St. Brigit: The Mary of the Gail
BORN IN BONDAGE
1. The Name Of Brigid
Until the past half-century, every Irish family had a Patrick and a Brigid. These were the most common names in Ireland throughout the Penal days, when the race bound itself to its persecuted tradition by constantly invoking Patrick, Brigid, and Columcille. Nowadays, Patrick is the second most common man's name in Ireland. The late Rev. John Woulfe, author of the standard work on Irish names and surnames,1 analysed a baptismal list of 1000 children in County Limerick. In this list, there were 94 Johns and 65 Patricks, with Michael as the third commonest name (51), and William as the fourth (43); Colum did not appear at all, since the name of the third Irish Patron long since has fallen into neglect, save in Columcille's native Donegal. The list, in respect of girls' names, showed Mary 150 times, for our Lady's sacred name is borne by the eldest girl in virtually every family. Margaret came next (75), then Catherine (45), Nora (40), Johanna or Siobhan (35), and Brigid only sixth, with 30 baptisms, the same number as Julia, and only five more than Elizabeth and Ellen, which numbered 25 each.
The decline in the popularity of the long-beloved name of Brigid is due to the corruption of the name into the undignified Biddy in the anglicised nineteenth century. In times when what we call the stage—Irish tradition was in vogue, "Irish Paddy" and "Irish Biddy" were figures of fun, symbols used in anti-Irish caricatures by the ill-bred, and it needed the Gaelic revival of the present century to restore the associations of the name which once stood in such high honour.
Another circumstance told against the Irish name. In the Penal age and far into the past century, the English-speaking world knew virtually nothing of the saint, whose written records were locked up in the unprinted, forgotten old Gaelic books, and whose traditional memory was cherished only in the secret world of Gaelic speech, by a race that lacked schools, printing press, political freedom, and worldly respect. Accordingly, when there was any mention of St. Brigid in the English-speaking world, it was common to confuse her with St. Bridget of Sweden, who died in 1373; it often happened, for example, that people seeking holy pictures of St. Brigid were supplied from Germany with images of the Scandinavian saint through the ignorance, in continental centres of ecclesiastical art, of the existence of any other saint of such a name. The Scandinavian spelling came into vogue; and Irish children were called Bridget, when the intention was to name them after Brigid. Apparently, the pronunciation of Bridget with a j sound came in with the Swedish spelling. It is not agreeable, and the beauty of the Irish name suffered.
The Irish name ought to be pronounced with a hard g; that is, as "Brigg-id," not as "Bridjit." In its most ancient form, the name was spelt with a final t, Brigit, and was Latinised Brigitta. From an early time, however, and down the ages, it was spelt Brigid; Latin form, Brigida. However, the complicated matter of orthography is not ended at this point; for in Modern Gaelic—the language as spoken for the past seven centuries—the g becomes silent, and the name usually is spelt in Gaelic Brighid (genitive Brighde), with a pronunciation "Bree-id." From this it will be seen how Kilbride and St. Bride's are derived.
Accordingly, in writing English we adhere to Brigid as the correct historic and literary form. Let us pronounce it "Briggid," although we often hear people nowadays, under the influence of the revived Irish language, saying "Breeid," which is, as we have shown, fully permissible. In Munster, the pronunciation "Bride" has come into use, and often the name is written Bride, instead of Brigid. Since this development is native and natural, we can make no objection to it, and would be glad to find children christened Bride as well as Brigid, whenever a due respect for our saint is recovered. The colloquial pet form is not the ugly Biddy, but Bridie.
Before we leave the history of the name, something must be said of its origin. Most scholars hold that the saint was given the name of Brigit from a goddess in Celtic mythology, who was so named, and they interpret the word as signifying Fiery Arrow. Over a thousand years ago, a Gaelic glossary was written, in which it was explained that Brigit was daughter of the Dagda (the Celtic Zeus), and was goddess of the poets, From this, writers of the Evolutionary school hold that the Christian saint was no other than the pagan goddess transmogrified. "Brigit is one of the Irish saints as to whose relationship with a pagan divinity there can be no doubt," writes one great scholar,2 whom we are surprised to find taking this unorthodox view. "Certain aspects of her character and career must be based on the myth or the ritual of a goddess, probably a goddess associated with a fire cult"—alluding to the perpetual fire which was kept burning in St. Brigid's Abbey at Kildare. In support of the Evolutionary theory, its champions point out that very little is told of the Christian abbess to account for the wide cult.
Our answer is simple. We say that Brigit was a name among the pagans, and we accept its interpretation as Fiery Arrow. We think that our saint may have received the name that originated with a pagan goddess just as Pope Pius XI as a child received the name of Achille, from the pagan hero Achilles. If some alien scholar in distant future ages should discover that the pope famed for his intrepidity bore the name of an intrepid warrior of the Greeks, and should say that the heroic pope was a Christian development of a heathen myth, we would consider that just as reasonable as the theory which makes the great nun who carried on Patrick's holy Catholic work a mere development of a poetic myth.
As to the scantiness of the records of St. Brigid's life and work, we shall see that certain cataclysms in history interrupted our records; and apart from that, we cite two modern examples. The mighty Santa Teresa of Spain, whom a great nation honours as its second patron, was a nun, like Brigid, whose life was relatively uneventful, but whose influence and whose cult are prodigious. If Santa Teresa had not written her own autobiography and her mystical Mansions of the Soul, we would know almost as little of her life-story as of Brigid's. Again, that little Carmelite nun, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who died when scarcely out of her girlhood at Lisieux in our own days, was she not "the Star of the Pontificate" to Pius XI, and has she not won a world-wide cult like Brigid?—yet the acts and deeds of her life could be related in half a chapter. The Catholic mind, therefore, finds no difficulty in realising that a soul may make history and move the world, though leaving little to tell concerning its passage through this world. Our Lady's own life on earth was almost wholly hidden.
Finally, ere we pass from Brigid's name to Brigid's story, we must speak of her title, "the Mary of the Gael." This is attached to her in the most ancient records. It can be traced back to her own century, when the legend arose that a Druid prophesied before her birth that she should be "another Mary, mother of the great Lord." It is attached to her, down the ages, in native writings.
Here, once again, we are met by the misinterpretations that abound in authors who lack the Catholic way of thinking, and who devise fantastic scientific explanations for things that we find simple. Some of these writers tell us that the old Irish lacked devotion to the Blessed Virgin, but created, as it were, a mental substitute for her in Brigid. They support this theory by citing an old fable in which Brigid is supposed to have been nurse to the Infant Jesus. For us, the fable, which makes Brigid present at Bethlehem five hundred years before her own birth, is a delightful fancy, springing from some poetic mind; but we do not regard our ancestors as fools who believed in impossibilities. We dismiss an argument that could detain nobody save an untraditional evolutionary theorist, and we return to fact.
Examining fact, we discover that the olden Gaels reverenced our Lady so devoutly that they did not give her name to their girl children any more than they would give the name of Jesus to boys. They used such names as Maol-Iosa and Giolla-Iosa, signifying servant of Jesus, and they used Maol-Muire ("Myles") and Giolla Muire (Gilmurry), signifying Mary's servant. In modern times, when Mary came into common use and at last, as we have noted, exceeded all other names in the number of baptisms, the traditional reluctance of the Gael to make common use of a sacred name expressed itself in the Irish-speaking districts thus: that girls named Mary in English were called Maire ("Maurya") in Irish, but our Lady never was called Maire; instead, the ancient form Muire ("Mwirra") was preserved, to designate her, and her alone.3
Now consider what is implied by the former popularity of the name Brigid, far outnumbering Mary, among Irish girls and women, and the description of Brigid as the Mary of the Gael. The phrase puzzles those alien minds which do not know, from the Catholic life, what Mary means to the inner life of the Church. To the mind which thinks traditionally, the phrase is eloquent and illuminating. It could rise only among people who were devoted to the Mother of God. We realise at once that as the old Irish and the Gaels down the ages so reverenced the Mother of the Redeemer that they classed her name with the Holy Name, not to be used freely, so they regarded Brigid, the first Irish nun and the mightiest exemplar of Christian womanhood among their saints, as being the exponent of the virtues and glories of Mary—that is, we may say, as our Lady's representative, the Irishwoman who was nearest to her, truest to her, most like her.
The phrase means that, or it means nothing, and nobody with the Catholic way of thinking ever was puzzled by it. As holy women everywhere aspire to resemble Mary and as we recognise our Lady's ways in the sanctified souls of the cloister, so the Gaels saw in Brigid the likeness of our Lady, and called this remarkable Child of Mary, "the Mary of the Gael."
2. Faughart Hill
The wide, rich, level loamy farmlands of Leinster end at Dundalk Bay where, beyond a sluggish river and a sandy plain, the highlands of Ulster rise in a long, coloured array. The river is crossed now by Dundalk bridge, but in olden times the high road from Tara into Ulster went through the river at a near-by place named Ath-na-gCarbad, the Ford of the Chariots. Two miles beyond the water way, the road rises through a district crammed with cromlechs and stone circles and pillar stones, relics of a remote age when the men of the Bronze Age settled just above the uncleared lowland forest and the marshes.
Here, to the left, a foot-hill of the mountains is the first height, some 400 feet high. It is conspicuous to the eye of travellers in the motor coaches which pierce into the mountains to cross high Killeavy moor into the north. On the summit of the green dome are ruins of an ancient church, beside an ancient tumulus. In 1315, Edward Bruce, lately crowned King of Ireland—brother of the Scottish Robert—was buried in these church precincts on the height after losing the Battle of Faughart which ended, for that time, the hope of Irish freedom. This, then, is Faughart Hill, and the tumulus is said to mark the home of St. Brigid's father, and the place where her girlhood was spent.
