February 1st-2nd: Imbolc or Oimelc, Candlemas, St. Brigid’s Day

Imbolc or Imbolg a.k.a. Candlemas, Groundhog Day, St.Brigid’s Day, L’ Fh’ill Br’ghde, L’ Fh’ile Bride, Feast Day of St. Brigid, Spring Festival.

Celebrated February 1st or 2nd annually in the northern hemisphere, and August 1st or 2nd in the southern hemisphere.

Cultures: Gaels, Irish, Scottish, Manx, Neo-Pagans, Celtic Reconstructionists, Neo-Druids, Wiccans, Druids, Pagans.

Represents: hearth, home, lengthening days, early signs of Spring, birthing of ewes, milking of Ewes, milk, first stirrings of Spring, St. Brigid, candles, and first feasts.

“I mbolg” is Irish for “in the belly” and refers to the pregnancy of ewes. It has also been referred to as Oimelc referring to “Ew’s milk”. Imbolc is a popular Pagan holiday celebrating the marking of the first stirrings of Spring. Most commonly taking place traditionally on February 1st or 2nd, can take place also as late as February 12th in the Northern Hemisphere, and by new European settlers in the southern hemisphere celebrated around August 1st. It is a cross-quarter sabbat in modern Pagan faiths as a halfway mark between the Winter Solstice (Yule) and the Spring Equinox. The festival was first recorded to have been celebrated in the Middle Ages in Gaelic Ireland and was referred to as the “Tochmarc Emire of the Ulster Cycle” and was a cross-quarter day festival in Irish Mythology as one of four. The other four cross-quarter day festivals were Samhain, Beltane, and Lughnasad. Many believe it first celebrated the Goddess Brigid and later turned to represent the Saint Brigid. With growth of the Neo-Pagan movement of Shamanism, Celtic Spirituality, Druidism, Wicca, and Witchcraft, especially in relation to Celtic reconstructionism, “Imbolc” was revitalized as a Neo-pagan religious festival. As it was followed by Candlemas on February 2nd, as the Irish “L Fh’ile Muire na gCoinneal” or “feast day of Mary of the Candles”, Welsh “G?yl Fair y Canhwyllau” the two festivals became blended together. Because some Irish Neolithic monuments are aligned to this date, such as the Mound of the Hostages at Tara, it is believed the holiday was celebrated much earlier than the Middle Ages. It appears however for the first time from folklore collected during the 19th-20th century in Rural Ireland and Scotland. The holiday represents the hearth, home, lengthening days, early signs of Spring, birthing of ewes, milking of Ewes, milk, first stirrings of Spring, St. Brigid, candles, and first feasts. It is celebrated with hearth fires, butter, milk, bannocks, divination, seeking of prophecy, omens, oracles, candles, bonfires, weather divination, Groundhogs, badgers, snakes, festivals of light, early Spring celebrations, celebrations of Fire, purification, the Goddess Brigid, or St Brigid.

The Annals of the Four masters records Brigit to having died February 1st, 525 AD. Others believe this was the date of her birth. Because St. Brigid was believed to have died or born on February 1st, the date has been dedicated to her. The date also coincides with the Festival of St. Brigid of Kildare at this time. The association with Brigid / Brighid / Bride / Brigit / Brid, the festival is also related to holy wells, Brigid’s crosses, sacred flames, healing, poetry, smithcraft, and magic. In Gaelic tradition, Imbolc also is the time of the “Hag” or the “Cailleach” who gathers her firewood for the rest of winter. If she desires a longer winter, she makes sure the weather on this date is bright and sunny so she can gather more wood. If she’s ready for it to be over, this date will be overcast, cold, or with foul weather. If the snakes come out of their holes, badgers come to the surface, or the groundhog sees its shadow, there will be more winter. If they do not come out, then they are asleep and winter is almost over. The lighting of fires, candles, bonfires, and hearths represents the return of warmth and the growing power of the sun. As the Feast of St. Brigid, L’ Fh’ile Bride, and Li Feabhra – Candlemas and Imbolc is celebrated as the official first day of Spring. Craft-wise this is honored by the handcrafting of the Brigid’s Bed when young unmarried girls would create a corn dolly representing Brigid called the Brideog (Little Brigid) adorned with ribbons, shells, and stones lying on a bed. On St. Brigid’s Eve (January 31st) the girls would gather in a house for an all nighter sleepover with the Brideog, only later to be visited by the single young men of the community to come treat them and the corn dolly with tribute. As Brigid is believed to manifest of Imbolc Eve, another tradition is the leaving of a strip of cloth or clothing outside for Brigid to bless. Fires that night when extinguished would have their ashes raked smooth, and in the morning, the fire caretakers would inspect the ash for any kinds of markings for a sign that Brigid came through the hearth. Cloth and clothing left out that night would be brought back into the house and believed to possess magical healing and protective energies. On Imbolc, the girls carry the Brideog through the community from house to house where offerings are given to her. The date is also celebrated by the weaving of Brigid’s Cross.

