St. Brigid’s Feast Day is celebrated on February 1st.
Brigid is one of the great saints of Ireland. With Patrick and Colmcille she forms the Trinity of The Patron Saints of Ireland. Saint Brigid was born in Faughairt near Dundalk about the year 450. Her father was a chieftain named Dubhtach and her mother was a bond woman named Brocessa. Her parents wished her to marry but she wished to dedicate her life to God as a nun. She had a hard childhood. Her father was a nobleman who expected his family to work very hard. Brigid had to work in the fields, milk cows, make butter and clean the house.
Brigid’s mother often prayed or sang hymns as they worked together in the fields. She told Brigid stories about Jesus and about St Patrick who had come to Ireland to tell the Irish people all about Jesus Christ.
Brigid was a very beautiful girl and many young men admired her beauty and her charm. Her father wanted her to marry the son of the King of Leinster. Brigid didn’t want to marry since she felt that God wanted her to start a convent. It would be a place of refuge for the poor and a place of prayer and worship. So Brigid, along with her friends, left home, much to her father’s dismay.
About the year 467 she and seven others took the veil from Bishop Macaille. Her first religious settlement seems to have been in Westmeath. The group of women, with Brigid as their leader started to build a convent with their own hands starting with a small hut for each nun. The nuns then built two larger huts. One was the chapel where they sang hymns and prayed; the other was a place for meeting and having meals.
Everyone talked about the convent. They talked about the good work Brigid and the other nuns did. They talked about how hard Brigid and the nuns worked, ploughing the fields, sowing corn and gathering the crops at harvest time, milking their cows every morning and evening, making butter and cheese. The people nearby loved to hear them singing praises to God as they worked.
She later built a monastery at Cill Dara (The Church of the Oak), which became famous as a religious centre of great renown, with a scriptorium and school of metalwork
The nuns helped all those in need. Any poor person who called at the convent was sure of something to eat and drink. They took care of sick people. They often travelled miles to care for the poor and the sick.
One day Brigid was called to the bed of an old pagan chieftain who was dying. Brigid sat by his bedside to keep him company. To while away the time, she picked up a few rushes from the floor and began to weave them into a cross. The chieftain opened up his eyes and, though he was dying, asked her what she was making. She told him the story of Jesus and his death on the cross. She told him that Jesus loved everybody so much and loved God Our Father so much that he wasn’t afraid to die on a cross. She explained that followers of Jesus Christ had a great respect and great love for the cross of Jesus.
Brigid spent many hours with him and, before he died, the old pagan chieftain became a Christian.
Brigid was a gifted teacher and is said to have visited Scotland and England .
The old Irish custom of placing a St. Brigid’s cross over the door of dwelling houses and animal sheds began. Irish people have prayed to her for many hundreds of years. They ask her blessing on themselves, their families and their work. They use her name in prayer. “Brid agus Muire dhuit” was one old Irish blessing. Another prayer was: “St Brigid, help us on our journey.”
After a long life she died on February 1st 523. Her feast day is on 1st February.
What about the Legend of her cloak?
The legend of Brigid’s cloak is often told. It’s the story about the manner in which she came to acquire the land to build her monastery at Kildare. It is often regarded as one of the first miracles associated with her
She approached the King of Leinster requesting the land on which to build her monastery. The place she selected in Kildare was ideal. It was near a lake where water was available, in a forest where there was firewood and near a fertile plain on which to grow crops. The King refused her request. Brigid was not put off by his refusal. Rather, she and her sisters prayed that the King’s heart would soften. She made her request again but this time she asked, “Give me as much land as my cloak will cover.”
Seeing her small cloak, he laughed and then granted this request. However, Brigid had instructed her four helpers each to take a corner of the cloak and walk in opposite directions – north, south, east and west. As they did this the cloak began to grow and spread across many acres. She now had sufficient land on which to build her monastery. The King and his entire household were dismayed and amazed. They realised that this woman was truly blessed by God. The King became a patron of Brigid’s monastery, assisting her with money, food and gifts. Later he converted to Christianity. It was on this land in Kildare that she built her dual monastery c.470.
A Poem on St Brigid
Brigid wove a cross of rushes
By a dying chieftain’s bed.
“Brigid what is that you’re making
From the rushes there?” he said.
Brigid said, “A cross I’m weaving
Like the cross where Jesus died.”
“Who was Jesus?” asked the chieftain,
“Why was this man crucified?”
Brigid told the gospel story
To the dying pagan king.
Lying silently he listened,
Never saying anything.
Then he kissed the cross of rushes
Saying, “Brigid, thanks to you,
I have come to love this Jesus,
I will follow his way too!”
Finbar O’ Connor