. Whereat the young men answered that they were quite ignorant of the art. Thereupon St. Bridh with her finger-tips touched their fingers, and again bade them play. As their hands, miraculously guided, swept across the strings such rapturous strains woke the enchanted air that all were hushed in awe and in delight, for it seemed to all that the gates of Paradise had been flung open to let flood forth the Divine music of the angels. She said herself that she could follow the Masses celebrated in far-off lands, and that the song and music of distant churches was often wafted by Divine power to vibrate within her ear and elevate her soul to loving rapture.

Another characteristic of St. Bridh was her bright and radiant joyfulness. The joy of the Holy Spirit which dwelt within her soul lighted up her countenance with holy attractiveness and gave to her every word of charm that won persuasion and a power that infused its own clearness and its own vigor into the listener's mind. In her very presence there was a simple yet queen-like winningness which charmed while it commanded reverence, and the calm, sweet dignity of her manner brought a smile to the face, conviction to the mind, and devotedness to the heart. Thus was she well fitted to secure the loyalty of a race which has always been fiercely impatient of force or frown, but which by reason of natural gladness, wit, and humor sparkling within its natural temperament may easily be controlled by a frank smile, disarmed by a kind word and conquered by the proffered hand of true friendship.

To this last characteristic we must add another. It is her homeliness. She is no stern ascetic, before whom we bow indeed in wondering worship, but from whom we instinctively feel that we are. all the more far apart. Nor is she like some great lady, who may be herself a great saint, prayerful, mortified, zealous, detached, but who is always so great as to seem to have but little human sympathy, and with whom we could never really feel at home. No! no! St. Bridh is our own sweet Bridh. In all her ways and works she was home-loving and home-like. She was, a saint who is still all the more a saint because ever and always she is one of ourselves.

She loved the poor, the sad, and the suffering. While she did great work, her greatest work was in the homes of the people. Let me give one instance. A farmer came to her in great distress. His wife, his sons and daughters were all sick unto death. He was himself barely able to speak. His farm was quite neglected, and he could find no help. At once our own Bridh called some of her nuns and went straight to the man's home. They nursed the sick, who were soon miraculously restored to robust health. They tidied the house and looked after the housekeeping. They tended the flocks in the pasture land. They toiled in the tillage field; and they milked the cows. "Who shall find a valiant woman? She hath looked well to the paths of her house." St. Bridh is the type, ideal, and model of Irish maidens and of Irish mothers. She is the queen of the Irish home. Can any woman have a nobler part in life to aim at or to accomplish than to be like St. Bridh, "the Mary of the Gael"?

ST. BRIGID,New Zealand Tablet, 10 March 1921

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Sunday 4 February 2024

Great Life Work of Saint Brigid

A handsome tribute to the legacy of Saint Brigid and to her famous foundation at Kildare from the pen of Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, rector of the Catholic University of America. Bishop Shahan was born in 1857 to a family who had emigrated to America from Killarney in the late 1840s. It is obvious from his article, syndicated in the New Zealand press, that he retained a deep awareness of his Irish roots and he takes a high view not only of Ireland's most famous female saint but of Irish womanhood in general. We also see the influence of racial theories which ascribed 'a natural racial mysticism' to the Gael. This piece was published in 1917 when such views were commonplace, but the idea of the dreamy, innately spiritual Gael, who has a special awareness of the thin barrier separating this world and the next, never did go away completely and resurfaced in the "Celtic Christianity" movement of recent decades:

“After St. Patrick,” says Bishop Shahan, of the Catholic University, “it is a woman, St. Brigid, who has done more than any one else to fashion the life of medieval Ireland. Throughout all the Middle Ages, the Abbess of Kildare is one of the great powers of Ireland, for she represents Brigid, just as the Archbishop of Armagh represents St. Patrick. The art of Ireland is largely an outgrowth from Kildare, and that glorious old abbey was for ages a centre of humanity and charity, as well as a refuge of virtue and genius. There was no more awful public crime than the violation of this national sanctuary, more venerable than ever were Dodona and Ephesus, and it may be said without fear of contradiction that this old monastery of Kildare, which was already venerable when Charlemagne began to reign, has done more for the elevation of women and the formation of a Christian public opinion in her regard than any other similar institution of the Middle Ages. So great was the medieval Irish veneration for this holy place that when the bishops of Ireland assembled in council they placed the Abbess of Kildare on a throne higher than their own, as a token of respect for Brigid, who had been the counsellor of the bishops of Ireland while she lived. 

