Per the 1962 Missal,
today's Feast is that of St. Ignatius of Antioch, but St. Brigid, though
not celebrated liturgically by those using the 1962 Missal, is still honored
today, especially among the Irish.
St. Brigid -- her name is correctly pronounced "Brigg-id" or "Bree-id" but
almost never is -- was born in A.D. 451 or 452 to a pagan father (Dubthach)
and Christian slave mother (Broicsech) just after the time that St. Patrick
was preaching (St. Patrick died in A.D. 493). It is said a Bishop -- a follower
of St. Patrick -- met the pregnant slave woman and predicted that the child
she was carrying would do great things. It is said, too, that a Druid of
Dubthach's household had predicted that there would soon be born one who
"shall be called from her great virtues the truly pious brigid; she will
be another Mary, mother of the great Lord."
Brigid's mother was sent away at the insistence of her father's wife -- sold
to a Druidic poet in Connacht -- but Brigid was to be returned to her father
after she was raised (it was undoubtedly he who gave her her name -- most
likely in honor of the false goddess, Brigid, whose name means "Fiery Arrow"
and who was akin to the Roman goddess Minerva, who concerned herself with
fertility, prosperity, and poetry, and who was symbolized by a spear, crown,
and globe). Her impoverished, enslaved mother did her best to raise her well,
and a white red-eared cow is said to have provided all the food St. Brigid
needed to grow, indicating that she was special indeed as white red-eared
cows are rare in Ireland.
When she was around 10 or so, she did move back to be with her father at
Faughart Hill. She was given charge of the dairy -- but gave much of the
produce away. This enraged her father, but she was strong-willed and continued
in her charity.
While still young, Brigid went to visit a Christian mission. The Bishop there
was recounting a dream he had in which he saw Our Lady, and as he spoke,
Brigid entered the room. He stopped and said that she was the one he'd seen
in his vision -- another sign of the special graces she'd been given.
Not too long later, Brigid returned to her mother and found her working hard
in a dairy. Brigid stayed on to help her mother, leaving the relative luxury
of her father's house out of love for her mother. She continued her charity,
of course, churning butter in 13 portions in honor of Christ and the Apostles
-- one portion larger than the rest which she'd give to the poor. Despite
her giving away much of the produce, her pantry was always full -- miraculously
so. This miracle and Brigid's charity changed the hearts of the Druid who'd
bought her mother, and he and his wife converted to the Faith and gave Brigid's
mother her freedom, whereupon she and Brigid returned to the land of Brigid's
Brigid was hated by her father's wife, and her charity wasn't pleasing to
her father, either, as she gave away some of his wealth, so her father took
her to live as a bond maid with Dunlang, King of Leinster, a Christian. When
they arrived, Dubthach went in to speak with the King, leaving Brigid in
the chariot. A leper came to her, and she gave him her father's sword so
he'd have something of value -- even as Dubthach was complaining to the King
about how Brigid was always giving away his things. King Dunlang, after meeting
and speaking with Brigid herself and seeing Christian greatness in her, convinced
her father to give her her freedom, and then gave him his own sword to compensate
for the one Brigid had given away.
As a freewoman, she became a part of her father's clan, and being a part
of the clan made her marriageable to the clansmen. They began to seek her
out as she was beautiful, but she consecrated herself to Christ and wanted
no part of marriage. It is said that she, like St. Rose of Lima was to do
later, disfigured her face so that no man would even want to marry her. Her
resolve convinced her father to allow her to take the veil, and she became
the first nun in Ireland.
Now, women consecrated themselves to Christ before then, but lived in private
homes; Brigid formed the first religious community for women in Ireland.
She and 7 companions met with St. Mel, Bishop, in Mag Teloch. On meeting
the women, St. Mel "recognized" Brigid, saying that he was the one who'd
made the prediction about her when she was still in her mother's womb. He
gladly consecrated the women, and when he did, it is said that Brigid's
self-disfigurement was healed and her beauty restored.
Brigid and her sisters first set up a convent in Ardagh, but then moved to
what is now known as Kildare, "The Church of the Oak," on land given to them
by the good King of Leinster who'd convinced Brigid's father to grant her
her freedom. The fantastical Irish legend told to children is that she was
refused the land near the oak tree that she loved, so told the King she'd
be happy to accept whatever land her mantle could cover. The King assented,
but her mantle miraculously covered all of Curragh!
Her convent grew, and she travelled to set up others all over Ireland and
also a school of illumination and metallurgy. In those travels, she became
known for her Christ-given ability to heal and wisdom. Bishops, priests,
and chieftans sought her counsel, and she was so beloved that she became
known as "The Mary of the Gaels." A common blessing became "Brigid and Mary
be with you."