Neopagan celebrations of this festival vary from tradition to tradition, religion to religion. Much of the traditional rites associated with the practices today are based on reconstructionist theory in its beginnings evolving to new traditions today. As previously said, it is a time of purification, and therefore a time of initiations and new beginnings.

Bibliography/References:


  • Adler, Margot. 1979: “Drawing Down the Moon”. Boston: Beacon Press.

  • Bonewits, Isaac. 2006: “Essential Guide to Druidism”. New York: Kensington Publishing.

  • Carmichael, Alexander. 1992: “Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations”. Hudson: New York, Lindisfarne Press.

  • Chadwick, Nora. 1970: “The Celts”. London, Penguin books.

  • Cultural Heritage Ireland. “Festival of Imbolc and St. Brigit”. Website referenced March 2012. http://www.culturalheritageireland.ie/index.php/irish-history-from-the-annals/80-irish-history-from-the-annals/174-the-festival-of-imbolc-and-st-brigit

  • Danaher, Kevin. 1972: “The year in Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs”. Dublin, Mercier Books.

  • Hutton, Ronald. 1996: “The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain”. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • MacKillop, James. 1998: “Dictionary of Celtic Mythology”. New York: Oxford University press.

  • Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. “Imbolc”. Website referenced March 2012. http://www.wikipedia.org.

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Brigid’s Sacred Wells in Kildare, Ireland

 


Brigid’s Well #1, the “Wayward Well”, Kildare, Ireland

Brighid’s Holy Wells in Kildare
* Kildare, Ireland

The Goddess or St. Brigid has two holy wells in Kildare? She certainly does. Some say that one of the wells belongs to the Ancient Goddess Brigid while the other well belongs to St. Brigid. Both are sacred, both are holy, and both hold Brigid’s magical healing waters. Well #1 is the ancient “original” sacred well of Brigid. Well #2 is the dressed up sacred shrine and park of Brigid with her well. They were two distinctly different entities … an Ancient Goddess who’s ethereal Godly presence can manifest as a human female and the actual magical human nun turned Saint who was the personification of the Deitie. One in the same? could be. Two differently distinct entities who share the common thread? very possibly. Two wells … that seems to be the case. One for the Goddess and One for the Saint? I would say “both” wells contain “both” the Saint and the Goddess in them. I’ve come to notice a pattern with this, that the “ancient” Pagan “original” well is often offset from the “Christian” one. This seemed to be the case when I went to see the Madron well in Cornwall, England (though technically that one had “three” – the original one buried in the marsh, the Pagan “original” one offset from the one underwater, and the Christian well house.). There are many Brigid wells in Ireland as well as Britain. As wells were the sacred sites of veneration in the Druidic faith, many also have an associated sacred tree with them that are covered with votive offerings. These are often called “Wishing Trees”. Trees covered with “clotties” or ribbons of cloth done as a prayer for healing or a spell to obtain something. Pilgrims come here to get in touch with the well inside themselves. Wells are sacred places where people for thousands of years have come to pray, worship, and reflect. Pagan and Holy wells are often seen as the entrance to the womb of Mother Earth, the source of life. Each holy well usually is always related to healing, and each well usually has a specialty that it performs. Brigid’s wells are pretty powerful for healing sore eyes. Brigid is associated with all healing. Her girdle is capable of curing all disease and illness and this well is rumored to make “the blind man seeing, the dumb girl speaking, etc.”