It is needful to utter a caution at this point. Tradition in Ireland is almost overwhelming in designating Faughart as the home of Brigid's father. A stream which glitters down the slope has been visited by untold multitudes of pilgrims, for her sake, down the centuries, and to-day is the centre of authorised annual devotions. In that region, the cult of Brigid always has been exceptionally strong. There is not a country house in North Louth or South Armagh (the districts which meet at the hill) which does not put St. Brigid's Cross of rushes in the rafters, year after year, at her feast-day: of which observance we will say more later. Against this identification of Brigid's early home must be set the fact that early documents make her belong to Offaly, in the Midlands, and some even to the south of Ireland. There is no early documentary evidence for Faughart. On this ground, using the argument from silence, a scholar of considerable consequence4 holds that some other and minor saint lived at Faughart and was identified in error as St. Brigid.
If we choose to stand by tradition against a cleverly argued case from documentary silence, it is because argument from silence has been disproved so often in other causes. What is universally known is often omitted from record because contemporary writers take the known for granted. Time passes, and what once was obvious becomes obscure. Then, seeking for documents to confirm tradition, the historian finds none; and, if he is a true Modernist, he proclaims that tradition is unconfirmed and therefore false. Yet tradition, we may safely say, usually is vindicated in the long run; and we who have lived in sight of Faughart Hill, amid traditional memories of Brigid, find it hard to doubt what so many generations have believed.
Dubthach, of the sept of Eochaidh Find Fuath Airt—that is, a descendant of the High-King Felim, of the second century—such was the pagan lord whose stronghold was, if the Faughart tradition is right, at this place. The name Dubthach (pronounced "Duffach") means the Dark One. It is one of the commonest and most ancient of Celtic names. Known today in the form Duffy, it may be traced in ancient Gaul as Divitiacus, the name of a Druid mentioned by Caesar. Dubthach was master of Faughart in Patrick's last years, but he was one of those who refused the new faith. Faughart was pagan still when Patrick ended his labours.
In Dubthach's household there was one of those members of Patrick's flock over whom the aged Bishop grieved. Recall what the old man wrote, in his retirement at Saul of poor bondswomen who were baptised Christians but lived under pagan masters. "But they who are kept in bondage suffer most," Patrick wrote. "They constantly endure even unto terror and menaces; but the Lord gave grace to many of my handmaids, for although they are forbidden they bravely follow the example of the others"—the others being the "Virgins of Christ" whom the Apostle describes in an earlier paragraph. For the sake of Christian women, his converts, living in slavery to the heathen, Patrick stayed in Ireland with his flock to the end, he says.
One such woman lived and suffered in that rich man's household which the Bishop passed whenever he journeyed between Armagh and Louth or on to Tara. She was named Broicsech (pronounced "Brocksheh"), which in Latin is rendered as Brocessa. The name is formed from broc, Gaelic for a badger, as kitty is formed from cat.
Was poor Broicsech a convert from Patrick's own apostolate—some humble woman among the numbers whom the missionary baptised during his labours in the frontier country between Louth and Ulster?—or was she, as some have thought, a captive of Christian British stock? The evidence is scanty and conflicting. We cannot be certain of more than this—the Brocessa was a Christian slave of a pagan master.
By her, Dubthach had a daughter who was born about the year 450 according to most historians, although one of the books of Annals, the Chronicon Scotorum, puts the birth in 439. Before the child was born, Dubthach's wife obliged her lord to send the bondswoman away. Dubthach sold the Christian woman to a poet in Connacht—in some mountainous district of the west. A poet, in olden Ireland, as always among the ancient Celts, signified a scholar who recorded historical events and genealogies in verse; he was a professional man of the standing of a modern lawyer, who has custody of family records.
Here we are moved to consider the problem of distances in ancient Ireland. How did Dubthach come to sell his slave to a buyer in another province? To this a simple answer suggests itself. The transaction could, and probably would, take place at one of those great assemblies which were held periodically at such places as Tara, Tailtinn, Uisneach, where, from immemorial times, people gathered for religious rites, the making of laws, the holding of games, and the transaction of business. These feiseanna, or great fairs, would provide markets for human chattels as well as for the rarities that Gallic merchants brought from oversee to exchange for Irish gold and wolfhounds. Whole provinces hosted to the feds. We can imagine the assemblies for the Tailtinn Games of old when, nowadays, we attend the Galway races at the end of July and see tens of thousands of people from all the west of the Shannon encamped on the wide commons for two or three days. Now, Tailtinn is but one day's chariot journey from Faughart, and there, if Dubthach attended the feds, as a man of his rank would certainly do, he would meet people from near parts of Connacht who had a yet shorter distance to travel. We, therefore, find no difficulty in Dubthach's trading with a Connacht buyer in the sale of a valued bondswoman.
We conjecture that this place of Brocessa's second bondage was in the region that we call County Cavan. Though Cavan for the past three centuries is reckoned as part of Ulster, it belonged in olden days to Connacht. If Brocessa was sold into Cavan, her bondage was in Connacht, and the old record is satisfied. East Cavan is less than 30 miles from Faughart.
3. In The House Of The Druid
Dubthach did not sell the child who was to be born; the child was to be rendered to him when reared. An old story says that Bishops Mel and Melchu (two of Patrick's prelates) were guests, when on a journey, at Dubthach's house, and foretold rare distinction for the bondswoman's child. Can it be that the churchmen, pitying a Christian slave and anxious for her offspring, intervened with the pagan father, using some plea which came to be spoken of as a prophecy? The story seems strongly founded, whatever its real origin. Another dim story from those distant, strange days says that a Druid in Dubthach's household prophesied "a fair birth, a fair dignity . . . who shall be called from her great virtues the truly pious Brigid; she will be another Mary, mother of the great Lord" (Bid alaMuire mar-Choimded Mathair).
This supposed Druidic prophecy, as we have noted already, is recorded in the most ancient record of Brigid, dating back to her own century; from which we deduce that, in some manner, Brigid's birth caused considerable stir.
The poet to whom Brocessa was sold, sold her in turn to a Druid, who brought her to his house; and there, in a slave's hut, Brigid was born as humbly as our Lord Himself. The story tells of angels and pillars of fire about that wretched birthplace—visible, perhaps, to the inward eye when a priest was brought by the bondwoman's wish to baptise the infant girl. So moving an act of faith and loyalty well might move the Christian priest (himself, perhaps, one of Patrick's Gauls) who was called by a miserable woman in a byre to bring her babe the first sacrament of life. When the babe was left sleeping in the byre by Brocessa, who went out to milk cattle for her master, the cowdung seemed to be aflame, but when the people of the house ran to extinguish it, and "thought that they would not find one beam against another," behold!—the strange blaze was harmless, and the babe slept there smiling, "like one who listens to a melody."
A white red-eared cow was set aside for the child's sustenance, the old Lives say. A white cow was a rarity in Ireland in those days, when the native black cattle, that we call the Kerry breed, were all but universal; and the homely story conveys that an unusual respect was yielded to the infant Brigid.
The Druid's maternal uncle was a Christian. One day, when little Brigid had reached the stage of beginning to speak, the Druid and his uncle heard the low voice of the child at the side of the house. The Druid sent his Christian relative to hear what she was saying; and behold, the infant was lying with arms extended in the "cross-vigil," praying. In olden Ireland (as still to-day in old-fashioned, holy places) devout people used to stand or kneel with arms extended like the Crucified, as they prayed. This was called the crois-fhigil, the cross-vigil.
The Druid's uncle asked the infant to speak to him.
"This place will be mine," she said. The Druid interpreted the strange infantile prophecy. "This is what she said," he declared: "that she will possess this place till doom's day, and so it will be. This land will be hers."
Thereafter, the Druid travelled into Munster. The Druids and poets formed, as it were, a national guild, overpassing the frontiers of the states of Ireland, and it was common with them to travel the land. In Munster Brigid lived for years in the Druid's household; but when she was reared, she asked to be sent to her father. Word was sent to Dubthach; he came for his daughter and carried her back to his home.
Thus did Brigid come to Faughart, according to tradition.
THE GIRLHOOD OF A SAINT
1. On Faughart Hill
The faint, fantastic picture which is growing before us shows a land of mixed violence and gentleness; of paganism and Christianity living under one roof, and of Druids yielding a grudging homage to the new faith and its ministers. The next glimpses of Brigid's life are equally strange, and mingle homeliness with pagan cruelty. The maiden, strong-willed even at this early age of maybe ten or eleven years, insists on going to her father, and we behold her now at Faughart, at the gates of the north.
In every age, that meeting-place of highland and lowland, with the watery frontier between them, has been a place of frequent conflict. It was there that the Iliad of Ireland was fought out, in the century before Christ, when the warrior-queen, Meave of Connacht, daughter of the King of Tara, brought her monstrous army to invade Ulster. Like a child who is reared on the plain of Troy, or at Waterloo or Bunker's Hill or Aughrim, little Brigid would hear again and again the stirring battle—legend of the place. From the top of Faughart the eye overlooks the ancient battle-ground as if it were an outspread map. Southward are the green plains of Leinster over which Meave's legions came marching. Marsh and forest made the foreground impassable to armies in olden times, but eastward the river spreads and finds a shallow course across wide miles of sand, from which the tide retreats to the distant horizon. Across this strand Meave's hosts advanced with chariots and brazen spears and swords, to invade the hilly district that we call Cuailgne or Cooley. Through the shallow river, by the Ford of Chariots, they made their way.
Ah!—but those wooded hills of Cuailgne, hunting-ground of a young warrior, were strangely defended. Cuchulainn was this warrior's name; he was the Achilles of Ireland, the most famous Irish hero of all time. Armed with a curious weapon named the crann-tabaill, which we suspect to have been a boulder-throwing catapult brought into Ireland from the Roman world, he kept the large army at bay, and wrought havoc on the encampment precariously made on the sea-shore. He challenged the chiefs in turn and slew them in duels at the ford, and so at length forced proud Meave, the Queen of the West and High-King's daughter, to a truce.
