Friday, December 12, 2014

The Hymn to Saint Brigid of Brogan-Cloen (Broccan's Hymn)

I like to reread the Lives of Saint Brigit from time to time, and other ancient writings such as prayers dedicated to her. Even more, I like to be read to. So I have recorded a couple and listen to them from time to time, and am always delighted by bits I had forgotten.

To further that end, today I recorded Broccan's Hymn, and in my zeal decided to add a visual aspect (still images of the manuscript and an icon of Saint Brigit) so that I could upload it as a video. I still don't know how to simply upload a sound file to the blog, or I'd do that.

Here is the "video", for those who are interested. Apologies for any fumbling of the Latin and Irish. Most of it is English and I manage that fairly well.

For a writeup on the hymn and the translation that I have used (by Whitley Stokes) please visit the excellent blog Trias Thaumaturga, which is dedicated to the three patron saints of Ireland.

Broccan's Hymn is mostly a poetic summing up of many of the tales from the earliest Life of Saint Brigit, by Cogitosus. If it doesn't make complete sense to you it will if you read that Life.

Well, I'll be darned. I can't find a free download of it online. I do have a pdf, so if you want a copy leave your email address in the comments (I won't publish it) and I'll email it to you.

"We put trust in my Brige — may she be a protection to our host !
May her patronage work with me ! may we all deserve escape !"

Friday, December 05, 2014

Brigit & Beer Baths: Notes on a Tale by Cogitosus from the Perspective of a Beer Historian

"St Brigid's Lake of Beer," Michael O'Neill McGrath*
As often happens, while searching an unrelated topic I stumbled across an interesting article connected to Brigit. It tells a tale from Cogitosus regarding Brigit and beer. No self-respecting Brigit-Beer article should go without the famous poem attributed to her. So let us begin there:

I should like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I should like the angels of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.
I should like excellent meats of belief and pure piety.
I should like the men of Heaven at my house.
I should like barrels of peace at their disposal.
I should like for them cellars of mercy.
I should like cheerfulness to be their drinking.
I should like Jesus to be there among them.
I should like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I should like the people of Heaven, the poor, to be gathered around from all parts.

excerpt from 
St Brigid and the Bathwater
by Martyn Cornell
...While I was putting together the order of service, I even found a suitably beery quote fromThe Life of St Brigid the Virgin, written by a Kildare monk, Cogitosus Ua hAedha, around AD650, to use as one of the readings:
On another extraordinary occasion, this venerable Brigid was asked by some lepers for beer, but had none. She noticed water that had been prepared for baths. She blessed it, in the goodness of her abiding faith, and transformed it into the best beer, which she drew copiously for the thirsty. It was indeed He Who turned water into wine in Cana of Galilee Who turned water into beer here, through this most blessed woman’s faith.
Cogitosus, of course, was keen to chalk the bathwater-into-beer event up as a miracle, just like the one at the wedding at Cana, but there is, in fact, a possible non-miraculous explanation for how St Brigid was able to make the thirsty lepers happy. A record of a fire at the monastry of Clonard in Ireland around AD787 speaks of grain stored in ballenio, literally “in a bath”, which seems to mean the grain being soaked as part of the initial processes of malting. What St Brigid drew off, I’d suggest, may have been water from the ballenium where the grain was steeping in the first stage of malt-making.
Quite possibly, if the grain had begun to sprout wild yeasts had already started multiplying in the water, and making alcohol. Cogitosus heard the story, already more than a century old, about Brigid giving the lepers water from the ballenium to drink and, presumably because he knew nothing about brewing, thought this ballenium was an ordinary bath for washing in. While water from the grain steep might have made a passable ale substitute if you were a thirsty leper, for “bath water” to taste like ale must have seemed a miracle to the confused Cogitosus.
Ale was an important part of Irish society: the Crith-Gablach, an Irish law book compiled about the middle or end of the 7th century AD, declared that the “seven occupations in the law of a king” were:
Sunday, at ale drinking, for he is not a lawful flaith [lord] who does not distribute ale every Sunday; Monday, at legislation, for the government of the tribe; Tuesday, at fidchell [a popular Iron Age board game]; Wednesday, seeing greyhounds coursing; Thursday, at the pleasures of love; Friday, at horse-racing; Saturday, at judgment.”
Who’d be an Irish king, eh?
For the full article, including an old Irish poem on the best ales of the country, go to Martyn Cornell's Zythophile: Beer Now and Then. Click here for his article "Ancient Irish Ales". Martyn is the author of Amber Gold and Black: The History of Britain's Great Beers.

* "St. Brigid's Lake of Beer" by Bro. Mickey (Michael O'Neill McGrath) an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Making Brigit's Cross with Young Caítlín

Caítlín shows beautifully how to gather your rushes, make, and trim your cross. (All to the tune of a penny whistle.)