Brighid’s Holy Well #1 a.k.a. “The Wayside Well”

The first well is the ancient Pagan sacred well of the Goddess Brigid. It is located just next to the car park of the Japanese Gardens. This well / spring itself feeds and nourishes the Gardens themselves. This is the spring source whose waters run off and feeds the newer well. It’s not really decorated and is simple, rustic, ancient, and silent. Seemingly forgotten. I has only an inscription sign in Irish that translates “St. Brigid, Mary of the Gael, pray for us.” However it is still a major focal point for pilgrimmages and ceremonies. The Brigid Eve ceremonies (January 31st) start at a small fire set up just outside the Japanese Gardens car park with a chanting to the Goddess Brigid which is followed by a candlelit journey of contemplation about the Goddess and the Saint and the spirit that weaves them together. The candle lit journey goes to this well and ends at the second well. It is customary to gather this well water in a bottle because of its strong healing properties and in exchange to leave an offering for the spirits and faeries who dwell there.

 


“Tobair Bride” / St. Brigid’s Well, Kildare, Ireland

 

Brighid’s Holy Well #2 a.k.a. “Tobair Bride” (St. Brigid’s Well)

The second well is the “supposed” Christian well of St. Brigid. It’s the tourist one. It’s the “Official” one. This is the one in the tourist guides, sign posts, and advertisements. It is located in a landscaped grotto at the end of a short lane close to Well #1. The local Catholic clergy moved Christian devotion and practices to this site in the 1950’s supposedly out of concern for people’s safety in accessing the original well which was at the bend in a narrow busy road. It is here that the Roman Catholic healing well is located. While pilgrims often visit both wells, this is the well where an involved ceremony, similar to the “stations of the cross” is conducted. Pilgrims reflect on the Goddess and/or Saint Brigid and how they weave together.

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Brigid’s Sacred Flame at Kildare