When St. Brigid died an old woman in A.D. 525 , her sisters kept a fire burning
in an enclosure at her Kildare convent. This fire burned for centuries, tended
by the Sisters and not burning out until A.D. 1220. It was re-lit and burned
for 400 years, when the effects of the Protestant "Reformation" extinguished
it again. St. Brigid's association with fire and the proximity of her Feast
to Candlemas tomorrow -- a day celebrating Christ as the Light Unto the Nations,
make the two Feasts entwined in the Irish imagination. On the day following
Candlemas, the Feast of St. Blaise with its blessing of the throats with
two crossed candles make for three days associated with light and
St. Brigid (she is often affectionately known as "Bride," "Bridey," or "the
Mary of the Gael") is the patroness of dairy maids, infants, midwives,
blacksmiths, poets, nuns, and students. Along with SS. Patrick and Columba
(Columcille), she is the patroness of Ireland. St. Brigid is depicted in
art as a nun with a Cross woven from rushes (see below), with a crozier,
with fire (a candle, lamp, or bowl of fire), and/or with a cow.
And now for St. Brigid's Day customs...
St. Brigid's Crosses
During one of her
travels, St. Brigid went to visit a dying pagan chieftan. As she sat near
his bed, she picked up some rushes on the floor and began weaving a Cross.
He asked her about what she was doing and, in explaining, she told him about
Christ and the meaning of the Cross. He came to faith and was baptized.
It is customary on St. Brigid's Day to make a Cross -- known as a "St. Brigid's
Cross" -- out of rushes or reeds (other materials may be used if no rushes
or reeds are available). Once the Cross is woven, it is blessed with holy
water and with the words
May the blessing
of God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost be on this Cross and on the place where
it hangs and on everyone who looks on it.
It is then hung
on the front doors of homes and left in place all year, to be burned and
replaced with a newly-woven Cross on the next St. Brigid's Day.
Click here for instructions on how to make
a St. Brigid's Cross.
It is said St.
Brigid comes to visit on her Feast Day, blessing people and livestock, bringing
her white, red-eared cow with her. To welcome her, families leave an oaten
cake and butter on the windowsill -- and corn for her cow.
Families also hang a ribbon or handkerchief out on trees or clotheslines,
believing that if the Saint touched it it would have curative powers. These
ribbons or handkerchiefs are called "St. Brigid's Mantle."
Because of St. Brigid's association with fire, the
building of bonfires would be fitting, too, if
you live in a temperate zone. Fire and light are the perfect segue into
Candlemas tomorrow, too, a day
known as a "Feast of Light."
And, yes, food is involved in the celebration of St. Brigid's life. Colcannon,
Boxty Cakes, and St. Brigid's Oatcakes for the children are the thing:
Colcannon (serves 6)
1 1/4 lbs. Kale or green Cabbage
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 pounds peeled and quartered potatoes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 cup cleaned and chopped leeks white part only
1 cup milk
Pinch of ground mace
Salt and ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup melted butter
Simmer kale or cabbage in 2 cups water and oil for 10 minutes, then drain,
and chop fine. Boil potatoes and water, and simmer 'til tender. Simmer the
leeks in milk for ten minutes 'til tender. Drain and puree the potatoes.
Add leeks and their milk and the cooked kale, and mix in. Add mace, salt
and pepper. Mound on a plate and pour on the melted butter.Garnish with parsley.
Boxty Cakes (makes 12)
1/2 pound hot cooked potatoes
1/2 pound grated raw potatoes
2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Butter for frying
Salt and pepper
Drain, peel and mash the hot potatoes. Stir in the raw potatoes, flour and
baking soda. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well with enough buttermilk
to make a stiff batter. Shape into 3 inch patties about 1/4 inch thick and
fry on hot greased griddle until crispy and golden on both sides.
St. Brigid's Oatcakes (serves 4)
2 cups uncooked, old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 1/2 cups sifted bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil spray
A day ahead, combine the oats and buttermilk in a small bowl. Blend thoroughly,
cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees
F. Remove the oat mixture from the refrigerator. Combine the bread flour,
baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Slowly add the oat
mixture and stir with a wooden spoon 20 to 30 times, or until you have a
smooth dough. Grease a baking sheet with the oil spray. Turn the dough onto
the baking sheet, and use your hands to form a round, cake-shaped loaf about
1-inch thick. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into 4 quarters.
Move the quarters apart slightly, but keep them in the original round shape.
Bake until the cakes are light golden brown and firm to the touch, 30 to
35 minutes. Cool slightly on a rack, and serve with butter and jam or preserves.
Makes 1 loaf (in quarters).