Then followed the waking of the Men of the North, as "Rise up, ye men of Ulster!" the cry went forth. Young Cuchulainn, covered with wounds, was bound to his bed yonder in Doolargy, lest he should force his way to the renewed battle; and that happened indeed, when Ulster's King Conchobar was pressed in the strife and his stricken shield groaned loud and was heard by Cuchulainn in his sleep of suffering, so that the hero, in wrath, burst his bonds and rushed from the tent to the fray, and led in the overwhelming defeat of the enemy, driving the panic-stricken rout through havoc into the red tide.
This story, which the poets of Ireland sang for two thousand years, down to our own day, must have been familiar to Brigid, who daily trod the scene of young Cuchulainn's defence of his homeland. To her, as a Christian, it would have a further interest, because Emania of King Conchobar had become, somewhere about the date of her birth, Armagh, the capital of the Church in Ireland. Her heroic soul would stir as she heard of Cuchulainn's heroism, and her courage surely fed on the bravery of olden days. Of another of the ancient epic tales of Ireland, a priestly scholar has written:5 "It is a large and brilliant picture of a civilisation which was to be the nursing-ground of the higher Christian one that followed. We see in it whence, in the natural order, the Irish monk derived those heroic qualities of endurance which made him the Christian pioneer of western Europe, and which enabled him to adopt a rule so strict that it had to be relaxed to suit his weaker brethren on the Continent."
A child nurtured amid such heroic traditions was not likely to be soft-tempered or yielding, even if Brigid lacked a higher inspiration than that of natural virtue.
2. The Giving Hand
The strength of Brigid's character was demonstrated in a homely but effective manner. She began to give away her father's property. Charged with the kitchen and the dairy, she gave food to the poor with an open hand, till Dubthach talked of being beggared by her liberality; but she defied him. We see him, as was true of the kings and lords of that pastoral civilisation, as a big farmer, and Brigid acting as his housekeeper.
Here is another touch of the curious pagan compromise with that faith which could not be resisted. An old pious woman, one of those whom Patrick describes as living the religious life in the world (for there were as yet no convents), lived near Dubthach's home, and came to him to beg that Brigid might attend some religious assembly or congress—something in the nature of a mission, no doubt—which was attended by twenty-seven eminent clergy. Brigid went. The Bishop Ibor was relating a vision of our Lady which he had seen in a dream; and just as he was telling this, the old religious woman and Brigid arrived.
"This is the Mary who was seen by me in a dream," the Bishop said, struck by the saintly look of the maiden.
What is behind this curious old tale may be some early recognition of Brigid's gifts. Is it that the old religious woman brought Brigid to the conference in order to disclose the young woman's zeal for the sisterhood of the faithful?
Before Brigid's days under her father were done, another remarkable episode occurred. She insisted, in defiance of Dubthach and his wife, on going to visit her mother, the bondswoman. Seeing that Dubthach was bringing up Brigid as the daughter of his house, this visit displeased the proud chief—it was a slight to his generosity. Brigid cared little for rank or comfort, and she went without her father's permission. She found her mother working at a dairy in the foot-hills, and suffering from a disease of the eyes. Dubthach's daughter took the work upon herself-turned bondswoman in her poor mother's place, and toiled at servile tasks.
The old story tells that the Druid's charioteer used to be herding the cattle. He found Brigid, at every churning, dividing the butter into thirteen portions, one much larger than the rest.
"What is your purpose in that?" asked the charioteer.
Brigid answered that she did it in honour of the Lord and His twelve disciples. She gave the large portion to the poor; "ar bid Crist i persaind cech bocht iressach, for Christ is in the person of every poor person who believes."
"And do you not save up some of the butter?" the servant asked—"for that is done by every dairy-woman."
"I find it hard," said Brigid, "to deny Christ His own food."
The Druid and his wife asked the lad how the maiden managed in the dairy, and he told them how the calves were growing and the butter abounding. The pagan couple went to the dairy and the woman required Brigid to measure her produce. From one churning and a half (for the rest had been given away) Brigid filled an immense creel with butter. Her pantry seemed to be overflowing with provisions, so little had her generosity to the poor told against her providence and industry.
She had a little song of which she sang one verse every time that she visited the pantry, and every time she sang it, the pantry was full. O God, bless my pantry! Pantry which the Lord has blessed, never be lacking in aught! Mary's Son, my Friend, come and bless my pantry, let there be abundance ever on the board!
The Druid and his wife marvelled at what they saw, and were so much affected by Brigid's charity that the Druid said: "This butter that abounds, and these cows that you milk, I bestow them on you, and your liberty with them. You shall be my servant no longer, but the servant of the Almighty."
Brigid answered: "Keep you the cows, but give me my mother's freedom."
The Druid said: "Your mother is free, and you shall have the cows."
Brigid forthwith gave the animals "to the poor and afflicted of God." The Druid was baptised.
"Deo gratias!"—said Brigid.
This story, so much like one of those familiar folk-tales that are born in the innocent hearts of children as they herd cattle on the moor, adds that the Druid followed Brigid and remained in her service always.
According to one old account, Brigid's mother belonged to a family of high standing in the north. It is not easy to reconcile this with the fact of her servitude. Possibly, Brocessa's people were some humble family, and the "high standing" was added by biographers in a complimentary sense. If it be true that Brocessa came from the north, and that Brigid took her mother back to Ulster, this would agree with the legend of the girl Brigid's presence at Clogher when Patrick was preaching in those parts.
According to this legend, related in our study of St. Patrick,6 the Bishop was preaching at great length, and a young woman in the entranced audience fell asleep. Patrick would not let her be awakened; but, at the end of the discourse, she woke. She was Brigid, who as yet was too young to be a nun. Patrick asked her what she had seen in her dream. She replied:
"I beheld four ploughs in the northeast which ploughed the whole island, and before the sowing was finished the harvest was ripened and clear wellsprings and shiny streams came out of the furrows. White garments were on the sowers and ploughmen.
"I also beheld four other ploughs in the north which ploughed the island athwart and turned the harvest again, and the oats which they had sown grew up at once and were ripe, and black streams came out of the furrows, and there were black garments on the sowers and on the ploughmen."
This curious vision Patrick explained to Brigid thus:
"The first four ploughs which you saw, those are you and I, who sow four books of the Gospel with a sowing of faith and belief and piety. The harvest which you saw are they who come unto that faith and belief through our teaching.
"The four ploughs which you beheld in the north are the false teachers and the liars who will overturn the teaching which we have sown."
Most scholars doubt the tradition of this meeting, since it assumes that Brigid had attained maturity while the Apostle was still active in the mission; yet it is within the bound of possibility by the longer reckoning of Brigid's lifetime.
After winning her mother's freedom from her Druid owner, and taking Brocessa home to her people, Brigid returned to her father. She had grown imperious now, and did as she would with the chieftain's goods. Her boundless generosity angered Dubthach's wife, who now accused Brigid of stealing everything in the house for the benefit of God's poor (do cheilib De)—and so the chieftain decided to get rid of this embarrassing daughter.
One of the Gaelic texts describes in detail what followed. Dubthach took Brigid in his chariot, and said he:
"Not for a favour or a pleasure to you are you getting a ride in a chariot; but I am taking you to sell you to Dunlang mac Enda, King of Leinster."
Plainly Brigid's father was in a hot temper, after some exceptionally generous bestowal of his goods.
They came at length to the stronghold of the Leinster King, and we are reminded of a big farmer driving his trap or buggy when we read that Dubthach went in, leaving Brigid in the chariot at the gate while he settled the business. He left his sword in the chariot.
By came a leper; for those unfortunates abounded in Ireland in those times. He begged alms of the girl in the chariot, as a beggar would of a farmer's daughter left in a fine car while her father made a call. Brigid handed the leper Dubthach's sword, the only movable object in her reach.
Meanwhile, Dubthach was asking Leinster's King if he would buy "a bond maid, namely my daughter."
Naturally enough, Dunlang asked his visitor why he wished to sell his own daughter. "Nothing will stop her," Dubthach replied, "from selling my goods and giving to the poor." The king said: "Bring her in."
So out went Dubthach for his daughter, and he found Brigid in the chariot and his valuable sword gone; the leper, wisely enough, had made off with his prize. Dubthach was furious. He brought Brigid to Dunlang, and doubtless he said, as he brought her, "This has settled it, my girl!"
King Dunlang received the maiden. Perhaps he was struck by her presence, and realised at once the nature of her. He said: "You take your father's wealth and distribute it. How much more would you take my wealth and my cattle, seeing that I am nothing to you, and give them away?"
Brigid's answer is recorded. It has her unmistakable touch. "The Son of the Virgin knoweth," she said, "that if I had your might, with all Leinster and all your wealth, I would give them to the Lord of the Elements."
Always, mark, she spoke of acts of charity being done to God, in His creatures. In all the half-fantastic tales of Brigid her love of God burns clear. Like Patrick, she was always the mystic living in the world by standards that are not of the world. This King Dunlang evidently realised. A Christian, he could recognise that Dubthach did not understand the motive of the girl's strange ways.
To Dubthach, the King said: "You and I are not fit to bargain about this maiden. Her merit is higher before God than before men."
He counselled Dubthach to give Brigid her freedom, and he consoled the chieftain for his lost sword by giving him one with a hilt of ivory.
"And so was the Virgin Brigid redeemed from slavery," says the ancient book.
4. Brigid Gets Her Wish
Brigid's status as a free woman now made her one of the clan (to use a much abused but here appropriate word)—that is, one of the three-generation family unit recognised by the law. When she reached the years of womanhood, the other members wished her to marry. A substantial gift was due from the bridegroom to the three-generation clan from which he took his wife; so Brigid's "brethren," who included cousins by our modern reckoning, had an interest in her marriage.
