1st February – St Brigid, Patron of Ireland

Today the blood results showed that I’m officially neutropenic – meaning that my immune system has come down. This is due to the effects of last week’s chemotherapy and the immune system will remain down until the new stem cells I received do their business. For the next week to 10 days or so I will be at risk of infection so everybody coming in to my isolation room will have to put on gowns and gloves, etc.

The following is an article about Ireland’s secondary patron, St Brigid whose feast is Brigid1celebrated today at the beginning of spring.

According to tradition, Brigid was born in 452 in Faughart in Ireland. Her biographers say that her parents were Dubhthach, a pagan chieftain and Brocessa, a Christian slave. The slave girl was sent to a cabin at the foot of the Cooley Mountains near Dundalk, Co Louth, to have the child. Brigid was given the same name as one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion, which her father Dubhthach practiced. Brigid was the goddess of fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge.

While she was still very young, Brigid’s mother was sold to a pagan, so Brigid became a member of his druidic household. Quite beautiful, she turned down the marriage her father arranged and disfigured her face so that men would find her unattractive. She had a generous heart and could never refuse the poor who came to her father’s door. Dubhthach realized that perhaps her disposition was best suited to the life of a nun. Brigid finally got her wish and she was sent to a convent.

The exact circumstances of her conversion to Christianity are unknown, though it is certain that her Christian mother was a guiding influence. Some claim that she personally met St. Patrick, which is possible since she was ten years old before he died. Whatever the circumstances, she finally convinced her father that marriage was not in her future, and she took her vows as a nun with seven other women before St. Mel (St. Patrick’s nephew). Needing a place to establish the first community of religious women in Ireland, Brigid settled on Kildare, and established her monastery, Ireland’s first Christian religious community of women, at the site of a shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid.

In time the eternal flame that virgins had guarded for the goddess was tended instead by nuns who dedicated it to Christ. The monastery that became a joint facility for nuns and monks under Brigid’s leadership also became a center of learning and school for the arts. As the Abbess of this foundation she wielded considerable power. One legend said that she made the cross from rushes she found on the ground beside a dying man in order to convert him. When he asked what she was doing, she told him about Jesus and his death on the cross. Before he died, the chieftain asked to be baptized. Crosses are traditionally made from rushes, but they can also be made from wheat stalks, grasses, or reeds. To this day its origin remains the custom in many houses in Ireland to have a St. Brigid’s Cross in honor of the saint.

Brigid was famous for her common-sense and most of all, for her holiness. In her lifetime she was regarded as a saint. Kildare Abbey became one of the most prestigious monasteries in Ireland, famed throughout Christian Europe.

The saint travelled by chariot throughout Ireland, carrying on Patrick’s work of conversion. Many miracles of healing are attributed to Brigid, such as curing lepers and giving speech to the dumb. She also negotiated the release of captives.

She died at Kildare at age 70 around the year 525, and was buried in a tomb before the high altar of her abbey church. After some time, her remains were exhumed and transported to rest with the two other patron saints of Ireland, Patrick and Columba. Her skull was extracted and brought to Lisbon, Portugal by three Irish noblemen, where it remains. There is widespread devotion to her in Ireland where she is known as the “Mary of the Gael”.

Brigid was one of the most remarkable women of her times, and despite the numerous legendary, extravagant, and even fantastic miracles attributed to her, there is no doubt that her extraordinary spirituality, boundless charity, and compassion for those in distress were real. (http://stbrigidccd.com/stbrigid.htm)