About St. Brigid
451 — 525
Feast Day February 1
Patron Saint of Kildare, Ireland, healers, poets, blacksmiths, livestock and dairy workers.
She is traditionally associated with the Cross of St. Brigid, a form of the cross made from reeds or straw that is placed in homes for blessing and protection.
Brigid was born out of wedlock, the daughter of a pagan Scottish King named Dubthach and a Christian slave woman named Broicsech. Dubthach sold the child's pregnant mother to a new master, but contracted for Brigid to be returned to him eventually. She was baptized as an infant and raised by her Catholic mother. She was well-formed in the faith before leaving Broicsech's slave-quarters, at around age 10, to live with Dubthach and his wife.
Within the new circumstances of Dubthach household, Brigid's faith found expression in feats of charity. From the abundance of her father's food and possessions, she gave generously to the poor. Dubthach became enraged, threatening to sell Brigid – who was not recognized as a full family member, but worked as a household servant – to the King of Leinster. While Dubthach and King of Leinster bargained, she gave a treasured sword of her father‘s to a leper. Dubthach was about to strike her when Brigid explained she had given the sword to God through the leper, because of its great value. The King, a Christian, forbade Dubthach to strike her saying, “Her merit before God is greater than ours.” The King understood Brigid's acts of charity and convinced Dubthach to grant his daughter her freedom.
Released from servitude, Brigid was expected to marry. But she had other plans, which involved serving God in consecrated life. She disfigured her own face, marring her extraordinary beauty in order to dissuade suitors. Understanding he could not change her mind, Dubthach granted Brigid permission to pursue her plan, and material means by which to do so. Thus did a pagan nobleman, through this gift to his illegitimate daughter, play an unintentional but immense part in God's plan for Ireland.
While consecrated religious life was part of the Irish Church before Brigid's time, it had not yet developed the systematic character seen in other parts of the Christian world. Among women, vows of celibacy were often lived out in an impromptu manner, in the circumstances of everyday life or with the aid of particular benefactors. Brigid, with an initial group of seven companions, is credited with organizing communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland.
Bishop Mel of Ardagh – St. Patrick's nephew, and later “St. Mel” – accepted Brigid's profession as a nun. The disfigurement she had inflicted on her face disappeared that day, and her beauty returned.
Around the time of St. Mel’s death, Brigid's community got an offer to resettle. Their destination is known today as Kildare - “Church of the Oak” - after the main monastery she founded there.
Brigid's life as a nun was rooted in prayer, but it also involved substantial manual labor: clothmaking, dairy farming, and raising sheep. In Ireland, as in many other regions of the Christian world, this communal combination of work and prayer attracted vast numbers of people during the sixth century. Kildare, however, was unique as the only known Irish “double monastery”: it included a separately-housed men's community, led by the bishop Saint Conleth.
Brigid traveled widely founding new houses and building up a uniquely Irish form of monasticism. When she was not traveling, many pilgrims – including prominent clergy, and some future saints – made their way to Kildare, seeking the advice of the abbess.
Under Brigid's leadership, Kildare played a major role in the successful Christianization of Ireland. Brigid died in 525 at the age of 74. She is said to have received the last sacraments from a priest, Saint Ninnidh, whose vocation she had encouraged.