She was beautiful. Her best biographer draws a pen portrait of the Irish racial beauty which must have been hers. "We know from her manner of life," Miss Curtayne writes,7 "that she must have had that bloom and grace which are acquired only in the open air, and with which Nature rewards those who keep her company. There are counterparts of Brigid yet, though you will have to seek long before you find them. If you meet the type, look long at it, for it is something disappearing from the earth. I have seen it but a few times in my life along the lonely roads of the Kerry Gaeltacht"—the district where Irish speech and life linger on, unbroken. "A girl, perhaps driving home the cows in the evening, barefoot, dressed in such nondescript garments one is uncertain what they comprise—an old coat, a frock—or whether their colour be black or brown; garments anyhow that were never fashionable and that have served for seasons beyond memory. Yet, instead of having to dress in order to acquire distinction, this girl wears her dun garb with such regal grace as actually to confer splendour upon it. She carries out her task thoughtfully, self-possessedly, humbly, but with a carriage that is to be envied, not imitated, with a poise not seen in city drawing-rooms; with one of those faces, at once brilliant and still, that appear to reflect the very light of day, in which all tranquillity seems to end: such, in appearance at least, was Brigid."
A poet came to Dubthach's house to ask for Brigid's hand. The old book says that the poet was that Dubthach moccu Lugair who had been Patrick's advisor, but he would be an old man, if living at all, at this date. Perhaps it was one of that great old scholar's sons. However that may be, the match was one that most girls would think good, but Brigid would not marry.
"I have consecrated my virginity to the Lord," she said. "But I will give you advice," she went on, and she told the poet how he would find a beautiful maiden dwelling in a wood to the west of his house, a girl who would make him an excellent wife. She promised him her blessing on "his face and his speech" when he went seeking the lass.
Brigid's kinsmen of the clan were angered by her refusal to marry. Some of them followed her, as she went with a load of gifts to some poor folk near Dubthach's house, and pursued her with ridicule. One said to her: "That beautiful face of yours will be some man's though you do not like it."
Brigid, so the old books say, thereupon disfigured her own features—destroyed her own beauty—to prove her resolve never to wed. "I think it unlikely that anyone will ask for a girl as ugly as this," said she.
Plainly there was no taming of this strong-willed girl to her kinsfolk's wish or will. Dubthach yielded to her wish. "Take the veil, my daughter," he said; "for this is your set desire. Distribute this property to God and man"—giving her means for her religious purpose.
"Deo gratias!" said Brigid.
How well we recognise the tenacity of an Irish girl who has heard the call of the convent! A daughter of rich folk asked, while young, to be allowed to enter the most austere of religious sisterhoods. Her parents forbade the sacrifice. One year, two years and more passed, and the girl was obedient and seemed content. Then at Christmastime, her father asked her to name whatever present she desired. "I want nothing in the world, Father, but your permission to go into the convent." Such are the daughters of Brigid, in whom we see the mind and manner of that first Irish nun.
ABBESS OF KILDAIRE
1. In A Lucky Hour
Aged Patrick, as we saw in his Confession, found his greatest consolation in the attachment of great numbers of the women of Ireland to the religious life. Daughters of kings, like those maidens whom he baptised at Clebach's well and who died of rapture by the Beatific Vision, were among the souls whom he gave to heaven. Yet there were no religious houses for women in Ireland for long after Patrick's death. Most women who entered the religious life continued to dwell in the homes of their people, who might be pagans still, as Patrick himself tells; others lived in priests' households, having no other means of protection in a country but partly reclaimed from paganism.
Now, the purpose of intrepid Brigid was to establish the religious life for women in community. It was this for which she had been striving and for which she won funds from her wealthy pagan sire.
She had seven companions—girl comrades, no doubt, whom she had inspired with her project for the establishment of conventual life in Ireland. With these, who were to remain her lifelong comrades, she travelled to a place named Cruachan Bri Ele (Croghan Hill) in Offaly, having heard that Bishop Mel was there.
St. Mel, let us recall, was one of the foreign bishops whom Patrick had set in an Irish diocese, namely Ardagh. He is said to have lived to the age of ninety. It may be that he had been a known advocate of the convent system—had been known to wish to see it set up in Ireland—and that Brigid sought him out on that account. Whatever her motive, she was anxious to receive "the order of penitence" from this veteran prelate of the Patrician mission; and, finding that he was not at Croghan to meet the little sisterhood, followed him whither he had gone, northward. Bishop MacCaille was her guide; and the company went "northward over Moin Faichnigh, Boughna Bog; and God so wrought that the bog became a smooth flowering mead"—so easy, we may take this to mean, did the saint's holy zeal make even the roughest journey.
The place where Brigid and her seven comrades came into the presence of Bishop Mel is given as Mag Teloch, which is thought to be the present barony of Fartullagh in Westmeath.
"Now, when they drew nigh to the place wherein was Bishop Mel, Brigid made MacCaille place a veil over her head so that she might not go to the clerics without a veiled head; as the verse says:
Fo huair congab MacCaille
Caille os cinn Sanct Brigte
—that is, "In a lucky hour MacCaille held the veil over Brigid's head."
"After she had arrived at the house wherein was Bishop Mel, a fiery column flamed out of her head up to the ridge-pole of the church; and Bishop Mel beheld that and asked:
"'Who are the nuns?'
"MacCaille said to him: 'That is the famous nun from Leinster, even Brigid.'
"'My welcome to her,' said Bishop Mel. 'It was I who foretold her when she was in her mother's womb.' Again: 'Wherefore have the nuns come hither?' he asked.
"'To have the order of Penitence conferred,' said MacCaille.
"'I will confer it,' said Bishop Mel.
"So therefore the orders were read out over her...."
Bending down at the words of consecration, Brigid held the ash beam which supported the altar. The long-seasoned wood, it is said, became green afresh, and though the church was burnt down several times in the following centuries, that beam never suffered, but remained fresh and intact beneath the ashes.
It is related that the disfigurement of Brigid's beauty disappeared as she was professed. From that day she was fair to behold.
2. The Shepherdess
Where did Brigid and the sisterhood of seven first live in community? Apparently, at Ardagh, with Bishop Mel as their patron and guide. The last great survivor of Patrick's Gaulish missionaries seems to have taught these maidens of the new Gaelic Christendom the ways of the religious life. Aptly, therefore, is it written in the Book of Armagh that Patrick and Brigid were "the columns on which all Ireland rested."
It was not at Ardagh, however, that Brigid's life-work was to be done, but at Kildare-CillDara, the Church of the Oak. At some date, about 480 or 490, the king of Leinster offered the young nun this favoured site on the Liffey plain. "A very high oak tree" stood at that place, "which Brigid loved much, and blessed." Long afterwards, the trunk of the tree that Brigid loved and under which she built her convent was preserved and revered.
Kildare county lies twenty miles westward of Dublin, athwart the roads that lead from the sea to the south of Ireland and the Midlands. It extends from the fair highlands of Wicklow in the south to the bog of Allen—that expanse of heath and heather and peat which looks from a Kildare hill, like a vast red sea reaching to the sunset. Most of the county is kindly pasture land, and notable for its horses; for here is that emerald grass growing on limestone which makes Irish livestock the best in the world. On the verge of the bog, and blown over by its exhilarating air, is the vast, rolling, and unfenced expanse of the Curragh, where sheep graze in great flocks and army horses are exercised. From immemorial time the Curragh always has been used for horse-racing. Travellers making for the southwest cross the Curragh by one of the main trunk roads, and are lucky if they ascend the last green wave of land towards sunset, when the rose light of the western sky sparkles upon the Round Tower and the roofs of Kildare town. That Round Tower, a relic of olden Christian Ireland, stands on the site of Brigid's convent, whereof no other sign remains.
Fable says that when Brigid asked for the site beside the green Curragh, the land was grudged. She said that she would be content with what her mantle would cover. The King assented to that modest request; but, when the mantle was thrown down, it began to spread until it covered the wide undulations of the Curragh itself, and seemed likely to grow till it would cover Ireland. This legend is plainly some jest that was made to describe Brigid's audacity. When she wanted this or that for God or God's poor, her demand stopped at nothing.
Her mantle was famous. It passed into poetry and proverb.
A Bhrigid, scar os mo chionn
Do bhrat fionn dom anacal
sang one who made a hymn in her praise long ago—O Brigid spread
Above my head
Your mantle bright
To guard me.
As a symbol of protection, people traditionally put their friends fd bhrat Bhrighde, "under Brigid's mantle," and an old Anglo-Scottish nursery rhyme speaks of:
Seynt Brigid and her brat
Seynt Colum and his cat
as if the mantle were the unmistakable token of the saint. In Bruges, to this day, what is said to be the authentic mantle of Brigid is preserved and venerated as a holy relic. This garment is a large semicircular cloak, apparently dyed with Tyrian blue.
The habit of Brigid and her nuns, it is thought, was of natural-coloured homespun wool, a fabric like that of the bawneen coats which western countrymen still wear, agreeable to the eye, durable and virtually waterproof by reason of the wool's natural state. Brigid is described in one ancient text as the first in Ireland to spin and weave cloth; the saying indicates that the nuns produced their own fabric, and were famous, perhaps, for its quality—like the Charity nuns of Foxford in Mayo, who to-day produce much of the best blankets and tweeds in Ireland.
The character of craftswoman and dairywoman is attached to Brigid always, and tradition sometimes calls her The Shepherdess. She pastured her flocks on the Curragh. When St. Brendan "came from the West of Ireland to visit Brigid in the Liffey Plain," the mediaeval Gaelic text relates, "ten Brigit on—a caerchuib do fhailte fri Brenaind—Brigid came from her sheep to welcome Brendan."
Wherever the cult of Brigid is known, she is invoked as the protector of flocks and herds. The relic of her head, preserved at Lumiar in Portugal, is the centre of a devotion among country people who annually commend their sheep and cattle to her protection. "The Wallon peasantry also come to invoke the saint's aid for their livestock in the chapel dedicated to her which looks down on the town of Fosses," writes Dom Gougaud, O.S.B.8 ". . . Four parochial churches and seven chapels of the diocese of Cologne are dedicated to the virgin of Kildare under whose protection the local farmers place their domestic animals." The like is told of places in France and Italy.
