Saint Brigid of Ireland

by | Feb 2, 2017 | Book of Saints Project, Celtic Saints

All it took was hearing Patrick preach to turn a young girl into a force for charity. Young Brigid was captivated by the invitation to new life being extended across the rolling hills of Ireland by a man named Patrick. Upon her conversion she immediately began to minister to the poor and sick around her by dipping into the plentiful stores belonging to her father. Concerned that Brigid’s generosity could not be curbed and his own wealth would soon be gone, he set off with her in the hopes of marrying Brigid off to a local king. Brigid waited outside on her father’s carriage and when a poor leper approached her, she gave him the only thing left with her, the jewel encrusted sword of her father. In returning to the carriage and seeing the sword missing, Brigid’s father flew into a rage which of course the king observed and adamantly refused to accept the girl thinking he too would be taken for all he had.

At his wits end it would seem, Brigid’s father resigned that perhaps she was best suited for a religious life and was allowed to enter a convent. Here Brigid grew in wisdom and reputation and soon founded a double monastery of her own (meaning for both men and women) at Kildare in Ireland. She was a courageous woman said to possess miraculous healing powers and was a role-model to the many who aspired to the Christian faith. Her monastery became renowned both in Ireland and Europe, notably for its unprecedented hospitality.

“…a clean house, a big fire, and a couch without sorrow” became common attributes under Brigid’s influence.

Brigid traveled the countryside administering care and compassion on all she met. It is said that upon entering the home of a sick man, she fashioned a simple woven cross out of reed grass telling the gospel story as she wove which led to the man’s conversion . This cross-weaving tradition has been handed down through the ages in her honor.

Brigid also founded a school of art (for metal work and Scripture illumination) and was even appointed a bishop in the newly rising Celtic church. She oversaw other bishops, abbots and abbesses (male and female heads of monasteries), further proof that the Celts were approaching the faith through their own understandings of what was acceptable before God. The Irish were not unaccustomed to strong female leaders, so her role was not unusual in that regard.

So beloved is Brigid that some pretty amazing tales are told about her. Are they true? Here’s one of my favorites:

Saint Brigid’s Cloak

Brigid went to the King of Leinster to ask for land to build a convent. She told the king that the place where she stood was the perfect place for a convent. It was beside a forest where they could collect firewood. There was also a lake nearby that would provide water and the land was fertile. The king laughed at her and refused to give her any land. Brigid prayed to God and asked him to soften the king’s heart. Then she smiled at the king and said “will you give me as much land as my cloak will cover?” The king thought that she was joking and because Brigid’s cloak was so small he knew that it would only cover a very small piece of land. The king agreed and Brigid spread her cloak on the ground. She asked her four friends to hold a corner of the cloak and walk in opposite directions. The four friends walked north, south, east and west. The cloak grew immediately and began to cover many acres of land. The king was astonished and he realized that she had been blessed by God. The king fell to the ground and knelt before Brigid and promised her and her friends money, food and supplies. Soon afterwards, the king became a Christian and also started to help the poor. Brigid’s miracle of the cloak was the first of many miracles that she worked for the people of Ireland.

Story from St. Brigid’s GNS, Glasnevin

Michelle L Hofer

Hi, I'm Michelle…

A visual artist searching for stories and images of faith, hope and encouragement throughout the history of the Christian faith tradition. This Book of Saints Project is my ongoing work of sharing what I find through art and word.

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