St. Brigid was probably born in Kildare in Ireland about 1500 years ago. Many Irish claim she was born in Faughart and there are shrines in both places. Our tradition favours Kildare and this is where we have re-established a community in recent years.
Irish hagiography names her as an early Irish Christian nun, abbess, and foundress of several monasteries including a monastery for women and men in the monastic city of Kildare (Cill Dara, the church of the oak).
Brigid is also known as : Woman of hospitality; Woman of the hearth; Woman of Justice; Woman of Peace and Woman of the Earth. She is known and honoured as Mary of the Gael.
St. Brigid of Kildare bridges and integrates the ancient Celtic spirituality and Christianity. The lore, rituals and traditions of St. Brigid of Kildare are often impossible to separate from her namesake, the Celtic triple goddess, Brigid.
Brigid’s father was Dubtoc (Duffy) and her mother was Broicseach. Brigid was genetically programmed to be a superb organiser of people. From her aristocratic father she inherited an autocratic, domineering attitude that got things done. She was at ease with the upper classes. From her working class mother she had the gift of the ability to communicate understandingly with the rank and file. She understood their problems and knew what practical help was needed.
Brigid founded a church, a convent and a monastery on the Hill of Kildare where the Cathedral still stands today, recently restored and now belonging to the Church of Ireland although it is used for ecumenical services. Brigid was a unique woman of her times, an abbess, who had a say in the appointment of bishops.
Her monastery in Kildare became known as an important centre of hospitality, culture, education, healing and worship in Ireland and beyond until the suppression of abbeys in the 16th century. Down through the centuries St. Brigid has become a wisdom figure to the Irish people.
The Kildare church was neither contemplative nor penitential. It was an outgoing, practical church concerned with people and their material as well as spiritual needs. St. Brigid founded this tradition. She would visit a pagan household and while talking to the farmer’s wife – in a friendly way – about Christianity would at the same time show her how to make good butter and discuss poultry and bee-keeping. Brigid was not confrontational. Her attitude was live and let live – and the gradual, peaceful penetration of deeply rooted pagan customs and cults and their gradual Christianisation, bringing the people with them peacefully. St. Brigid infiltrated and took over:
- The Cult of the Well – St. Brigid’s Well;
- The Cult of the Fire – the Fire Temple recently restored and relit;
- The Cult of the Oak (the sacred pagan tree) – Kildare, the Church of the oak; And the pagan sun symbol – a Christianised form is the St Brigid’s cross.
The feast of St. Brigid, 15t February, was Imbolc, the beginning of Spring.
We can see the astonishing ability of Brigid to assimilate aspects of the past, adapt them and project them, alive and vibrant, into the future. As a person, Brigid was active, practical and generous. Her Christianity could be described as applied Christianity: people should be cared for. If they need help, help should be provided. So many stories can be told about how she helped people. She was a peacemaker. She was sensible and down to earth. Brigid’s monasteries were finally suppressed in the 16th century.