Perhaps Highland Scotland presents the best example of how Brigid the Shepherdess was honoured in lands beyond Ireland. Carmichael9 records many traditional Highland Gaelic verses like these:
Cuiridh mi an ni seo romham
Mar a dh'orduich Righ an domhain—I will place this flock before me
As was ordained by the King of the world,
Bride to keep them, to watch them, to tend them,
On ben, on glen, on plain....
Mary Mother, tend thou the offspring all, Bride of the fair hands, guard thou my flocks, Kindly Colum thou saint of many powers, Guard thou the breeding cows, bestow on me herds.
A Herding Croon
The cattle to-day are going a-flitting,
Hill-in-ruin is o h-ug o!
Going to eat the grass of the church-land,
Their own herdsman there to drive them,
Tending them, fending them, turning them back,
Hill-in-ruin is o h-ug o!
Be Bride Ever—Bright milking them, Gentle Mary keeping them, And Jesus Christ at journey's end.
Hill-in-ruin is o h-ug o!
At the shearing of the sheep, the Scots Gael has a verse to invoke Brigid—and the Scots weaver, by the way, also invokes her as he chooses his coloured wools. In Scotland and in Ireland, wherever peat is burned, her name is used at the smooring of the fire at night—the covering of the red turf with grey ash, to keep the heart glowing till the next day comes.
Such was the universal memory of Brigid as an exemplar of good housewifery. This Irish nun was like the religious of all the great Orders; she taught the dignity of manual work among animals, in the dairy, and in crafts and housework. Perhaps, it was her example: a noble lady in a rural land, acting through the Irish missionaries abroad, that planted the tradition of manual work in the later religious communities far and wide.
3. A Patron Of Travellers
The community at Kildare grew prodigiously. Innumerable persons of both sexes sought out Brigid to go under her direction, and a double monastery, unique in Ireland, grew up at Kildare, with a community of monks and a community of nuns.
Subordinate houses were founded far and wide; the old accounts say that Brigid's convents reached from sea to sea and were occupied by nuns numbering over ten thousand. Allowing for pious exaggeration, it is certain that Brigid's convents were many and far spread and that they received high particular privileges from the heads of the Church in Ireland. This is proved by the canonical records at Armagh, which recognise Brigid's authority throughout her province. Like Santa Teresa in this as in so many other characteristics, Brigid was a notable traveller. In some places abroad, in later ages, Brigid was invoked as a patron of travellers.
Her journeys took her into distant parts of Ireland. She is said to have set up a community in Kerry, at the request of St. Erc, first bishop of that diocese. Patrick never entered Kerry, but he sent Benignus thither—so tradition says. Although the dates make difficulty, Bishop Erc is claimed to be the same as that convert "sweet-voiced brehon," St. Erc of Slane, who was the "judge" in Patrick's household, praised by Patrick for his great rectitude. If the Bishop Erc who sent to Brigid for nuns was Patrick's Erc, we have one more bond between Patrick and Brigid.
Many anecdotes of Brigid's life concern adventures of the road. She suffered accidents, as when her two-horsed chariot, "a vehicle similar to the gig still used in the Irish countryside,"10 was overthrown, or again, when it was stayed only on the verge of a precipice; once or more the horses bolted with the chariot and the three nuns who travelled in it. On some religious journeys the nuns were accompanied by a priest, who administered to the sick or poor or penitent whom Brigid visited, and who acted as charioteer on the road. So homely were the practical ways of the Abbess.
In Roscommon, west of the Shannon—the region where the royal maidens had met Patrick by the well of Clebach—Brigid founded several convents. It is told that the boatmen of Athlone, who knew a trick of some boatmen of to-day even in those uncommercial times, demanded an excessive payment before they would ferry the Sisters across the Shannon on the homeward journey. At the instance of one of the nuns, Brigid blessed the great river and it shrank to such an ebb that the religious company were able to drive across from Connacht to the Meath shore. Some great drought, apparently, lowered the river enough to baffle the profiteers.
In the plain of Longford, as they drove homeward, the nuns encountered poor folk whose cattle were dying of thirst; for that season's remarkable drought had sealed up all the springs and the animals had been driven far in search of water. Brigid, like a diviner, found water underground, directed the Sisters to dig at a certain spot, and so opened up a gushing source of refreshment. Furthermore, she unyoked her horses from the chariot and presented the beasts to the poor folk to relieve their poverty and to help them on their way home.
Soon afterwards, some travelling prince reached the place and was surprised and delighted to find plentiful water for his steeds. He observed the Sisters and their horseless chariot and therewith made them a gift of two unbroken horses. As soon as the turbulent animals were yoked, they became obedient to the will of that strange indomitable woman.
On these journeys from convent to convent, Brigid left memories of her vivid, joyous nature. Once, with the Sisters she halted at the stronghold of some king of what is now County I,imerick. The king was absent, but his sons provided food and talked with their religious visitors. Brigid saw harps hanging on the wall and asked for music. The lads lamented that the bards were absent with the king, but asked her to bless their own unskilled fingers. This she did; and behold you, the lads found themselves able, with Brigid's blessing, to perform wondrously, so that the king, arriving at last, was astonished to find his boys entertaining the holy women with music of the best.
Sometimes on her journeys Brigid turned preacher; for though the old pagan generation was passing away, there were obdurate or ignorant folk whom the holy woman found means to instruct. On one such occasion, according to tradition, Brigid first made that cross of green rushes which is imitated in many places to this day. A pagan chief lay dying and sent to Kildare begging that the great Abbess should visit him before the end. Brigid hastened to his stronghold, eager to bring the dying man the gift of the faith. She found him in a desperate state, raving, so that his servants feared to approach; but in her silent and commanding presence the wretched man grew calm.
Brigid took from the floor a handful of rushes, which in those days served for floor-covering, and set to work weaving a cross in a peculiar ingenious mode, something like basket-work. Our drawing shows how the four arms are interlocked at the centre and the ends of the arms closed in small knots, or with bonds of thread.
"What are you making?"—the sick man asked, as he watched the skilful fingers of the craftswoman abbess.
"This is a cross, which I make in honour of the Virgin's son, who died for us upon a cross of wood."
Brigid went on to tell how Christ came to save mankind by His death, and the dying man was touched in heart and believed, and asked for baptism.
So runs the legend that is told when strangers ask why the cross of rushes is made by Irish country-folk before St. Brigid's day every year. In former times a lovely traditional ritual was observed. A girl named Brigid would carry an armful of the crosses from house to house, accompanied by other maidens. At every door she would be welcomed with a Gaelic greeting to Brigid the saint, whom she was supposed to personify, and after an exchange of prayers she would bestow one of the crosses on that dwelling. The crosses were fastened in the rafters, to remain there in honour of St. Brigid for the ensuing year.
This lovely custom, of untold antiquity, throve in the Penal centuries as one of the best-loved popular devotions. When King William's invading army passed through the country near Faughart in 1690, and the people fled to the hills, soldiers entered the deserted cottages and saw in every one the green cross of rushes, which they supposed to be set there for protection against themselves. The Gaelic ritual died out with the popular Gaelic speech, but its words are on record. The making of the cross never ceased. It is kept up in schools in many places, and has spread in recent years to such modern spots as the suburbs of Dublin, while many city dwellers receive gifts of St. Brigid's cross from the old-fashioned country places. Thus does the symbol serve to keep the cult of Brigid alive after fourteen centuries.11
4. The Healer
We need not doubt that Brigid sometimes exercised miraculous powers, but we cannot judge how far the many wonders related of her on her journeys amount in truth to the miraculous. In the house of a Leinsterman she is said to have healed two dumb girls; elsewhere a dumb boy. Two lepers followed her, and quarrelled through jealousy; she bade them make friends and do penance, after which she cured their leprosy.
Certain other lepers begged her chariot from Brigid. "O Brigid, give us your chariot, for Christ's sake." The great giver could not refuse the request, but she begged that the vehicle be left with her until she had conveyed a sick man to the convent. The lepers would not grant the use of their prize even for an hour; so Brigid let them drive away, but the sick man was healed immediately by her strange power. Once, as she washed the feet of the poor, she healed four of them—a paralytic, a blind man, a leper, and a lunatic—as she performed the act of humility. The shadow of her chariot healed an old sick woman by the roadside. A madman, running through the land, was brought to her; and the sight of her made him sane. Holy water that she gave to a man whose wife hated him, being sprinkled on the woman, restored her love.
Two blind Britons, travelling with a sick Irish boy, asked Brigid to heal them.
"Wait awhile," said she.
They complained: "You have healed the sick of your people and you neglect strangers; but at least heal this boy of ours, who is one of your own folk."
She healed them all forthwith.
Tales of her turning water into milk and multiplying malt and other provisions when there were visits of high clergy, may be memories of her thrift and capability.
5. Brigid's Guests
As in her father's home and in the home of the slavemaster, so at Kildare, where she was mistress of a growing community, Brigid was famed for her generosity, which would be extravagant in anyone else. When Bishop Conleth (of whom we will be reading soon) brought precious vestments to Kildare from Rome, Brigid made alms of them. When the Queen of Leinster gave Brigid precious ornaments, they went to the poor. When someone brought the community a gift of ripe apples, Brigid gave the goodly fruit to the lepers—"for what is mine is theirs."
She entertained the nobles of State and Church and wielded the influence of a mighty personality in the affairs of both. The age was one of strife; for the boundaries and balance of power in Leinster were being hammered out in arms as the new Christian nation took shape. Brigid is recorded as acting the peacemaker between rivals. Princes yielded to the persuasion of this remarkable woman, strong minded as the hardest fighter among them, but seeking naught save peace. Once, with some of the Sisters, the great nun followed one of those large flying columns which constituted a prince's army and tenaciously refused to depart until a warlike project was abandoned.
