Many years ago now, I made a pilgrimage around some of the sacred sites of Ireland. I saw some amazing places and towards the end I visited Kildare which was the holy site associated with St. Brigid.
Together with St. Patrick she is regarded as the Patron Saint of Ireland and was, in fact, baptized by Patrick in about 525AD
Her feast day is February 1st so she is the Saint who brings to a close the Christmas season and points us towards Lent and Easter.
Her festival day coincides with an earlier pagan festival – IMBOLC, the season which marked the coming of light after the dark days of winter.
Once again, the Christian Church displayed ingenuity and common sense in replacing a pagan festival with a Christian one, because Imbolc became the feast of Candlemass, the day when we celebrate Christ as the light of the World – the light which overcomes darkness, or to put it into the words of Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis – the light to lighten the Gentiles (the world).
Brigid was herself a showing forth of Christ’s light in the darkened world of her times.
She was a gentle, caring soul who had a special love of the poor.
Before she became a nun and founded a monastery at Kildare she would regularly give possessions to the poor – not all of them her own! Her father didn’t take kindly to losing some of his goods and he complained to the King when he discovered that his sword was passed on to a leper.
He dragged his daughter before the King who asked her if she intended also to give all his property to the poor as well.
She told the King that if the whole of his kingdom was at her disposal she’d give the lot away!
The King gave her father a new sword on her behalf!
She regularly gave food to people.
Whenever she made butter she divided it into twelve equal pieces in honour of the 12 apostles and a larger lump in honour of the Son of God.
Here also was a clue to why she cared for those in need for she said,
“It was Christ and his Twelve Apostles who proclaimed the Gospel to the peoples of the world and it is in their name that I look after the poor, for Christ is to be found in the person of every faithful poor person.”
She believed it was her duty as Christ’s servant to lead people over the dangerous bridge of this life to the gleaming country of heaven.
This was the heart of her faith. Brigid was a bridge between this world and the world of heaven. As such it is fitting that she occupies that point in the Christian Calendar which turns our thoughts and prayers from Christmas to Easter – from the wonderful joy of God coming to be amongst us in the Incarnation, saving us and the world from within to the completion of that salvation in the Glory of the Cross and through the Crucifixion.
An illustration of this bridging of the world by Manger and Cross, is through the Cross that is called after her – St. Brigid’s Cross.
It is said that it saw the light of day because, when a pagan chief from the neighbourhood of Kildare lay dying, he sent for Brigid to come and to talk to him about Jesus.
By the time she got there, he was delirious and raving with fever. It was impossible to talk to her nor could she instruct him about Christ. Instead, she sat by his bed and gave him comfort.
As was usual, the floor was strewn with rushes for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid picked some up and began to weave them into a cross as she talked.
His delirium quietened and he was able to ask her what she was doing. As she talked, she gently explained about Jesus, his Cross and the salvation he brought.
In that quiet moment, handing him the little cross she moved him gently from earth to heaven as she baptized him at the point of his death.
And to help her do it, she had taken symbolically, some strands of the Manger and turned it into the sign of the Cross – the Saving Sign.
The straw of the Manger and the wood of the Cross.
God uses what he finds and through the simplicity of nature and the ordinariness of our lives, as with Brigid, He moulds consecrated vessels to contain His grace so that He can touch others.
So it was with Brigid and it can be so for us.
High Cross, detail. Kildare churchyard
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.
a traditional Irish prayer about St Brigid.