Brighid’s Flame
* Kildare, Ireland *

For well over 1,000 years, if not 2,000 years or more, the sacred fire of the Goddess Brigid (now St. Brigid of Ireland) has existed and kept holy / sacred by her followers, priestesses, and/or members of her Order. In Ancient times, the Priestesses of Brighid kept her flame eternally lit with 19 Priestesses keeping vigil that the flame was never extinguished. As Christianity spread through Ireland, the Goddess Brigid was so integral to the Irish population that She could not be eradicated and thereby made a Saint by the Catholic Church. In the 6th century C.E., A nun iconified as “St. Brigid” came to Kildare and built a nunnery/monastery and school on the same site where the Brigid Priestesses were keeping vigil at the Fire Temple eventually absorbing and taking over the duties of the Priestesses now brandishing the torch for Christianity while keeping the Pagan faith alive just hidden. Through many Viking conquests, raids, and wars, the original wooden church, monastery, and foundation was eventually rebuilt as a stone Cathedral by the 13th century. Giraldus Cambrensis wrote in the 12th century that the Flame was attended by twenty “servants of the Lord” at the time of St. Brigid with Brigid herself being he 20th. When she died, the number went down to 19 with each of the nuns taking their turns at night and on the 2oth night, the nineteenth nun would put logs on the fire and St. Brigid would miraculously tend the fire which never went out. By the time Giraldus wrote that, the fire had been continually burning for 600 years, and thereby never had its ashes cleaned out, nor did the ashes ever seem to increase in size. Surrounding the fire was a legendary hedge that no male could ever cross. By Legend, one of Strong bow’s men attempted to cross the hedge and wound up going mad. Another had attempted but just as his leg crossed the threshold, his comrades pulled him back. Unfortunately the leg that did cross became maimed and he was crippled for the rest of his life. The magical hedge no longer exists, but in times of legend, protected the flame from male invaders by cursing them to go insane, die, become maimed, or have their penis wither. The Sisters of Brigid (Catholic nuns) continue the work in safeguarding the eternal flame in Solas Bhride which means “Light of Brigid”.Once during the 1200’s the Eternal flame was briefly extinguished by Henry of London, the Norman arch-bishop of Dublin who ordered it to be put out as he considered the tending process to be a Pagan practice and not to be tolerated. It was quickly relit by the locals and the Sisters continued doing this until the 16th century’s British Reformation. During the Reformation, King Henry XIII had a campaign to destroy Catholic monasteries and in this process, attacked the St. Brigid foundation at Kildare, thereby extinguishing the flame. On February 1st of 1807, the Bishop of Kildare, Daniel Delany, restored the Sisterhood of St. Brigid and thereby re-lighting the Eternal Flame of Brigid. The Sisterhood of St. Brigid’s mission was at this point to restore the Ancient Order and bring back the legacy and spirit of St. Brigid to Kildare (and thereby the world). The town center saw the Flame rekindled in the heart of Kildare’s Market Square once again as well, in 1993 by Sister Mary Teresa Cullen, the leader of the Brigidine Sisters at that time. From that point, the Perpetual flame was monitored and kept alive in their home and on February 1, 2006 – the flame was brought back to the center of the Market Square where it has been permanently housed in a large glass enclosed vessel (and numerous flames kept alive in the Sister’s houses). The St. Brigid’s Flame monument, centered in the photo above, was unveiled by President Mary McALeese on St. Brigid’s Day, February 1st, 2006.

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Brigid’s Cross

 

 

Brighid’s Cross
* Kildare, Ireland *

Another blessed part of my pilgrimage to Brigid and Kildare was learning more about Brigid’s Cross. I had the pleasure of Faerie Moe as a guide, a local friend giving me the tour of Kildare and the sacred wells as well as giving me an on-hands explanation on how to weave a Brigid’s Cross. As a dedicant to the Goddess Brigid for over 20 years, in my early years i fumbled at making them, but never made anything as intricate and powerful as the crosses I saw at St. Brigid’s shrine and Sister Mary’s house. Amazing. Many say that the St. Brigid’s Cross, a.k.a. Cros Bríde, Crosóg Bríde or Bogha Bríde, is actually an Irish symbol of sun worship representing the sun in the center with rays of light coming from it in the shape of the arms of the Cross. Some say it represents a Brigid legend where in the story St. Brigid miraculously hung her wet clothes to dry on a sunbeam. It is also considered a Pagan sun wheel. They are traditionally made on February 1st for Lá Fhéile Bhríde (St. Brigid’s feast day). It is also a symbol of Ireland and its provinces. Ireland has four provinces, but in ancient Ireland there were five – an invisible one in the center of Ireland. To some, the Brigid’s cross represents the four provinces (in the modern standard design) and in the 5 handed cross like shown in these pictures, representing the 5 provinces. The arms represent North, South, East, West, and Center. The 5th Province, the invisible one, is the province of healing and reconciliation. Brigid’s Cross probably first appeared in Ireland between the 2nd century B.C.E. and the 2nd century C.E. It is a folk magic tradition of weaving together straw to create a equal-armed Celtic cross that represents the Goddess Brigid, or modern day St. Brigid. Taking rushes that are woven together into a swastica-like /Celtic cross-like ornament, with a central square and four spokes protruding from each corner of the square in opposing directions, that has some variations found in Celtic art both ancient and modern. Brigid’s cross appears often traditionally on February 1st, the eve of St. Brigid’s feast / Imbolc / or Candlemas. In some traditions, the Brideoga or Biddies, young virgin boys who would carry a churndash (post used to churn butter) that is dressed up as a woman or an effigy of St. Brigid, and would go door-to-door through their neighborhood collecting alms for the poor. While collecting alms, they would leave bundles of straw and rushes outside the homes that they visited. At nightfall, young virgin girls would pick them up and ask to be admitted to the homes in the name of Brigid and would weave the rushes into crosses. After traditional prayers and a meal at the homes, the crosses would be placed under the eaves in the house or in the outhouses and sometimes blessed with holy water. The leftover rushes would be woven into a girdle called a “crios” or a tie for cattle or sometimes as a Brid’s bed or mattress for the Saint. Just as cattle were traditionally led through holy lakes or doused in water from Brigid’s well, they were often led through uplifted arches of these girdles. The Brid’s bed or holy mattresses were often placed at specific sacred wells and believed to possess curative powers to counter barrenness and to protect families and animals from natural calamities, especially lightning and fire. Some see the Brigid’s cross as symbolic of the evolution of the Goddess into the Saint. The Brigid’s Cross magically is believed to protect a house where it hangs from evil and from fire. Because of this, it is often hung in kitchens.