To Kildare came the greatest of the saints and mystics and bishops of that age, to consult the famous Abbess; for that was her rank. We have mentioned the visit of St. Brendan of Clonfert, Brendan the Navigator, whom Brigid came from her sheep to welcome. The old tale says that, as she came in, she hung her wet cloak on the sun's rays to dry. Brendan's servant twice tried to hang his master's cloak in the same fashion, and Brendan himself succeeded in the feat at a third attempt. This is some fantastic way of saying that Brigid, the masterful, made the weather wait on her. Of the conversation of the saints, this brief dialogue is recorded: "It is my custom never to cross more than seven ridges without meditation on God," said Brendan. "Since my mind was once set on God, it never departed from Him," said Brigid. Brigid's best biographer12 comments: "Is this the Illuminative Way that mystical writers, centuries later, endeavoured so laboriously to explain?" This visit of Brendan must have taken place when he was but a young man and Brigid an aged woman; for she died when he was in his teens. Possibly Bishop Erc, who was Brendan's director, commended the holy boy to Brigid when he was forming his vocation. If he would attain to the mystical goal, he must be wholly undistracted; that was the counsel of the aged woman mystic of Kildare, and we see how Brendan interpreted her advice when we contemplate the oratory on the summit of Mount Brandon, where, at the end of the dizzying "Pathway of the Saints," he built his lonely oratory between the infinities of the ocean and the sky. St. Kevin of Glendalough, most gentle and lovable of all the saints of Ireland—he in whose almost fleshless hand (the legend goes) a bird nested, and the mystic in his rocky bed over the mountain lake would not move, lest he disturb the bird, until the young were hatched—he came to Brigid, like Brendan, in his youth. It was Brigid's counsel that directed Kevin to his life of extreme austerity. Veterans of Patrick's mission came, such as St. Fiacc of Sletty, he who composed the Apostle's panegyric. A bishop arrived at Kildare, with his attendants, and said that the company was hungry. "We are hungry, too, for your teaching," said Brigid. "Preach first and eat afterwards."——As an offset to that story is one of seven bishops who came from what now is County Dublin, where they lived in community. Brigid found the dairy empty and her hospitable soul was stricken with dismay; but, when she had prayed fervently, the cows gave milk a second time. Whatever is true in these old, odd stories, the visit of St. Finian of Clonard had historic importance. This great monk, afterwards called the Tutor of the Saints of Ireland, was the link between the Patrician period, that of the First Order of Saints, and the second great period of the Irish Church. His pupils were those saints of the Second Order who, in the sixth century, made Ireland the Isle of Saints and Scholars. This chief of Irish teachers, we see, learnt from Brigid—learnt partly from her administration of Kildare how to organise his biblical university by the Boyne, perhaps, and learnt, too, from her rare spirituality. At an assembly of clergy in Magh Femin in Munster, St. Ibar the Bishop, her neighbour and advisor, invited Brigid to compose a hymn—"to make a feast for Jesus in her heart." So the story goes, and a poem is extant which purports to be Brigid's composition on this occasion. The Gaelic is of the eighth century, but it may be based on an older text, and the lost original may be some ancient poet's shaping of actual sayings of St. Brigid. Certainly the strange imagery belongs to that old, old world wherein kings and bishops, abbots and saints, were not far removed from the simplicity of the mountain shepherds. Brigid's plainness and abounding generosity are here, in queer, vivid lines. We slightly adapt O Curry's translation:13Robad maith lem corm find morI would like a great lake of ale for the King of the kings; I would like the people of heaven to be drinking it through time eternal. So the poem begins; and it is needful, perhaps, to explain that the old Irish corm, translated ale, was a beverage as light as tea. If we reflect how often poets write of the wine of life, the wine of poetry, and so forth, Brigid's native symbol of corm for the community of saints will seem less strange than at first reading.
I would like the viands of faith and pure piety;
I would like the flails of penance in my house.
I would like the people of Heaven in my house;
I would like the baskets of peace to be theirs.
I would like the vessels of charity to distribute,
I would like caves of mercy for their company.
I would like good cheer in their drinking,
I would like Jesus, too, to be among them.
I would like the Three Marys of illustrious fame,
I would like the people of Heaven there from all parts.
I would wish that I were a rent-payer to the Lord,
That I should suffer distress, and that He would bestow on me a good blessing.
Some translators omit the curious first verse and modify the rest; but, with the old-world imagery, the atmosphere of that pastoral age is lost. We understand Brigid's times and her mind best when we conceive her desiring the ale of the age for her clerical visitors, and penitential flails for herself.
6. Brigid's Coadjutor
Brigid's first biographer, Cogitosus, who wrote a little more than a century after her lifetime, describes the most remarkable feature of that great spiritual power house of Kildare. It was this: that Brigid invited a bishop to take up residence there and to cooperate with her in all her extensive undertakings.
"Wishing to provide in a wise manner and properly in all things for the souls of her people," Cogitosus writes, "and anxious about the churches of the many provinces that had attached themselves to her, Brigid realised that she could not do without a bishop to consecrate churches and supply them with clergy in various grades. She sent accordingly for an illustrious and solitary man (i.e., an anchorite), who was adorned with all virtues and by whom God wrought many holy works; and summoning him from his hermitage and solitary life, went herself to meet him and brought him to govern the church with her in episcopal dignity, in order that nothing in the priestly order should be lacking. And thereafter the anointed head and chief of all bishops, with the most blessed chief of virgins, with happy mutual concord and the direction of all the virtues, erected the principal church; and by the virtues of them both, that See, at once episcopal and virginial, spread like a fruitful vine with growing branches, and took root in all the Irish island."
The hermit-bishop who joined Brigid at Kildare was St. Conleth, now revered as patron of the diocese of Kildare. He was a craftsman in metal; a crozier, said to be of his workmanship, is extant. "Brigid's brazier," he was called, in old writings. Under him a community of monks grew up which excelled in the making of beautiful chalices and other metal objects needed in the church, and in the writing and ornamentation of missals, gospels, and psalters.
This double monastery, as we have said, was unique in Ireland. It continued in existence for several generations. Cogitosus, who wrote the life of Brigid at the request of the sisterhood in the seventh century, describes the great monastic church at Kildare as it existed in his own time, when the bodies of Conleth and Brigid lay entombed at the Gospel and Epistle sides of the altar, "deposited in monuments which were decorated with various embellishments of gold and silver and precious stones, with crowns of gold and silver hung above them."
Saving the tombs, the description of the church in the days of Cogitosus probably applies to the building as it stood when Conleth and Brigid built it. We gain an interesting picture of the ancient Irish churches of timber, of the larger kind.
"The church occupied a wide area," Cogitosus says, "and was raised to a towering height, and was adorned with painted pictures. It had within it three spacious oratories, separated by plank partitions, under the one roof of the greater house, wherein one partition, decorated and painted with figures and covered with linen hangings, extended along the breadth of the eastern part of the church from one wall of the church to the other." That means that the sanctuary was shut off by an ornamented screen like the iconostasis in a Greek church. "The partition," Cogitosus continues, "has at its end two doors. Through one, the bishop enters the sanctuary, accompanied by his monks and those who are to offer the Dominical sacrifice; through the other, placed in the left of the same cross-wall, enter the Abbess with her virgins and faithful widows to enjoy the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ."
Cogitosus goes on to tell that a central partition reaches from the lower end of the church to the cross-wall before the sanctuary, dividing the nave into two portions. These divisions are entered by separate, ornamental doors, at right and left of the church; men occupy the right (or Gospel) half, women the left. "Thus in one very great temple, a multitude of people in different order and ranks, separated by partitions, but of one mind, worship Almighty God."
The extraordinary arrangement by which Brigid was Abbess of a great double community, and a Bishop, as it were, her coadjutor in all save his strictly episcopal functions, was not likely to be copied. It rested on the unique foundation of a unique personality. The matter may be presented in a simple way thus: that, in a still half-missionary and unsettled country, an immense spiritual settlement grew up round Brigid, and the Bishop who was needed there made his See there. While the great Nun lived, she inevitably would be at least coequal with the Bishop in the direction of Kildare; and it is recognition of this which gave rise to the grotesque fable that Brigid received episcopal orders. When people thought of Kildare, they thought of that remarkable nun, rather than of the holy Bishop. If they wanted a favour, they went to Brigid rather than to Conleth. She dominated the scene. That is the sum-total of the matter.
The Rev. John Ryan, S.J.,14 points out that the arrangement "has few parallels in the history of the Church; but some analagous instances have arisen, one indeed such as puts the power exercised by the lady-abbess of Kildare completely in the shade."
Dr. Ryan then cites, from the Spanish, a description of the Abbess of Las Huelgas in Castile: "Lady and mistress of sixty-four villages, she conferred benefices, took action when necessary against preachers, punished seculars, received official documents directly from the Holy See, decided matrimonial and civil cases, visited pious institutions, examined candidates for the legal profession, approved confessors, gave faculties for preaching, presided at synods; and annually, like St. Bernard at the motherhouse of Citeaux, sat at the head of the congregation of Abbesses from Perales, Gradefes, Carrizo, Fuencaliente, Torquemada, San Andres de Arroyo . . . and other monasteries, which since the end of the twelfth century were subject to her rule. In Las Huelgas were interred Alfonso VIII of Castile, Princess Leonora of England, Sancho VII . . . and some thirty other princes. There Alfonso XI and Enrique of Trastamara were crowned; Ferdinand the Saint and Edward of England were knighted; royal marriages and State ceremonies of all kinds were numbered by the thousand."
When we learn that the Abbesses of Las Huelgas enjoyed such honours and wielded such influence down to the nineteenth century, we are enabled to understand, and to picture to ourselves, Kildare under the mighty Brigid.