There are gadjillions of videos on YouTube demonstrating how to make Brigit's cross, including this silent one by a faceless expert, and this by Una Casey of Faughart. (See previous post.) But despite the odd technical difficulty, I rather like this one.

(Click here to watch on YouTube.)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Brigit's Birthplace: RTÉ Documentary on Faughart, Ireland

From Geolocation
At St. Brigit's Shrine in Faughart, Co. Louth, pilgrims have long come to pray the stations and tie up offerings of cloth in order to leave their troubles behind them. Blathnaid Ní Chofaigh of RTÉ explores the area to learn more about St. Brigit and her cult.

From Brigit of Faughart Festival
An impressive moment in the film is watching local woman, Una Casey, making a rush cross while chatting with Blathnaid--one strong enough to kick to Dundalk without it coming apart.

Cross Making with Una Casey in the County Library
Una has been making Brigit's crosses since childhood, and gives workshops in the craft, above at the County Library, and also at the Brigit of Faughart Festival.

(Click here to watch on YouTube.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Brigidine College of St Ives, New South Wales - History & Today

"Fortiter et Suaviter - Strength and Gentleness"

From aMUSine  "The museums, galleries and collections zine by interesting people for interested people:

Kerri Genovese
Archivist, Brigidine College St Ives.
On April 16, 1883 six brave young Brigidine Nuns left their convent in Mountrath, Ireland to travel to Coonamble in New South Wales.  They were chosen from 17 volunteers at the convent to set up a catholic school at the request of Dr Murray the Bishop of the Maitland Diocese which included the Parish of Coonamble.  Their journey took just over 2 months, leaving London on April 20 on a small 5,000 tonnage ship ‘The Chimborazo’. They arrived in Melbourne for a short stay on June 3 after only two stops at Naples and Port Said. The Sisters continued on to Sydney then Newcastle by ship and finally reached their destination of Coonamble on June 21 after many days travelling overland by train and coach.
Coonamble was a small town of some 800 residents many of whom went out many miles to meet the nuns and lead them into town to the welcoming peals of the church bell.  A grand dinner was held and after grateful speeches the nuns could retire to their new home, the small four room presbytery.  The kitchen would serve as the refectory, community room and high school classroom while the primary school would be held in the humble slab church building.
After the warm welcome the nuns set to work opening their school on July 9 and by the end of the year a wooden building was commenced which would house day students and boarders.  The reality of their situation would soon hit home as the long hot summer rolled around, water could only be bought by cask and lighting was by candle or kerosene lamp.  One sister wrote home, ‘the heat ranges from 110 to 117. Violent dust storms rage from 2 to 36 hours at a time….at times the dust clouds look like moving walls’.  The difference between their beloved green Ireland and this harsh brown land would have been enormous.
Despite the tough conditions the sisters led by Mother John Synan would be joined by other young women wanting to be trained as a novice before becoming a Brigidine nun.  Sadly five of these young novices would die in the first few years.  However, after hearing about these courageous women other Catholic communities were asking the Brigidine sisters to establish schools for them.  In 1887 five sisters went to Cooma, seven were sent to Cowra in 1894 and another six to New Zealand in 1898.
As the community grew the Brigidine sisters realised that Sydney offered greater opportunities for the training of the novices.  Therefore, another convent, novitiate and secondary girl’s school were established in Randwick in 1901.  However, within forty years it was decided the novices should be moved to a more peaceful area and so the search began for land in the countryside of St Ives.  In 1949 seven acres of land was purchased on the corner of Mona Vale Road and Woodbury Road with another three acres acquired in 1951. 
The Brigidine sisters established a secondary girl’s school in St Ives and on February 9 1954 classes began with nine students.  Although the new two storey building was for the school, the nuns would also live here until the convent was also built.  Upstairs consisted of four classrooms, however, the last room was partitioned off into four sleeping quarters and a community area for the sisters.  The ground floor had a store room, cloak room, toilets, chemistry lab, kitchen and laundry.  The kitchen of course was used for the students learning home economics but also for the sisters own cooking.  Two sisters taught the secondary girls here and another two taught the primary students at the local Catholic Church, Corpus Christi.
The Convent and Novitiate were completed by the end of 1958 and the Brigidine community steadily grew over the years.  The college added more buildings and took over the novitiate building in 1978 when it closed.  The sisters enjoyed many happy years at St Ives until they too moved out in 1994 relinquishing the convent to the college.  Although the Brigidine order is diminishing their legacy continues through the ethos and teaching of the Brigidine schools throughout the world.
Brigidine College St Ives now has over 900 students but acknowledges and appreciates the heritage given to it by the original Brigidine nuns from Mountrath, then Randwick and the new arrival of students in 1954.  The original students formed strong friendships being a small group and still join together each year for a ‘Pioneer’ lunch and reminisce their fun times.