Across the pages of all the Irish annals, from St. Patrick to the Reformation, there moves a long procession of grave and virtuous daughters of Erin, and we feel instinctively that they were the salt of the earth and the light thereof in many a century of blind and endless warfare, and we cease to wonder at the millions of pure and lovely women whom Ireland has bestowed with generous hand upon the peoples of the New World, to be the mothers of a spiritually minded race, and to preserve forever that lovely Christian idea of the highest womanhood, in which innocence and beauty are only the visible workings of refined religious hearts, and in which a natural racial mysticism blossoms out into the purest love of, God and the most intense personal relationship with that other world which is above and beyond coarse, perishable matter, and in which the Gael has never ceased to live, by his imagination and his desires.

GREAT LIFE WORK OF ST. BRIGID, New Zealand Tablet, 27 September 1917

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Saturday 3 February 2024

Saint Brigid, Fair Jewel of Erin

We continue the series of posts in honour of the feast of Saint Brigid with another gem from Down Under. Signed W.W. of Sydney, this poem celebrates all of the traditional Christian virtues of Saint Brigid. Verse three emphasizes Saint Brigid as an exemplar of purity for Irish women, a message no longer in fashion in contemporary presentations of our patroness. This 1922 poem thus illustrates how differently Saint Brigid was perceived one hundred years ago:

(February 1.)

Blessed Saint Brigid, fair jewel of Erin,
Perfect exemplar to shield us from
Ardent to-day is the love of thy people,
Hallowed thy name through the centuries
Forth from Kildare spread the fame of thy
Reaching through Ireland from shore
unto shore,
Breathing a message of hope to the hope
Spurring the fervent to love God the
Bright is the light thou hast shed down
the ages,
Burning white splendour of purity's ray,
Pointing the path for the daughters of
Brigid, oh, help their descendants to-day!

Sundered by sorrow, thy people have wandered,
Finding in Austral a refuge, a home
Bringing the light of the faith that they
Teaching thy glory wherever they roam!
Dear to thy heart were those children of
Grant us a share in thy love, too, we
Swift in our veins runs the blood of our forebears;
Brigid, protect us and guide us alway!

'SAINT BRIGID.', The Catholic Press, Thursday, 2 February, 1922, p. 18. 

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Friday 2 February 2024

Brigid's Grave


Although I have a number of posts relating to the burial-place of Saint Patrick at this blog I have never explored the grave of Saint Brigid to this same extent, probably because we are told in the Life by Cogitosus that she was buried at the side of the High Altar at Kildare, where her tomb drew huge crowds of pilgrims. This is exactly the setting in which one would expect to find the remains of an important monastic founder saint, but a later tradition claims that Saint Brigid's remains had to be moved following the Viking raids on Kildare which began in the early ninth century. In the late twelfth-century Bishop Malachy III claimed to have had a dream or vision in which he was led to discover the bodies of the three patrons of Ireland - Saints Patrick, Brigid and Colm Cille - at Downpatrick, County Down, much to the delight of the self-styled Prince of Ulster, Norman conqueror John de Courcy. Thus in 1186 Saint Brigid found herself resting in Downpatrick Cathedral in the company of her fellow-patrons, at least according to this later tradition. Now why Kildare would have permitted its beloved founding saint to be taken north is usually explained by the need to protect her from those marauding Vikings. But if this is so then it would seem to have been a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, since Downpatrick itself was attacked in 825. Such are the two traditions about Saint Brigid's grave with which I am familiar, but below is a 1929 newspaper report which raises yet another possibility - that Saint Brigid's body had been taken to Brittany. I will try to follow up on this story to see if I can find out any further details: 

Brigid's Grave.


It is not easy to conjecture, writes a correspondent, as to how the bodies of Patrick, Brigid and Columcille, which historical belief has it were revealed to St. Malachy in the 11th century to have lain in a grave in Ireland, could have come at about the same date to have had the record of having rested for some centuries in a grave in Brittany. Nevertheless, the evidence extant as to the latter would seem sufficiently conclusive to cast reasonable doubt upon, at least, the tradition that the body of St. Brigid rests in the Downpatrick grave. 

In the year 1626 Herbert, Archbishop of Bourges, had the Brittany coffin opened. Two skeletons only were found, and the skull of one was missing. The skeletons were then at the Abbey of Notre Dame du Chateau, on the Theels River, in the episcopal jurisdiction of Bourges. They were examined again and re-attested by the diocesan authorities there about 35 years ago, declared, of course, as the bodies of the Irish saints. 