7. The Undying Fire
The poet Moore sings of
The bright flame that burned
In Kildare's holy fane
And gleamed through long ages
Of darkness and storm.
alluding to one of the wonders of olden Ireland. For centuries after St. Brigid's day a sacred fire burned in an enclosure at the great convent, never failing for a night. The enclosure was hedged by a circular fence. No man was allowed to enter. Twenty nuns, with Brigid at their head, guarded the fire night by night in turn, feeding it with wood and fanning it with bellows, but never the breath. After Brigid's death the nun who watched on the nineteenth night would cry: "Brigid, guard your own fire, the next night belongs to you."
Gerald the Welshman, who gives us this description, writing just after the Anglo-Norman Invasion, says that the ashes of the fire never increased. It never had been extinguished in his time since Brigid lit it six centuries earlier; but, a few years later, the flame was quenched.
This happened in 1220, when Henry de Londres, who came over with the invaders, was Archbishop of Dublin in succession to the brokenhearted, patriot prelate, St. Lorcan O'Toole. This Norman archbishop was unfriendly to the old, strange, Irish observance, and ordered the extinction of the fire. Later the fire was kindled anew, and burnt for nearly four centuries more, until King Henry VIII undertook the extinction of monastic life and the historic fire was extinguished forever, under that pervert archbishop Browne who had Bachall rosa, St. Patrick's staff, destroyed.
This is all that is known of the Fire of Kildare; its purpose and meaning are not recorded. Archbishop Healy15 threw out the suggestion that the nuns of Kildare may have anticipated western Christendom in maintaining a perpetual flame before the Blessed Sacrament. This seems to us unlikely; firstly, because of Gerald's description of a hedged enclosure, which does not agree with a tabernacle lamp, and secondly, because so excellent a devotion, had it originated in Kildare, would have been copied in all Brigid's convents and would have spread throughout the land. Dr. Healy admits that his suggestion is only barely tenable and prefers the theory that the fire burnt before Brigid's tomb in her memory. The second theory also seems unlikely, since Cogitosus, who, as we have seen, describes the tomb, would have described the fire if it burnt in the church.
Many writers of the modernist school try to make us believe that the sacred fire was some pagan survival—that the nuns of Kildare succeeded Irish Vestals. It is hardly needful to spend time on the refutation of this theory, so characteristic of the Evolutionary mind. It assumes the existence of vestals in pagan Ireland, of whom we have no other evidence whatever; and it supposes that Christian bishops and nuns, building up a new order, would take over a superstition from the order that they were seeking to supplant and obliterate. Only those who can imagine a bishop or Reverend Mother of their acquaintance taking a pagan rite into their rule of life will credit this absurdity.
What the fire symbolised, or what it was maintained in order to commemorate, we do not know, but we do know that the maintenance of an undying fire is a gesture which commends itself to piety in all ages. It is used in Catholic Christendom as a means to express the unsleeping devotion of the Church to the Eucharist. It has been adopted by modern men as a symbol of undying remembrance at the grave of an Unknown Warrior. It was instituted at Kildare, in like fashion, to symbolise devotion and continuity; and if we do not know to what particular aspect of the faith it was directed, or what sacred event it commemorated, yet that fire which burnt from the sixth to the sixteenth century with only one brief interruption, always will be to the Irish mind a splendid emblem of the loyalty of the Irish of old to the faith, and to the great Nun of Kildare.
Let us hazard a bold conjecture. Among Brigid's visitors at Kildare, as we have seen, was Bishop St. Fiacc of Sletty, one of the two who rose to their feet when Patrick entered Tara away back at Easter in 433. He would describe the Fires of Slane that announced the challenge of the faith. Suppose that at some Easter he lit the Pashal Fire at Kildare. Might not Brigid resolve that the fire lit by Fiacc should be perpetuated as a symbol or reminder of the fire lit by Patrick? This is a guess, such as a story-teller might make; but it is plausible enough to show how simple the true explanation would be if the record ever were discovered. Some such event, some such observance, is the secret of that famous fire.
HAEC EST VIRGO SAPIENS
1. Last Years
Such is all that we can tell of the deeds and sayings of the Abbess of Kildare, piecing her life-story together from anecdotes. The records which have come down are not so much formal Lives as materials for sermons, little tales of Brigid's wonders and charities which were written for people who lived when tradition was unbroken, and when the main facts of the saints career were known. People who listened to sermons in the churches of ancient Ireland did not need or want to be told what convents Brigid founded, or how she moulded history; these things were familiar knowledge. They wanted to be told how she prayed, how she loved the poor—reasons to love and imitate her.
Those old generations knew Mother Brigid as Spaniards know Mother Teresa. They knew what we need to discover and visualise, that in Brigid's lifetime, which overlapped Patrick's by a dozen or fifteen years and lasted about sixty more, the work of the Apostle of Ireland was completed. Ireland had become a land as fully Christian as it is to-day. Patrick and Brigid (as an ancient writing said) were the pillars on which Christian Ireland stood. We have been able only to gain glimpses of Brigid's toils; but we know, what was vivid memory to olden Ireland, that she had filled Leinster and many outlying regions with nunneries, and that the convents of the holy women of Ireland, whether founded and ruled by her or prompted by her example, had brought about the emancipation and exaltation of womanhood. The virtues of Mary were established in Irish Christendom by this feminine revolution, of which the Abbess of Kildare was the leader. Doubtless we may thank this wondrous nun for that reverence for chastity which always was conspicuous in the "most faithful nation."16
Brigid, then, saw the great change of Ireland completed, from a rugged paganism to a settled Christian order in which scholarship as well as sanctity was soon to flourish. Her last years were gladdened by the spectacle of a great harvest saved and garnered. Like Santa Teresa, she had worked mainly within walls, but her uneventful days of the tremendous spiritual action had swayed a nation and were to influence a world. The age of the "Saints and Scholars" was about to begin.
We have no record of Brigid's own scholarship. The old Lives represent her as using many a Latin phrase, Deo gratias, and the like. She must have acquired somehow, perhaps by Bishop Mel's instruction, no inconsiderable learning. Yet we suspect that she resembled Santa Teresa here again in gaining knowledge by fiery mental energy rather than by a laboured education. She was a poet, as Teresa was a vigorous prose-writer, in her country's vernacular. The poets, scribes, historians of later times invoked her as a friend to learning. For reasons that have faded, but at which we thus guess, she was honoured especially by men of letters. Adjuva Brigitta, the Gaelic scribes wrote at the head of their manuscripts, "O Brigid help me!"
As Patrick's mighty personality eclipsed great men, his contemporaries—without whose gifts, perhaps, he could not have carried out his life-work—so the brilliant figure of Brigid, so generous, joyous, vivid, eclipsed many eminent figures who, without her, would occupy the records of the period. To some of these contemporaries, much of what was achieved in Ireland in her age must be credited.
Chief of Brigid's contemporaries was St. Enda of Aran, whose lifetime closely coincided with her own. He was a prince, and, like St. Germanus, a warrior. Converted by the sudden death of a young religious woman, he was not content to become a Christian, but sought out the way of austerity. He became a monk at Candida Casa (now Whithorn, in Scotland), where several other eminent Irish Religious got their training, and then founded a monastery in the largest of the Aran Islands, off Galway. With his own hands he dug and built on that wild Atlantic site. He pursued a life of extreme rigour—set the example, in fact, of that prodigious penitential austerity, in which the Irish were to excel all other western monks. The heroism of his "white martyrdom" so appealed to what was best in the race that heroic souls flocked to Aran to share the rigours of the prince turned monk.
"The life of Enda and his monks," writes Archbishop Healy,17 "was very frugal and austere. The day was divided into fixed periods for prayer, labour, and sacred study. Each community had its own church and its village of stone cells, in which they slept either on the bare ground or on a bundle of straw covered with a rug, but always in the clothes worn by day. They assembled for their daily devotions in the church or oratory of the saint under whose immediate care they were placed; silently they took in a common refectory their frugal meals, which were cooked in a common kitchen, for they had no fires in their cloghauns or stone cells, however cold the weather or wild the seas.
"They invariably carried out the monastic rule of procuring their own food and clothing by the labour of their hands,'" Dr. Healy proceeds in this pen picture of the austere and simple Gaelic Christendom that grew up in Brigid's lifetime. "Some fished around the islands; others cultivated patches of oats or barley in sheltered spots between the rocks. Others ground it or kneaded the meal into bread and baked it for the use of the brethren. So, in like manner, they spun and wove their own garments from the undyed wool of their own sheep. They could grow no fruit in these storm-swept islands; they drank neither wine nor mead, and they had no flesh meat, except perhaps a little for the sick."
Enda's was the first of the Irish monastic schools. With this famous foundation it is considered that "monasticism in the strict sense (embracing vows, complete seclusion from the world, and a stern system of discipline) began in Ireland."18 Among Enda's pupils was St. Ciaran, who founded that monastery at Clonmacnois on the Shannon which was the chief centre of Gaelic learning in later days. Enda's own monastic school was surpassed in importance in the next generation by St. Finian's at Clonard in Meath, and we have seen how the youthful Finian is said to have taken counsel with Brigid.
Before we leave Brigid's great contemporary at Aran we must note how, in our own age, Padraic Pearse, as he sought to revive the heroic tradition, named his own remarkable school at Rathfarnham St. Enda's. He declared19 that Ireland, even in pagan times, possessed a peculiarly humane ideal in education. "It persisted into Christian times," he wrote, "when a Ciaran or an Enda or a Columcille gathered his little group of foster-children (dalta, the old word was still used) around him; they were collectively his family, his household, his clann; many sweet and endearing words were used to mark the intimacy of that relationship. It seems to me," Pearse goes on, "that there has been nothing nobler in the history of education than this development of the old Irish plan of fosterage under a Christian rule, when to the pagan ideals of strength and truth there were added the Christian ideals of love and humility. And this, remember, was not the education system of an aristocracy, but the educational systems of a people. It was more democratic than any educational system in the world to-day.... To Clonard or to Aran or to Clonmacnois went every man, rich or poor, prince or peasant, who wanted to sit at Finian's or at Enda's or at Ciaran's feet and to learn of his wisdom. Always it was the personality of the teacher that drew them there; and so it was all through Irish history. A great poet or a great scholar had his foster-children who lived at his house or fared with him through the country."
