Saint Brigid


Life
Feast Day, 1 February; female patron saint of Ireland, formerly a pagan deity associated with Imbolg (season); and later the object of a Christian cult centred at her church in Co. Kildare; prob. related to the Brigantes, a dominant group in North Britain at the arrival of the Romans, 43 a.d.; there is an early Latin life of Brigit by Cogitosus (Vita Brigidae) and another by an unknown author; a life in Irish was composed in c.800; she one of the saints treated in John Colgan’s Trias Thaumaturga (1647), with St. Patrick and St. Columcille (Columba).

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Criticism
  • J. Bollandus & G. Hendschenius, eds., Vita Brigidae [of Cogitosus], in Acta Sanctorum, Feb., Vol. 1 (Paris 1862);
  • Richard Sharpe, ‘Vitae S. Brigidae, the oldest Texts’, in Peritia, I (1982) 81-106;
  • Kim McCone, ‘Brigit in the Seventh Century, a Saint With Three Lives?’ in Peritia, I (1982) , pp.107-145; J. F. Kenny, The Sources for the Early History of Ireland: Ecclesiastical (NY 1929), pp.356-63;
  • Felim Ó Briain, ‘The Hagiography of Leinster’, in John Ryan ed. Essays and Studies Presented to Professor Eoin MacNeill (Dublin, 1940), pp.454-64;
  • Louis Gougaud, Les Saints Irlandais hors d’Irlande (Louvain & Oxford, 1936);
  • E. G. Bowen, ‘The Cult of St. Brigit’, in Studia Celtica VIII & IX (1973-74), pp.33-47;
  • Pádraig Ó Riain, ‘Sainte Brigitte, Paradigme de l’Abbesse Celtique?’ in La Femme au Moyen-Age, ed. Michael Rouche, Jean Heuclin (Maubeuge 1990), pp.27-32;
  • Donncha Ó hAodha, ed., Bethu Brigte (Dublin 1978);
  • Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, The Hero in Irish Folk History (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1985), pp.16-26 [Chap. 1: ‘The Saint as Hero - Brigid’].
  • Seán Ó Duinn, OSB, Rites of Brigid: Goddess and Saint (Dublin: Columba Press 2005), 236pp.
  • Brian Wright, Brigid: Goddess, Druidess and Saint (www.historypress.co.uk 2009) [q.pp.].

 

See also F. J. Byrne, Irish Kings and High-kings (NY 1972), 131-56; Prionsias Mac Cana, Celtic Mythology (London: Hamill 1970); Kevin Danaher, The Year in Ireland (Cork 1972), pp.13-37 [all cited in Ó hÓgáin, op. cit. 1985, Notes [Chap. 1].

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Commentary
Brian Power, review of Seán Ó Duinn, Rites of Brigid: Goddess and Saint (2005), in Books Ireland (Summer 2005): ‘[...] When Henry II sent Geraldus Cambrensis on an exploratory visit to Ireland in 1185, the scholar came across “the fire of Brigit, which is reported never to go out”. Nuns and holy women, he relates in his Topoqraphia Hiberniae, feed the fire so that it has continued burning through a long course of years; and although such heaps of wood have been consumed during this long period there has been no accumulation of ashes”. The fire remained lighting, M. Archdall states in the Monasticon Hibernicum (Dublin 1886), until AD 1220, when Henry de Loundres, Archbishop of Dublin, “put out the fire called inextinguishable, which had been preserved from a very early time by the nuns of St Brigid”. After being relit, Archdall says, the fire “continued to burn till the total suppression of monasteries”. St Colum Cille refers to Brigid in a poem as a golden gleaming torch and as a strong and radiating sun. Ó Duinn sketches tentative connections between such images of this Christian saint and those of several Munster goddesses, as well as resemblances to the fire-tending duties of the Vestal Virgins of Rome. Seeing her as the great link between our pagan past and Christian present, he explores the customs and rituals of all kinds and shades pertaining to the cult of Brigid which are practised in different parts of Ireland. Central to her cult is the idea of her annual springtime return [...].’ (pp.153-54).

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