It is, however, curious 'to observe that, though only two skeletons are actually on evidence, the official attestation cites explicitly: 'Corpora Sanctae Brigidae, Sancti Columbae, et Sancti Patricii.' St. Brigid, it will be noted, is first mentioned. But the official document is merely a Latin translation, made by a priest, of the statement written by a pious merchant, Francois Lege, who had saved the sacred treasures of the abbey from spoliation during the Revolution. Possibly the body of St. Patrick is alone interred at Downpatrick.

Freeman's Journal, Thursday 25 April 1929, page 46.


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Thursday 1 February 2024

Saint Brigid 'Heroine of the Golden Age'

Today is the Feast of Saint Brigid and so I offer my annual antidote to the new Brigid for a new Ireland with an account from the Australian press published ninety years ago which sees her as the 'Heroine of the Golden Age'. It begins by depicting Saint Brigid primarily as the 'patron saint and protector of all young and tender growing things' but without the neo-pagan overtones of today's nature-worshipping goddess. Particularly striking to me was the analysis of the secret of Brigid's greatness, where the anonymous author struggles to reconcile our saint's gentle womanly side with her abilities as a missioner and her 'extraordinary versatility', despite describing her later on as 'preaching and teaching better and harder than ten men'. There is an interesting section on Saint Brigid's connection with bells plus a wonderful presentation of the 'pastoral republic of Kildare' as a 'lost Utopia'. As an offering for Saint Brigid's feast day, this article brings together all of the traditional information the Irish expatriate in Australia would need. I wish everyone in every part of the world celebrating Saint Brigid's Day, the blessings of the feast!

St. Brigid

February is the month of, St Brigid, and today February 1, her feast is kept. She is the patron saint and protector of all young and tender growing things, babies, lamb and flowers. She spreads her cloak against the, harsh east wind to give shelter to precocious nature.

Friend of the Lambs. —They say that when the young lambs cry out in the night on the hillsides, they are calling to Brigid to bring the shepherds to them. Others say that that she brings the lambs down to the shepherds herself, carrying them under her kindly cloak. She is often represented with a lamb in her arms. She loved animals, and gave to them pity and mercy, and all living things loved her. The shyest of the wild birds flew to her as they did to St. Francis.

Her Greatness.—The modern mind may find it difficult to associate this gentle mother with one of the greatest organisers and missioners that Ireland has ever known. Yet Brigid was, in her own way, as great a missioner as St. Patrick. And she was the greatest of all Irish women. In her were united two qualities that are so often incompatible, greatness and goodness, and when they meet a miracle happens and a saint is born.

Brigid's legend is packed with anecdotes illustrating the many sides of her extraordinary versatility.The legend is a safe guide, as it is the evidence of contemporary opinion. For Brigid to have impressed herself so indelibly on her generation, and on the generations that followed, means that she-must have been truly remarkable. We must only guess at her greatness.

She was the spiritual link between Patrick and Columkille. She was born about 450 A.D., while Patrick was still preaching. She died in 525 A.D., four years after Columkille was born. The legends about her beginning in her early years. She worked on the farm, in the fields, and in the Druid's dairy. On the farm she befriended all the animals, and in the dairy she was one of the best butter-makers. The old tales say that although she gave away an undue proportion of butter and milk to every poor person who passed the door, yet she always had enough over and to spare. Brigid's generosity brought upon her the anger of her master; but when he discovered the daily miracle of the butter and milk he recanted, and offered her the whole lot. Her fame began to spread, and people began to take notice of her. She got many good offers of marriage, but her vocation was clear. She became a nun and seven other virgins followed her example. Each of them chose a Beatitude, and Brigid chose "Blessed are  the merciful for they shall obtain mercy."

Brigid of the Bells.—Not for her the peaceful cloister, yet. She travelled throughout Connaught, preaching and teaching better and harder than ten men. When her fame was growing, the King of Leinster offered her land to build a monastery, and on it she founded the abbey and school which were to be for centuries the most famous in the land.

She built her first oratory under an oak tree on the banks of the Liffey—the tree survived down to the tenth century—and there established her Cill, afterwards famous as Cill Dara (Kildara), the Church of the Oak. The abbey and school became, great centres of religion and learning, and from all over Ireland the pilgrims and scholars came, seeking faith or learning. She was joined by her kinsman, Conleath, a hermit and a skilled craftsman in metals. He became Bishop of this growing Community, but, even when he was Bishop Conleath, continued his bellmaking. Under his inspiration and Brigid's, a decorative metal school was developed in Kildare, and they turned out bells, croziers, shrines, and other articles for churches far and near. Brigid's name became associated with bells, and bells were christened after her. St. Bride's, in Fleet-street, London, was one of the churches under her patronage.