The Brigid’s cross is commonly woven on February 1st or 2nd, the date of Celtic Imbolc or Candlemas, a time to celebrate Brigid in her maiden form – the winter elder “cailleach” is reborn the maiden in her phase of collecting kindling for winter fires and warming the hearth for spring when she becomes young again. (After serving the winter as the aged woman still collecting kindling to keep the fire going to rejoice the flame for her rebirth) As the inventor of “caoineadh” or “keening”, from the mourning of her son Ruadán’s death, she inadvertently created the art form to keen. Some say this is tied into the creation of the Brigid’s cross. At this time when the night sky turns to the North star, the big dipper turns through the seasonal year, creating patterns in the sky that the Brigid cross is said to invoke. To tie into the warming for spring, Brigid is the fire keeper of the eternal flame always burning in Kildare, keeping the people of Ireland eternally warm. During her conversion to becoming a nun led to the practice of the Brigid’s cross, a craft many children and adults partake of weaving the kindling into a spiral form of the Brigid’s cross.

Here is a great web site with diagrams of the weave: http://www.fisheaters.com/stbrigidscross.html

 

 

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The Pagan Goddess Brigid, or the Christian Saint Brigid


St. Brighid

The Goddess Brigid
a.k.a. St. Brigid of Kildare, Brigid of Ireland, “Brigit”, “Bridget”, “Bridgit”, “Brid”, “Bride”, “Mary of the Gael”, or “Naomh Brid”
As a Saint and Actual Living Person: St. Brigid – c. 451 – 525 C.E. (A.D.)
Goddess of Poetry, Magic, Healing, Smithcraft, Learning, Common People, Flocks/Stock/Yield of the Earth, and Inspiration.
Patron Saint of Ireland along with Saint Patrick and St. Columba. Early Christian Nun, Abbess, and Founder of several Monasteries.
Holiday: February 1st as “Saint Brigid’s Day, Candlemas, Imbolc, or Oimelc.
As a Saint and Actual Living Person: St. Brigid – c. 451 – 525 C.E. (A.D.)Goddess of Poetry, Magic, Healing, Smithcraft, Learning, Common People, Flocks/Stock/Yield of the Earth, and Inspiration.Patron Saint of Ireland along with Saint Patrick and St. Columba. Early Christian Nun, Abbess, and Founder of several Monasteries. Holiday: February 1st as “Saint Brigid’s Day, Candlemas, Imbolc, or Oimelc.