The Brigidine College of St Ives is still going strong*. From their website:

Brigidine College St Ives is dedicated to the education of girls in the Catholic tradition. Founded by the Congregation of Sisters of St Brigid in 1954, the school models the charism of St Brigid and Bishop Daniel Delany, strength and gentleness.
The College prides itself on providing a holistic education for girls, combining the spiritual, academic, physical and cultural dimensions of learning, creating women of spiritual, moral and ethical strength.
Girls at Brigidine are challenged to think and experience beyond their boundaries, to have the courage to question their world and model Christ’s teachings in their lives.
They are challenged in their learning to see possibilities, grow in understanding and value success.
Browse through our website to gain a deeper understanding of our community or join us onsite for a tour. There is a spirit in this school worth experiencing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Brigit Book Review PDF Now Available as Download

click here!
The PDF of the Brigit book reviews is now available through the Daughters of the Flame website (in case you are wondering where you flashed through when you clicked the caption above), saving you having to leave your email address here and wait for me to send you one. Much simpler.


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Druids -- On BBC 4

I have only the slenderest excuse for putting this discussion on a Brigit blog--she is mentioned, very briefly, with regards to her father, Dubhthach--but it is such an interesting look not only at the subject of Druids through the eyes of the scholars who make their livings contemplating them, but also at a few of the scholars who, for most of us, are names in a book, not voices, laughter, and interplay.

The discussion is from BBC Radio 4's excellent In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg. BBC has a habit of chucking podcasts after a while so I downloaded the program and set it into a video format to present on Blogger. Once you have seen the first image you will have seen them all. I'll add the credits and so on here, to spare you searching them out on the screen.


First broadcast: Thursday 20 September 2012, BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Druids, the priests of ancient Europe. Active in Ireland, Britain and Gaul, the Druids were first written about by Roman authors including Julius Caesar and Pliny, who described them as wearing white robes and cutting mistletoe with golden sickles. They were suspected of leading resistance to the Romans, a fact which eventually led to their eradication from ancient Britain. In the early modern era, however, interest in the Druids revived, and later writers reinvented and romanticised their activities. Little is known for certain about their rituals and beliefs, but modern archaeological discoveries have shed new light on them.


Barry Cunliffe
Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of Oxford

Miranda Aldhouse-Green
Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University

Justin Champion
Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London

Producer: Thomas Morris

Further Reading:

Miranda Aldhouse-Green, ‘Caesar's Druids: Archaeology of an Ancient Priesthood’ (Yale University Press, 2010)

Justin Champion, ‘Republican Learning: John Toland and the Crisis of Christian Culture’ (Manchester, 2009)

Barry Cunliffe, ‘Druids: A Very Short Introduction’ (Oxford University Press, 2010)

Miranda J. Green, ‘Exploring the World of the Druids’ (Thames and Hudson, 1997)

Michael Hunter, ‘John Aubrey and the Realm of Learning’ (Duckworth, 1975)

Ronald Hutton, ‘Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain’ (Yale University Press, 2009)

Stuart Piggott, ‘Ancient Britons and the Antiquarian Imagination’ (Thames & Hudson, 1989)

Sam Smiles, ‘The Image of Antiquity: Ancient Britain and the Romantic Imagination’ (Yale, 1994)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Icon by Lewis Williams


 Lewis Williams, SFO, website: eyekonz2u

About Lewis Williams:
Moved to learn to paint icons from Robert Lentz after viewing his Apache Christ, Williams has gone on to paint striking images of his own, including those of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument during a stint as artist-in-residence.

I like the simplicity of his Brigid, a serious young woman with work to do and the power and inspiration to do it. I like also his magnificent Our Mother of Sorrow, depicted below with one suggestion of where her sorrows' sources lie: with the falling of the Twin Towers. The image is available through Bridge Building Images.

Artist's Narrative on St Brigid Icon:
Most revered of all of Ireland’s early female saints, Brigid was born of pagan\Christian parentage, and raised in the fosterage (early Irish practice of youth education) of a druid. She converted to Christianity at age 17. Noted for her prayerfulness, compassion, humility, and generosity, she founded the earliest known Celtic double monastery, housing both men (renowned for a school of art in illuminated manuscripts) and women (expert in wool industry and weaving of cloth).

She professed a profound belief in “anam cara,” or soul friends, unique persons God offers us as companions on our pilgrim road. This extended to the idea that love and intimacy were essential to a sound marriage, also quite unique for her time.

Exceptional in another aspect, St Mel of Ardagh, inebriated by her virtues or by ‘spirits’, ordained her a bishop and she was respected as such. A perpetual fire was kept in her honor from her time till extinguished by King Henry VIII’s order in 1540 of the Dissolution of Monasteries. Recently it has been rekindled.