The Pastoral Republic.—The Kildare settlement prospered and expanded. They had their Abbey, their school, their culture, their crafts, and arts, their farms and herds and dairying. It is hard to visualise, in this tormented age, the sweet contentment of that happy colony on that pleasant plain. We can only regard it as a dream of some lost Utopia. Surrounded now by all the sounds she loved best, the church bells ringing, the lowing of the cows in milk, the swish of the plough; the musical din of the anvil, Brigid was a busy woman. In spite of her teaching and her training of the young nuns she found time to "keep up" old occupations and accomplishments. She worked on the farms, and herded sheep on the Curragh. Lambing found her out looking after the ewes. She tended the sick and set up a special house for them; she organised what we now call "rest-homes," and hospitals. She was centuries ahead of her time, and a tireless innovator. She taught the people to be kind to animals.

Life's Close.—As her world acclaimed her greater, she became more humble and more beloved. Kindness was never subordinated to efficiency. She never went beyond the spiritual and physical reach of her people. She found time to travel to various parts of the country, converting pagans, counselling her own, spreading light and grace. The spark in Kildare glowed and spread and became a flame of Christianity from sea to sea. They called her "Prophetess of Christ, the Queen of the South, the Mary of the Gael." 

Her life went down in serenity to its close. Her work in Kildare was done; the foundations were securely laid. Thus died Brigid, heroine of the Golden Age.

Advocate, 1 February 1934, p. 12.

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Wednesday 31 January 2024

Saint Brigid's Eve

As we approach the feast of Saint Brigid, below is a 1927 account of the celebrations held on its eve in rural Ireland. What is striking about the ritual associated with the Cross, Shield and Veil of Saint Brigid is its entirely Christian character. I have previously posted a 1914 account of the same ritual as carried out in the Omeath area of County Louth here. It would be interesting to know if it still survives anywhere in Ireland today or when it finally died out. Two things struck me, first the central character is a young girl who instructs the male head of the household, an echo of how the female saint addressed rulers and bishops. Secondly, there is an emphasis on the purity of Saint Brigid. In this I see an affirmation of the 1500 year tradition of Saint Brigid as Muire na nGael, type of the Virgin Mary, which is how the Irish people actually related to their patroness.  It's thus a reminder that 'folk tradition' isn't necessarily synonymous with thinly-disguised pagan goddesses, despite the claims to the contrary which surround us at this time of the year.



The Mary of Ireland.
QUAINT and beautiful old customs of the early ages of Faith are handed down in the traditions and legendlore of our race. In remote parts many of these survive in actual practice. Some are relics of a pagan past, retained by the first missionaries, when the pagan feast was replaced by the Christmas festival.
It would be interesting to trace back the sources of the amusements of Shrove Tuesday, St. John's Eve, and Hallow E'en. These are common to many countries, not to Ireland alone. Some customs peculiar to our own land are still with us, such as the hunting of the wren on St. Stephen's Day, the 'Wake,' the wearing of Shamrock and St. Patrick's Cross on the feast of the Saint. Others have been allowed to die out. The making of the rug of St. Brigid's square cross, the hanging of a ribbon on a handkerchief from the windows on St. Brigid's Eve, and many others have almost disappeared.

The celebrations on the Eve of Ireland's patroness show in what veneration the Saint was held. Her feast was kept as a Holiday of Obligation in the parishes and villages dedicated to the holy virgin. She is called the 'Mary' of Ireland' and is the patroness more especially of the young maidens of the land.
As a girl of sixteen, she took the white cloak and veil of religious life, and with her entered eight other girls of similar age. Their convent was founded at a spot called Brigid's town in the Co. Meath.

Brigid was summoned from place to place by Bishops and Abbots. Wherever she went convents — the first to be founded in Ireland — were quickly peopled by young souls desirous of the life of perfection. Fearful that she might leave them for ever, her own people of Leinster demanded her return, and it was there she founded the famous Monastery of Kildare, the Church of the Oak. The fame of her sanctity and miracles drew pilgrims and strangers thither, and one of the largest cities arose on the once solitary plain.
Keeping Her Feast. 

The Eve of her Feast was kept in a very impressive way. The preparations were more penitential and austere than festive. Perhaps, for that reason, they do not appeal to our pleasure loving age. But for centuries after the time of St. Brigid they were carried out with great fidelity.

