February saint: St. Brigid of Kildare
It is hard to think of Ireland without thinking of St. Patrick, but as the Irish will tell you, they also have a beloved co-patroness in the person of St. Brigid of Kildare. Although much of the story that comes down to us about her is in the form of legend, what is not disputed is her overwhelming charity to the poor and her commitment to Christ.
Brigid was born around the year 450 to a pagan father and a Christian mother. Her father, Dubthach, was an Irish chieftain and her mother, Brocca, was a Portuguese woman who had been captured by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland; therefore, Brigid too was born into slavery.
According to one story, her mother was sold a second time to a Druid landowner just prior to Brigid’s birth. Until the age of 10 she worked with her mother in the landowner’s dairy where her charitable nature first began to show itself. One legend has it that Brigid once gave her mother’s entire store of butter to the poor; in order that her mother not be punished for Brigid’s generosity, Brigid prayed, and the butter was miraculously replenished.
At the age of 10, Brigid was returned to her father, who was her legal master; there her charitable works continued, and she often gave her father’s possessions away to anyone who asked. Finally growing weary of Brigid and her actions, Dubthach brought her to the king of Leinster fully intending to sell her to him. While the two of them bargained over her price, Brigid took a prized jeweled sword of her father’s and gave it to a beggar so that he would have money to buy food for his family. The king, who was a Christian himself, recognized Brigid as a woman of God and told Dubthach that, instead of selling her, he was to free her instead. “Her merit before God is greater than ours,” he said.
Dubthach then attempted to arrange a suitable marriage for Brigid, but she refused, preferring to devote her life to the poor. One legend says that she prayed to God to take her beauty away so no man would want to marry her, and her prayer was answered. It wasn’t until she took her final religious vows that her beauty returned even greater than before.
Brigid, along with seven other consecrated virgins, went on to found the first religious community in Ireland at Kildare. It was unique in that it was a double monastery, one for men and another for women, which soon became known for its illuminated manuscripts and intricate metal work.
A great friend of St. Patrick, Brigid was known not only for her charity toward the poor, but for her skills as a peacemaker. It is said that numerous miracles were attributed to her during her lifetime, many of which centered on the multiplication of food to feed the poor. Brigid died in 525, and her feast is celebrated Feb. 1.
Sources for this article include:
“Saint Brigid of Ireland.” CatholicSaints.Info. June 22, 2022.
Schreck, Alan. “Catholic Church History from A to Z.” Ann Arbor, Michigan: 2002.