Portrait of an Irish Patron Saint: St. Brigid

Written by Linda Rafferty on 27/06/2024

Saint Brigid of Kildare

Saint Brigid of Kildare [c. 451 - c. 525]

Saint Brigid of Kildare

St. Brigid of Kildare is one of the most fascinating and awe-inspiring female figures in Ireland’s history. She makes up one of the three patron saints of Ireland, alongside St. Patrick and St. Columba. While there is still debate to this day over whether she actually existed or not, the story of this expert dairywoman and brewer who was known to turn pints of water into pints of beer is certainly not a tale to be missed. It’s said the prayers of St. Brigid could put a stop to the wind and rain, while her generosity and spirit when it came to less fortunate people and healing the sick is unrivalled on the Emerald Isle. In this article we are going to explore some of St. Brigid’s sensational stories and landmark achievements throughout her lifetime.

Perhaps one of the most noteworthy expeditions of St. Brigid was the establishment of a Catholic monastery in her native Kildare, where she almost single-handedly organised communal consecrated religious life for the women of Ireland. It’s widely documented that her inspiration to spread the word of Christianity was down to St. Patrick.

Saint Brigid of Kildare

Prior to this however is certainly one of St. Brigid’s most ‘career defining’ and frequently retold anecdotes; how she convinced her father to let her build a convent. It was her father’s intention that St. Brigid of Kildare would marry a wealthy man that she had been promised to. St. Brigid had other plans, and convinced God to take away her good looks in a miraculous effort to remain single. She would soon after call upon God’s help once again, this time convincing her father to let her build a convent in Kildare. As the story goes, her father insisted that he would give her as much land for this convent as could be covered by her cloak. Legend has it that at that very moment, St. Brigid’s cloak grew and grew to cover acres and acres of land, and thus allowing her to pursue her career in the spread of Christianity throughout her native Kildare, and indeed the entirety of Ireland.

Saint Brigid of Kildare

When you think of St. Brigid, the first thing that pops into many peoples’ minds is her iconic cross, the story of which will leave you hand over mouth. It’s said that St. Brigid was sitting by the bed of a dying pagan chieftain (some say it could have been her father, other historians are convinced the man was simply a stranger in need of reassurance). St. Brigid comforted the man, telling her stories of faith and putting your trust in God, when she began to tell the story of Christs’ crucifixion on the cross. It was at this time that she began to pick up rushed from the ground and assemble what we now know to be a St. Brigid’s cross. The symbol and the meaning behind it spread rapidly throughout Ireland, and people began to make similar crosses to hang over the doors of their homes to ward off evil, fire, and hunger. As time went on, he cross became synonymous with the kindness and caring nature of St. Brigid, making them a popular gift between practicing Catholics here in Ireland.

As with the other patron saints of Ireland, St. Patrick and St. Columba, St. Brigid has her own feast day which is celebrated each year. St. Brigid’s Day, also known as Imbolc or Imbolg is the Gaelic traditional festival that marks the beginning of Spring. It’s held on February 1st, exactly halfway between the Winter solstice and the Spring equinox. Those celebrating St. Brigid’s Day will often make a version of her cross and a doll-like figure known as a Brídeóg. In days gone by, these would be paraded from house to house in villages across Ireland by little girls accompanied by strawboys. Legend has it that St. Brigid herself used to visit someone’s home on the eve of the festival. People throughout her village would make up a bed for her, and leave out food and drink too. They would also leave out clothes in the hope that she would bless them, along with other things like livestock and wells.

Saint Brigid of Kildare

We hope this journey into the life and times of Ireland’s only female patron saint has been absorbing and spellbinding. To finish up, here are a list of 5 of St. Brigid’s most magnificent miracles and acts of kindness:

  1. Brigid once told a suitor who wanted to marry her to flee to the woods behind her house, where a beautiful maiden would marry him instead. The man did as he was told, and appeared she did.
  2. On her way to seek help with a headache, the story goes that St. Brigid stayed overnight with a family who had two mute daughters. It’s said that she healed the girls’ muteness using her own blood.
  3. When she was a child, St. Brigid once gave away her mother’s entire store of butter. She then prayed to God, who answered her prayers by restocking the store with butter once again.
  4. While sitting on the banks of the River Inny, St. Brigid was once gifted a bunch of apples and sweet sloes, which she promptly gave to a house of lepers later that day.
  5. She founded a school of art, metalwork, and illumination. The Kildare scriptorium is said to have made the universal celebrated Book of Kilda

Saint Brigid of Kildare

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