In the country villages and townlands, the people spent their time on the Eve in plaiting the Cross, veil and shield of St. Brigid. The strong grass of the bogs and marshes, or oaten straw was used. Great emulation arose between the different villages, and the most wonderful skill and ingenuity were displayed in the production of these emblems.
At dusk, when each family had finished preparations, the people assembled, as was their custom, at some appointed spot.

Now came the most important ceremony of the day. No partiality, no family interest of any kind was allowed to decide the election! The 'Queen' of a 'fair' or a 'pattern' might be chosen for some worldly motive or some human satisfaction, but nothing of that kind entered into this semi-religious ceremony.

This was the choosing of the 'Brigid Oge,' 'the Little Brigid,' who was to preside over the celebrations of the evening. 

Whether the daughter of the chief, or peasant mattered not, she was chosen,  whose life was known to be the most pure and spotless. If she happened to bear the name of Brigid, it was a blessed coincidence. 

When the 'Brigid Oge' was chosen a procession was formed at the head of which she took her place. Prayers were then offered up for the preservation of all present from evil of soul and body until the next Eve of the Saint. Each home was visited. The closed door was incidentally thrown open at the knock of the 'Brigid Oge,' and she was invited to enter.
Holding the Cross in her hand she addressed the head of the family and reminded him that the Cross was the emblem of salvation, and that it was by devotion to Christ's Cross and Passion that the Holy maiden Brigid had obtained eternal life. Then, pausing, she asked solemnly, if all in that house would promise to imitate the virtues of St Brigid. When the promise had been given, the 'Brigid Oge' presented the Cross to the head of the family, and at once it was placed over the doorway that it might be a reminder to all.
Presentation of Veil. 

Next came the presentation of the veil.

Again the members of the household were admonished to practice the purity the Saint, of which the veil was the emblem, that like her, they might attain their eternal reward. They were asked once more if they would imitate the piety and the purity of Brigid, and on promising to do so the veil was given.

The 'Brigid Oge' then held up the Shield, which she said was the shield of  the true faith bequeathed by St. Patrick and St. Brigid to those beloved children of Eire: It would help them to overcome their spiritual and temporal enemies. All present then bound themselves with the help of God to preserve holy Faith pure and strong until the next Eve of St. Brigid. Then, falling on their knees, they asked for grace and strength to be faithful to their promises.
Each house in succession was reached in this way and the same custom repeated. This pious and simple custom was very efficacious in preserving the faith pure and strong during the ages of persecution, when Ireland suffered so nobly for her religion. St. Brigid proved herself to be then — as she will always be—a true friend to her people, ' and a guardian of their spiritual interests.
Una Constance, in 'Catholic Pictorial.'

ST. BRIGID'S EVE. (1927, November 10). Freeman's Journal Sydney, p. 35 

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Monday 22 January 2024

Two Lives of Saint Brigid


It's always a pleasure to see new translations of medieval Lives of Irish saints being issued and so I was delighted to receive this notice of a forthcoming publication by Four Courts Press. Even better, I see that the Latin originals of both texts are included. It will be interesting to see how these new translations differ from those I already have by Seán Connolly and J.M. Picard. Have to get my order in!


St Brigid is the earliest and best-known of the female saints of Ireland. In the generation after St Patrick, she established a monastery for men and women at Kildare which became one of the most powerful and influential centres of the Church in early Ireland.

The stories of Brigid’s life and deeds survive in several early sources, but the most important are two Latin Lives written a century or more after her death. The first was composed by a churchman named Cogitosus and tells of her many miracles of healing and helping the poor. The second source, known as the Vita Prima, continues the tradition with more tales of marvellous deeds and journeys throughout the island. Both Latin sources are a treasure house of information not just about the legends of Brigid but also about daily life, the role of women, and the spread of Christianity in Ireland.

This book for the first time presents together an English translation of both the Life of Brigid by Cogitosus and the Vita Prima, along with the Latin text of both, carefully edited from the best medieval manuscripts. With an Introduction by Professor Freeman, this book makes these fascinating stories of St Brigid accessible to general readers, students and scholars.

Philip Freeman received his PhD in Classics and Celtic Languages from Harvard University in 1994. He has written extensively on Christianity in early medieval Ireland, as well as the Roman world in late antiquity. He currently serves as Fletcher Jones Professor of Humanities at Pepperdine University in California.

 For further details see the publisher's website here:


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