“As the Goddess: ” Throughout Europe, especially in England and Ireland, was the Pagan worship of the Goddess Brigid. She was the Goddess of Poetry, Magic, Healing, Smithcraft, Learning, Common People, Flocks/Stock/Yield of the Earth, and Inspiration. She is identified in Lebor Gabala ‘renn as the Daughter of Dagda and a poet; a half sister of Cermait, Aengus, Midir, and Bodb Derg. In the Cath Maige Tuireadh she is responsible for inventing keening while mourning as well as the whistle used for night travel. Her British Counterpart Brigantia was the Celtic equivalent of the Roman Minerva and the Greek Athena. She is also the Goddess of all things perceived to be of higher dimensions such as high-rising flames, highlands, hill-forts, upland areas, activities depicted as lofty or elevated such as wisdom, excellence, perfection, high intelligence, poetic eloquence, craftsmanship, healing, Druidic knowledge, the home, the hearth, and skills with warfare. When the Celts came to Ireland in 500 B.C.E. they brought with them the Druidic religion. Druidism was polytheistic with many Deities who interacted with humanity for good and for bad. It was a common practice for various Deities to be assigned to certain regions or places where a cult site would be established. One was established, as early, if not earlier than, 500 C.E. in what is now known as Kildare. The shrine and cult was dedicated to the Goddess Brigid. In the Celtic cosmology, the chief God was The Dagda Mor (God of musicians, magic) who ruled over the people of Dana (the Tuatha de Danann or the Faerie folk). Dana was the Mother of Irish God/desses. She was also associated as “Brid” the “Poetess” which is identified with the Goddess “Brigantia” who ruled over the Brigantes – a powerful Celtic tribe in North Britain. Brigantia ruled over water and the rivers – the Brighid in Ireland, the Braint in Wales, and the Brent in England. “Brid” meant “exalted one”. She is often referred to as a “Triple Goddess” – the Three Sister Goddesses named Brid: (1) Goddess of poetry and traditional learning; (2) Goddess of the Smith’s Art; and (3) Goddess of Healing. Through time, these three Goddesses and their attributes were merged into one figure – the Goddess Brigid. With the coming of Christianity, Paganism became absorbed and purposely phased out by the mainstream populace until eventually it was not tolerated. The Gods and Goddesses of old were diminished down to the same rank as faeries, angels, Saints, and royalty. Many of the ancient Gods and Goddesses were converted to Christian Saints by the Catholic Church as a means to dissolve Pagan belief systems. In Christian times she was converted to a Saint, after the actual St. Brigid of Kildare.

    Ni bu Sanct Brigid suanach
    Ni bu huarach im sheirc De,
    Sech ni chiuir ni cossena
    Ind nieb dibad bethath che.Saint Brigid was not given to sleep,
    Nor was she intermittent about God’s love of her;
    Not merely that she did not buy, she did not seek for The wealth of this world below, the holy one.
    ~ Saint Broccan Cloen

“As the Saint and Historical Person:” St. Brigid was the “Mary of the Gael” and only second in popularity to the people of Ireland next to St. Patrick. She was primarily associated with Kildare, the Curraugh, and the whole region of the Liffey Plain known as “Magh Life”. St. Brigid was born to Dubtach or Dubhthach, the descendant of Con of the Hundred Battles, a Pagan Chieftain of Leinster; and to Brotseach or Brocca, A Christian Pict of the house of O’Connor who was a slave baptised by St. Patrick. St. Brigid was believe to have been born somewhere between 451-458 C.E (453 most common) at Faughart near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. Some accounts state that Dubhthach, her father, was from Lusitania and kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave in the same regard as happened with Saint Patrick. Her mother, Brotseach, was also believed to be a slave of Dubtach who was sold off shortly before Brigid’s birth to a Druid who lived at Faughart a few miles from Dundalk. Apparently much of this regard in her life affected Brigid’s views on things, especially with the concept of people being property. Dubtach, her father, and his family, were natives of Leinster and Fr. Swayne, the late Parish Priest of Kildare, who claims they were from Umaras between Monasterevin and Rathangan in County Kildare. She was baptised in the Christian faith under the name of “Brid” or “Brigid”. Legend has it though that she was weaned on the milk of a white red-eared cow, the color of the beasts of the Tuatha De Danann. Through her life Brigid was especially kind to the people she encountered and was notorious in legend for miracles to be associated with her. One legend tells of her as a child in charge of the dairy by her mother that she gave away so much milk and butter to the poor people where they lived that none was left for her family. She knew her mother would be furious so resorted to prayer. As an answer to her prayers, when her mother visited the dairy she found an abundance of milk and butter. She was also known to be a lover of animals and had many tales of her kindness to stray and starving dogs. In childhood she supposedly encountered St. Patrick. Supposedly she was brought to hear him preach and when she listened to him she fell into ecstasy. She was so dedicated to charity, taking care of common people, healing the sick, and her faith that when she reached marriage age, she instead decided to dedicate to religious life. Pagan lore states she was one of the guardians of the Sacred Flame and Shrine of the Goddess Brigid in Kildare.

