For today’s Second Saturday: Saint, I’m highlighting St. Brigid of Kildare, whose Feast Day is celebrated February 1.
Image (and much of the following info) from http://www.allsaintsbrookline.org/celtic_saints/brigid.html
It’s traditional on February 1st to make a St. Brigid’s cross to hang in your kitchen to protect against evil and fires (presumably, kitchen fires).
Brigid is one of the earliest church mothers that we have a lot of information about, and her hagiography, like many Celtic saints is intertwined with earlier Gaelic stories. What is fairly certain is that she founded multiple monasteries, most famously the one at Kildare which was a double monastery housing men and women (common in Ireland at the time). Brigid was recognized as an Abbess and some equivalence of a Bishop and is revered alongside Patrick as one of the earliest Christian leaders in Ireland. Stories about her tend to involve miracles of multiplying food, her compassion for lepers, tongues of fire that appear over her, and miraculous favor with the secular rulers of the land.
One of the greatest aspects of Brigid’s legacy is the influence she had on illuminated manuscripts. One of the greatest of all time was produced in her monastery at Kildare and was said to be unparalleled in beauty. Sadly, it disappeared sometime around the protestant reformation. In my heart, I want desperately to believe that it has been reverently guarded, passed cheerfully through the hands of Irish nuns who have cherished it in secret, knowing it’s beauty is too great for our post-enlightenment world.
My other fantasy is that it slipped from a satchel as it was being carried through a verdant stand of woods where it’s pages fluttered open and mesmerized the animals and insects–squirrel chatter silenced before the celtic knots and fair folk tucked amongst the sacred texts, until, at last the Irish moss and mist that inspired it’s creation welcomed the illuminations back into the sacred world that first fired the artists’ hearts to create.
Like later leaders of the church, Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich, Brigid was known and widely sought out for her wise counsel. Her wisdom was seen as connected to her aesthetic influence as well. She is said to have been weaving one of her crosses out of reeds (a symbol more reminiscent of the spiraling fractals of nature than the Roman instruments of death) as she tended to a dying druid ruler. Upon seeing the cross that she wove, he was deeply moved and converted to Brigid’s faith.
She was likely named after, and her legacy connected to, the older pagan goddess Brighid, who was seen as a motherly figure ensuring life and symbolized by perpetual fire representing fertility, medicine, wisdom, and metallurgy. Brigid, like other Celtic saints, bridged (you see what I did there?) these older ways of holding to the sacred and brought them into her understanding of God in the Christian faith. Her legacy holds together the sacredness of all things, and she embodies, equality, generosity, life, and spiritual companionship (the tradition of anam chara in Celtic Christianity is closely tied to Brigid and a fellow nun whom she considered her soul friend).
She is considered a patron saint of poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, and new-born babies–no wonder I like her. She’s a fierce, fiery, artist of a saint. Brigid, intercede for us, that we may know the glory of this world and offer wisdom, beauty, and compassion out of the fire of our hearts.