St. Brigid of Ireland: Healer and Miracle Worker
February 1 is the feast of St. Brigid of Ireland, a fifth century convert to Christianity, who was inspired by the preaching of St Patrick. As an abbess and Catholic nun, she founded a double monastery, of monks and nuns, at Kildare, the first women’s monastic community in Ireland. St. Brigid is the patron saint of: babies, children whose parents are not married, dairy workers, midwives, nuns, poets, poultry farmers, printing presses, sailors, scholars, and travelers. Brigid is also known as Brigid of Kildare and her name is often given as Bride or Bridget. She is known as the “Mary of the Gael.”
Around 453 AD, Brigid was born out of wedlock, the daughter of a pagan chieftain named Dubthach and a Christian slave woman named Brocessa. After giving birth, Brigid’s mother was sold to a Chieftain in Connaught, and Brigid was given to a Druid to be raised and educated.
As a child, Brigid vomited when the Druid tried to feed her due to his impurity. She was nourished solely by the milk of a white cow with red ears. During her life, Brigid performed many miracles, including healing and feeding the poor. According to one story, she once gave away her mother’s entire store of butter to the poor. The butter was then miraculously replaced in answer to Brigid’s prayers.
At the age of ten, she was returned as a household slave to her father, where her charitable and generous nature caused her to donate his possessions to anyone who asked. Dubthach was so angry with her that he took her in a chariot to the King of Leinster, to sell her. However, while Dubthach was speaking to the king, Brigid gave away his jeweled sword to a beggar to exchange it for food to feed his family. The king acknowledged her holiness and convinced Dubthach to give his daughter her freedom.
The exact circumstance of her conversion to Christianity is unknown, though it is certain that her Christian mother was a guiding influence. Brigid was very beautiful and had many suitors, but after her conversion, she consecrated her life to God. Upon securing her father’s reluctant permission, she entered religious life.
Around 480, Brigid founded a monastery at Kildare, “Church of the Oak”, on the site of an older pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid. The site chosen was under a large oak tree. Brigid, with a group of seven companions, founded the first consecrated religious order for women in Ireland. She founded two monastic institutions, one for men, and the other for women, and invited Conleth, a hermit, to assist her in Kildare as spiritual pastor. Conleth later was appointed the Bishop of Kildare. Thus, for centuries, Kildare was ruled by a double line of abbot-bishops and of abbesses, with the Abbess of Kildare serving as superior general of the monasteries in Ireland.
Brigid’s wisdom and generosity became legendary, and people traveled from all over the country to obtain her wisdom. Her monastery at Kildare became one of the greatest centers of learning in Europe. She continued her holy and charitable work until her death in 525 AD, when she was laid to rest in a jeweled casket at Kil Dara. In 835, her remains were moved to protect them from Norse invaders, and interred in the same grave that holds the remains of St Patrick and St Columcille at Downpatrick.
Many miracles have been attributed to St. Brigid that involve physical healing. For example, on one occasion, Brigid was travelling to see a physician for her headache. She stayed at the house of a couple who had two mute daughters. The daughters were travelling with Brigid when her horse startled, causing her to fall off and injure her head on a rock. When the girls touched her bloodied wound, they were both healed.
St Brigid died on February 1, 523 after receiving Holy Communion from St Ninnidh of Inismacsaint. She was buried at Kildare, but her relics were transferred to Downpatrick during the Viking invasions. It is believed that she was buried in the same grave with St Patrick and St Columba of Iona.
She is traditionally associated with the Cross of St. Brigid, a type of cross made from straw or reeds that is placed in homes for blessing and protection from fire and evil. It is hung in many Irish and Irish-American kitchens for this purpose.
Quote from St. Brigid
“I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us. I would like an abundance of peace. I would like full vessels of charity. I would like rich treasures of mercy. I would like cheerfulness to preside over all. I would like Jesus to be present. I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us. I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts. I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me. I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I would like to be watching Heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity.”
Prayer to St. Brigid of Ireland
You were a woman of peace.
You brought harmony where there was conflict.
You brought light to the darkness.
You brought hope to the downcast.
May the mantle of your peace cover those who are troubled and anxious,
And may peace be firmly rooted in our hearts and in our world.
Inspire us to act justly and to reverence all God has made.
Brigid you were a voice for the wounded and the weary.
Strengthen what is weak within us.
Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens.
May we grow each day into greater wholeness in mind, body and spirit.