Christian tales tell of her leaving home with seven other young girls and travelling to County Meath where St. Maccaille the Bishop resided. The Bishop was hesitant to instate the girls because of their young age into the order. During prayer, it was here that they experienced a column of fire that reached the roof of the church resting on Brigid’s head. The Bishop gave the veil to the eight young girls upon hearing of this miracle. St. Maccaille’s Church was on Croghan Hill in County Westmeath and it was here that St. Brigid founded the first convent in Ireland which attracted many ladies of nobility as postulants and it was here that Brigid and her sisters completed their novitiate. After completion, they journeyed to Ardagh where they made their final vows to St. Mel, the Bishop of Ardagh and nephew of St. Patrick. Brigid founded another convent here and remained for 12 years. At the Bishops request, she sent sisters to various parts of Ireland to establish new foundations including herself. As St. Brigid travelled around Ireland, she visited with St. Patrick when he was preaching at Taillte or Telltown in County Meath to obtain his blessing. Throughout her travels she conducted blessings and miracles along the way gaining Sainthood. The Leinstermen knew Brigid was from their province and constantly asked for her to return home amongst them and was offered any site in that province. She decided to make her foundation on Druim Criadh near the Liffey in what eventually grew into Kildare. She chose a spot on the ridge of clay near a large oak tree and decided to build her oratory beneath its branches. Purportedly there was already a Shrine to the Goddess Brigid here. The new foundation prospered and grew quickly. Girls from all over Ireland and even abroad came to St. Brigid’s foundation to join the community. The foundation was named after the “Church of the Oak” or “Cill Dara” which evolved to modern day Kildare. The poor, the afflicted, the sorrowful came to Kildare for Brigid’s healing, advice, and guidance.

Besides a church, Brigid built a small oratory at Kildare which became a center of religion and learning and developed into a Cathedral city with two monastic institutions, one for men and another for women with St. Conleth appointed as spiritual pastor for both of them. She also founded a school of art, including metal work and illumination that St. Conleth presided over as well. From this was produced the “Book of Kildare” which was praised by Giraldus Cambrensis as having every page fantastically illuminated with interlaced work and a harmony of colors that it was the work of Angels and not of Humans, but it has long since vanished since the Reformation.