Enda, then, seems to have done for men what Brigid did for women, in that development which soon was to make Ireland a land of monasteries. It must not be thought, however, that Enda was the sole leader of monks or Brigid of nuns. While Enda's foundation was attracting so many to Aran, St. Buite was building up a monastic school, later of high importance, at Monasterboice, near the Boyne; and while Brigid was doing her life-work in Kildare and its daughter-houses, at least one other great nun was founding a great tradition. This nun was St. Darerca, better known as St. Monenna. She was Brigid's friend, and visited her at Kildare before going to Ulster to found her own convent in Killeavy, on the bleak slopes of Slieve Gullion, not far from Faughart.
From the Life of St. Darerca we get glimpses of the primitive Irish convents which supply details lacking in the accounts of Kildare. Darerca's monastery "became very popular with the people and soon had a reputation for wealth. Though the biographer relates that the Abbess for many years never looked a male in the face, he admits that she was often abroad visiting the sick and redeeming captives. She travelled by night rather than by day, and was ready on occasion to sup with her nuns in the home of a pious layman.
"The rule of the monastery was severe. Prayer and vigils were incessant; fasts were frequent; sleep was taken on the hard ground; and the land was tilled by their own toil, as in the days of the ancient hermits. Food was at times so scarce that the community was in danger of death through starvation."
To this day, every summer, the people of Killeavy keep Monenna's "pattern," with prayers at the holy well marked by an enormous cross, on the mountainside.
St. Ita, whose convent was in our County Limerick, was a third great nun whom we must mention, since she was the greatest daughter of the conventual movement. She had entered the religious life before Brigid's death; but there is no record of contact with Brigid. Ita was called the "Foster-Mother of the Saints of Ireland," since many of the pupils at her school for small boys, such as Brendan of Clonfert, lived to be numbered among the great saints of the Second Order. She was a personality comparable to Brigid in many ways. Her summary of the ideals that she taught survives:
"True faith in God with purity of heart; simplicity of life with religion; generosity with charity."
Of Ita, the legend tells that in some mystical moment the Infant Jesus lay in the holy nun's arms; and an old poem sets forth the lullaby, with a pet name for the Infant, that she is supposed to have uttered:20
Alar lium im disirtan
Jesukin Dwells my humble cell within; What were wealth of cleric high? All were lie but Jesukin.
Such were the souls who with Brigid sanctified Ireland when the land of epic warriors was being transformed into the Island of Saints and Scholars.
3. The Last Sacraments
Our last anecdote of Brigid is one more curious tale from her pastoral time, as we find it in the Book of Lismore:
Brigid (we read) was once with her sheep on the Curragh, and she saw a son-of-reading (that is, a student) running past her—the scholar Nindid.
"What makes you so uneasy, O son-of-reading?" says Brigid. "What are you seeking in that hurry?"
"O nun," says the scholar, "I am hurrying to heaven."
Mark Brigid's apt reply to the flippancy. "The Son of the Virgin knoweth," Brigid said, "that happy is he who goes that journey. For God's sake, will you pray for me that I may find the way?"
The flippant student seems to have been moved by the rebuke in the humble request. Together with Brigid, he said a Pater Noster, "and he was devout thenceforward."
A remarkable privilege was to be this cleric's. Brigid told him that he should give her the Last Sacraments when she should come to die; and it is told that he always kept his right hand gloved because of this service that it was to perform.
At length the call came to Nindid. It was about the end of the first quarter of the century, when the Abbess was aged about seventy-five years, that death came. Nindid was in Rome, but the summons reached him, either by a hurried message or, as an old account says, by an intuition. We read:—"Now that the last moments of Brigid drew near, when she had founded many churches and religious houses and built many altars, and, in a life of charity and mercy had wrought miracles more numerous than the sea-sands or the stars of Heaven, Nindid of the pure hand returned from Rome and gave the Communion and Sacrament to her, and her pure soul went its way to Heaven."
Because of Nindid's sanctification by Brigid's influence, and his sacred service to her at life's end, "it came to pass," an ancient text says, "that the comradeship of the world's sons-of-reading is with Brigid, and the Lord gives them through Brigid every perfect good they ask."
No more is told of Brigid's death than we learn from this passage about the scholar-priest who was with her as her soul passed to heaven. The Annals indicate that the date was between the years 523 and 526. The season was that at which most old people in Ireland die, when the wet and sunless Irish winter has brought vitality low, and the first rifts and gleams in the sky are but a chill promise of Spring. The first of February is Brigid's feast-day.
The great Abbess was buried, as we have seen, at the Epistle side of the altar in the great church at Kildare. Bishop Conleth, who is said to have been slain by wolves, was buried at the other side of the altar a few years earlier.
4. Triumphant Brigid
The wide cult of Brigid in Europe can be understood from the distinction of her character, as we have tried to show it forth, the greatness of her work, and the importance of her example. The missionaries of the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries carried her fame through Britain and Central Europe; they cherished devotion to her in their hearts, and poets made many hymns in her praise.
We can conceive how churchmen who had to deal with the warrior-peoples newly settled in the lands of the fallen Empire—fierce Goths and Burgundians, Alans and Suevi, Huns and Lombards—found inspiration in Brigid and preached her example. Born in slavery, yet of regal ancestry, sympathetic with the sufferers and intolerant of subjection, she had subdued violence with her woman's will, and had established houses of chastity and prayer in the midst of war-worn lands. "Be like Sancta Brigitta!"—the Irishmen would say, as they preached to their warlike flocks; and, as they talked of the Shepherdess, half-royal, half-slave, and all saint, her cult became rooted in continental Christendom.
So highly did the Irish churchmen exalt the homely saints of Ireland, and especially Brigid, that at least one German satirist of the Middle Ages21 charged them with making Brigid the Mother of God; and he tells how certain Irishmen replied by quoting the words of the Saviour: "My mother and my brethren are they who hear the word of God, and do it." (Luke 8:21), surely an apt and sufficient reply to the objections that we have cited to the title "Mary of the Gael."
A century and a quarter after Brigid's death, her Life was written in Latin by a churchman named Cogitosus, apparently at the request of her community in Kildare. We have quoted from this brief document. It has for us the same defect as the six Lives written in Irish later, that it assumes in the reader knowledge that has been lost. It was the first biography of a saint written in Ireland, and marks the strength of her cult at that date.
The Gaelic hymns in Brigid's honour, made in the age of saints and scholars, have more of the fervour with which she was remembered and reverenced. They dwell on the thought that her religious stronghold at Kildare had supplanted the strongholds of the pagan armies, and that she worked a spiritual revolution.22 Thus:
Borg Ailinne nallach
The proud citadel of Alenn Has perished with its warlike host; Great is victorious Brigid, Fair is her populous Rome.
Here Rome is the Gaelic synonym for a sacred place. Again, in another poem:
Slan seise, a Brigit co mbuaid
Sit thou safely enthroned, triumphant Brigid,
On the side of the Liffey far as the strand of the ebbing sea;
Thou art the sovereign lady with banded hosts (of monks and nuns).
God's counsel at every time concerning virgin Erin
Is greater than can be told;
Glittering Liffey has been the land of others in turn,
It is thine to-day.
How strange the utterance to burst from the mind of an Irish poet in, probably, the eighth century, as he thought of what a nun in a convent had achieved for the past and for the future!—God's counsel concerning virgin Erin . . . is greater than can be told.
FROM THE OFFICE OF ST. BRIGID, VIRGIN
Collect: O God, who cost gladden us this day by the yearly festival of Thy holy virgin Brigid: vouchsafe in Thy mercy that we who are enlightened by the example of her chastity, may be aided by her merits.—The Roman Missal
1 Rev. J. Woulfe, Irish Names and Surnames.
2 James F. Kenny, PhD., in Sources for the Early History of Ireland, Vol. I-Ecclesiastical.
3 The distinction among Gaelic speakers between Muire, the name of our Lady, and Maire, for Mary, in common use, has a distant origin. In ancient Ireland, the Latin Maria, with a short a was taken into Gaelic, yielding Muire. This remained in use in literature down to the present day for the biblical Marys, and became reserved in speech to our Lady. When the Normans entered Ireland, they introduced the custom, hitherto not practiced among the Irish, of using our Lady's name in baptism. Their Norman-French Marie, with the long a, was adopted, becoming in Gaelic Maire-Vide G. Murphy in Eigse, Vol. I, Part III.
4 Rev. Felim O Briain, O.F.M., Saint Brigid of Ireland.
5 Rev. P. M. MacSweeney, The Warlike Career of Conghal Clairing-neach.
6 Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, Chapter X.
7 Alice Curtayne, Saint Brigid of Ireland.
8 Dom Louis Gougaud, O.S.B., Gaelic Pioneers of Christianity.
9 Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica.
10 Curtayne, op. cit.
11 The traditional Gaelic ritual of the conferring of St. Brigid's cross has been recorded by Rev. Laurence Murray, historian of the Archdiocese of Armagh, in the Louth Archaeological Journal.
12 Curtayne, op. cit.
13 O Curry, MS. Materials of Irish History.
14 Rev. J. Ryan, S.J., Irish Monasticism.
15 Archbishop Healy, Life and Writings of St. Patrick.
16 Title conferred on Ireland by Pope Pius XI.
17 Archbishop Healy, in Catholic Encyclopedia, article "The Monastic School of Aran."
18 Ryan, op. cit.
19 Padraic Pearse, Political Writings.
20 Eleanor Hull, The Poem-Book of the Gael.
21Dom Louis Gougaud, O.S.B., Gaelic Pioneers of Christianity.
22 Kuno Meyer, Saint Brigit.
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