Biography of Brigid of Kildare, Irish Patron Saint

Cathedral ruins against blue sky.
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Brigid of Kildare (c. 451–525) was a nun and abbess who founded several monasteries in Ireland. Christians believe that God performed miracles through Brigid during her lifetime, most of which had to do with healing. Brigid is the patron saint of babies, midwives, children whose parents aren't married, scholars, poets, travelers (especially those who travel by water), and farmers (especially dairy farmers).

Fast Facts: Brigid of Kildare

  • Known For: Brigid is one of Ireland's major patron saints.
  • Also Known As: Saint Brigid
  • Born: c. 451 in Dundalk, Ireland
  • Parents: Dubhthach and Brocca
  • Died: c. 525 in Kildare, Ireland

Early Life

Brigid was born in 5th-century Ireland to a pagan father, Dubhthach, a chieftain of the Leinster clan. Her mother Brocca was a slave and a Christian who had come to the faith through Saint Patrick's preaching of the gospel. From birth, Brigid was also considered a slave and endured mistreatment from her owners growing up. Despite her upbringing, though, she developed a reputation for being extraordinarily kind and generous to others. She once gave away her mother's entire supply of butter to someone in need and then prayed for God to replenish the supply for her mother. In response to Brigid's prayers, butter miraculously appeared, according to one of the stories about her childhood.

Suitors

Brigid's physical beauty (including her deep blue eyes) attracted many suitors, but Brigid decided not to get married so that she could fully devote her life to Christian ministry as a nun. An ancient story says that when men didn't stop pursuing her romantically, Brigid prayed for God to take away her beauty, and he did so temporarily by afflicting her with facial blemishes and swollen eyes. By the time her beauty returned, her potential suitors had gone elsewhere to search for a wife.

Monastery

When Brigid was looking for land she could use to build her monastery, she asked the reluctant local king to give her only as much land as her cloak would cover. She then prayed for God to miraculously expand her cloak to convince the king to help her out. The story claims that Brigid's cloak grew as the king watched, covering a large area of land that he then donated for her monastery.

Brigid founded a monastery underneath an oak tree in Kildare, Ireland, and it quickly grew to become a full-scale monastery community for both men and women. Her monastery attracted many people who studied religion, writing, and art there. As the head of a community that became Ireland's center of learning, Brigid was an important female leader in the ancient world and in the church. She eventually assumed the role of bishop.

At her monastery, Brigid set up an eternal flame to represent the Holy Spirit's constant presence. That flame was extinguished several hundred years later during the Reformation, but it was lit again in 1993 and still burns in Kildare today. The well that Brigid used to baptize people is outside Kildare, and pilgrims frequently visit the well to say prayers and tie colorful ribbons to the wishing tree beside it.

Death

Brigid died in 525 CE. After her death people began to venerate her as a saint, praying to her for help and healing from God, since many of the miracles during her lifetime related to healing.

Saint Brigid's Cross

A special type of cross known as "Saint Brigid's cross" is popular throughout Ireland. It commemorates a famous story in which Brigid went to the home of a pagan leader when people told her that he was dying and needed to quickly hear the gospel message. The man was delirious and upset when Brigid arrived, unwilling to listen to what she had to say. Brigid sat with him and prayed, taking some of the straw from the floor and weaving it into the shape of a cross. Gradually, the man quieted down and asked Brigid what she was doing. She explained the gospel to him, using her handmade cross as a visual aid. The man then came to faith in Jesus Christ, and Brigid baptized him just before he died. Today, many Irish people display a Saint Brigid's cross in their homes, since it is said to help ward off evil and welcome good.

Legacy

According to Irish legend, Saint Brigid performed numerous miracles over the course of her long life of service. Once, she was traveling on horseback with her sisters when her horse became startled. Brigid fell off and hit her head on a stone. Blood from the wound mixed with the water on the ground. Brigid knew of two nearby sisters who couldn't hear or talk and asked them to pour the mixture of blood and water onto their necks while praying for healing. One sister did so and was healed, while the other one was healed simply by touching the bloody water when she bent down to the ground to check on Brigid.

According to another story, Brigid healed a man afflicted by leprosy by blessing a mug of water and instructing one of the women in her monastery to help the man use the blessed water to wash his skin. The man's skin then completely cleared up.

Brigid was close to animals, and several miracles from her life involve them. It is believed that she once touched a cow that had already been milked dry and blessed it to help hungry and thirsty people. When the starving people milked the cow, they were able to get from it 10 times as much milk as they had expected.

Today, Brigid is one of the major patron saints of Ireland, and statues of her are found in homes across the country. Her Feast Day is celebrated on February 1.

Sources

  • Mould, Daphne Desirée. "Saint Brigid." Clonmore & Reynolds, 1965.
  • Reilly, Robert T., and Harry Barton. "Irish Saints." Gramercy Books, 2002.