An unusual community was developed at Kildare with both monks and nuns at the same location. St. Mel, an old and doddery Bishop was appointed to watch over the foundation and ordain priests there. Legend has it that instead of professing St. Brigid as a nun, he consecrated her as a Bishop giving her all the privileges that came with the title. At some point the legend of St. Brigid and the Curraugh came into place. She apparently requested land from the King of Leinster and he laughed at her request telling her he’d give her as much land as her cloak can cover. She spread out her cloak and it cover the entire extent of the Curraugh and that is why the Irish believe the Curraugh came to be. The Kings of Leinster showered gifts on to the convent with privilege of sanctuary conferred on the foundation so that if any law offenders seeking refuge were safe there. St. Brigid chose St. Conleth to be her Bishop. He mounted his chariot and asked for Brigid’s blessing before his journey home near Newbridge. As he raced across the Curraugh he discovered that his wheel was loose through the entire journey and believed it was Brigid’s blessing that it had not fallen off and killed him. St. Conleth was consecrated as the first Bishop of Kildare in 490. They worked very well together even though rumored to have had a complex relationship. Legend has it that Brigid gave all the vestments which Conleth used for saying Mass to the poor. He became upset with her as he got them in Italy, so Brigid prayed and vestments exactly resembling those given away immediately manifested and Conleth was appeased. In 519, St. Conleth decided to go on a pilgrimmage to Rome without St. Brigid’s permission or blessings, and he didn’t get very far before being killed by a wolf near Dunlavin in County Wicklow. No one knows for sure when St. Brigid died, but she was believed to have reached age 70, and is purported to have died between 521-528 C.E. Story has it that upon her deathbed, Saint Ninnidh, or “Ninnidh of the Clean Hand” attended her to administer the last rites of “Ireland’s Patroness”. She was interred at the right of the high altar of the Kildare Cathedral with a costly tomb erected over her. After her death the monastery flourished. Around 650, the first “Life of St. Brigid” or “Vita Brigitae” was written by a monk named Cogitosus. Both St. Brigid and St. Conleth were buried in the Church with ornate shrines of gold, silver, gems, precious stones, and ornamentation. In 836 A Danish fleet of 30 ships arrived in the Liffey and another in the Boyne that plundered Kildare with fire and sword carrying off the shrines of St. Brigid and St. Conleth. However it was said that in premonition of this event, in 835, the order hid the remains of St. Brigid in Downpatrick. Unfortunately the Danes attacked and plundered Downpatrick as well. To protect her body and remains, the priests buried her in a secret place only those priests knew which has now been lost. In 1185 St. Malachy sought out for St. Brigid’s burial place which was supposed to have been buried with St. Patrick and St. Columba claiming to have found their resting places. He petitioned Pope Urban 111 to reinterr the remains of all of them to Down Cathedral and did so on 9 June 1186 during the Feast of St. Columcille. During Henry VIII’s reign, during the Dissolution, the new shrine was desecrated and the relics of the Saints were scattered except some were saved from destruction. The hand (some accounts state the head) of St. Brigid now rests in Lumiar, Portugal (near Lisbon) in a chapel devoted to her in the Church of St. John the Baptist. Another of her body parts as a relic is located in St. Martin’s at Cologne. St Brigid’s Day.

Current Observations of St. Brigid: St. Brigid is highly revered in Roman Catholicism, especially in Ireland and England. In addition, many Eastern Orthodox Christians venerates her as one of the great Western saints before the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches. St. Brigid and the Goddess Brigid are celebrated on the 1st of February, the Pagan feast of Imbolc, the Festival of Spring celibrating the coming of fertility to the land. It is common to make a Brid’s bed and and Brigid Cross in celebration. An eternal flame called “St. Brigid’s Fire” is kept in her honor and since the beginning was tended by 20 “servants of the Lord” wich Brigid being the 20th attendee. Since her death, she miraculously tends the fire which never goes out, but is still aided by 19 sisters or attendees keeping the flame alive. The flame has been kept alive uninterrupted for over a 1,000 years with only one interruption in the 1200’s when Henry of London, Norman arch-Bishop of Dublin, ordered it to be extinguished as he believed this to be a Pagan practice. It was immediately re-lit by the locals, but finally extinguished during the Reformation. St. Brigid Crosses are still weaved to this day as a symbol of sun worship representing the sun in the center with rays of light coming from it in the shapes of the arms of the Cross. St. Brigid has two Sacred Wells and a Wishing Tree in Kildare. She has numerous wells associated with her throughout the world, the most notable being in England and Ireland. These were sites of veneration for the Druidic faith, and many had an associated sacred tree or commonly referred to these days as a “wishing tree” where votive offerings of cloth were tied for healing or prayer petitions. Brigid’s girdle is capable of curing all diseases and illness and so the waters of her well and the sacred trees are pilgrimaged by people from all over the world for healing. As earlier mentioned, St. Brigid is next to St. Patrick in popularity with the Irish and has dedicants, dedications, shrines, and orders to her throughout Ireland and Britain.


Brighid’s Flame
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