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
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
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 pagan father.
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
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 fire.
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.
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.
This day is also
known as Imbolc and traditionally marks the first day of Spring. It is
Brigid comes to visit on the eve of this day, blessing people and
bringing her white, red-eared cow with her. To welcome her, before
going to bed, families
leave an oaten cake and butter on the windowsill -- and corn for her
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" or "Bratog Bride," and are used to cure sore throats
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
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
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).