In this icon she is noted for her beauty, holding the crosier (based on the famous Lismore crosier), symbolic of a Bishops staff and shepherds of men. Her clothing is the fine wool work of her sisters. She also holds a ‘Brigid Cross,’ an ancient solar symbol traditionally made to welcome Spring (Feb.1, in Ireland). Dawn barely touches the sky over her right shoulder, a time when the veil between worlds is very thin, and her perpetual fire burns through the night.

Also known as ‘Brigid of Kildare’ (“Kildare”= church of the oak) and ‘Bride’ (“bright or exalted one”).

Her feast day is February 1.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Queering the Flame" by Erynn Rowan Laurie, A Review

        “Queering the Flame” is an as yet unpublished essay that will be released in 2015 in Laurie’s collection of essays, interviews, and reviews.

Herself a keeper of Brigit’s flame, Laurie is an amateur scholar whose work rests on diligent research and thorough citation, combined with a carefully thought out, ethical, and personal Polytheist sensibility. She carefully distinguishes between her own ideas and what can be discerned from the literature (hooray!), allowing the reader to reach informed conclusions of her own.

The impetus for writing this piece was a debate that arose within the Celtic Reconstructionist (NeoPagan) community when a mixed gender Brigidine flame-keeping group was proposed. Laurie asks, “What would make the act of tending a perpetual flame in the name of a particular Goddess problematic or contentious? What are the theological assumptions at work, and why is gender such a central issue within some of those assumptions? More importantly for this essay, what does queerness have to do with it? To address these issues, we need to look at the person and place of Brigit as Goddess and saint, the practice of flamekeeping generally, and the ritual traditions that surround this act. ”

Accordingly, in “Queering the Flame” Laurie examines the ethical and ideological issues as she sees them, and looks at perpetual sacred flames in historical Pagan religions and in medieval Christian Ireland.

“These sacred fires, both in [Pagan] Rome and in Ireland, were considered community hearthfires, regardless of the gender of the flamekeepers. Regional ritual fires were lit from the Irish flames, as were household flames on particular holy days, and if a household’s flame were accidentally extinguished, it also would be relit from the sacred flame. The hearthstone at Inishmurray is specifically cited as a source for the relighting of household flames, even after the church itself was long-deserted and the physical flame extinguished”.

Having shown that in Ireland both men and women tended perpetual sacred flames, and that Irish flame-tending practices may well not have had Pagan origins, she argues that in Celtic Reconstructionist practice the tending of Brigit’s flame ought to be open to both men and women, with women-only groups coexisting with those of mixed genders. “Queering” of gender roles is examined as well, including, for instance, cross-dressing among biddy boys and Bitel’s consideration of nuns as “masculinized” women in the context of their time.

 What separates Laurie’s examination of flame-tending from other works in the Academic category is her stated relationship to Brigit and her concern for the NeoPagan and Polytheist communities: welcome additions, in my opinion. She states, “Flametending has been a rhythmic, almost tidal support to my spiritual and creative life. The regular presence of the flame on the altar near my writing desk is a tangible reminder of Brigit and of her patronage of poets, of the accessibility of inspiration, and of the dedication necessary to nurture a life as a poet and writer. Each time I light the flame, I renew my devotion to creativity as a deep and necessary part of my spiritual path.”

“Queering the Flame: Brigit, Flamekeeping, and Gender in Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan Communities”, by Erynn Rowan Laurie in The Well of Five Streams: Essays on Celtic Paganism (Immanion Press, projected release 2015) 17 pp.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Priestess / Priest of Brighde Training

I just stumbled across Marion van Eupen's site:

Priestess / Priest of Brighde Training, Glastonbury UK

Van Eupen is coming from a Wiccan, Four-Elements, Maiden-Mother-Crone perspective rather than a strictly Celtic based one, and her posting "My Journey With Her" describes her evolving sense of Brighde, arising through personal gnosis. Through that evolution she has come to see Her most clearly as Britannia, "Sovereign Goddess of these lands".

Van Eupen, who offers workshops in Dutch and English, moved to Glastonbury and committed herself deeply to her spiritual path. She is offering a two year Priestess/Priest of Brighde Training 2015/2016, in association with the Glastonbury Goddess Temple. Year one begins on the 14th and 15th of February 2015.

In Glastonbury we recognise Brighde in the landscape as Her Sacred Swan stretching Her long neck along Weary All Hill and spreading Her wings over the Glastonbury town hills. She flows in the waters of the sacred wells and the river Brue, which is called after Her. But foremost She is revered on Bride's Mound (part of The Beckery) where St. Bridget stayed at a little monastery which was then dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Later on a chapel dedicated to St. Bridget was built on Bride's Mound.

Becoming a Priestess or Priest of Brighde is a journey of healing, connecting and walking with Her animals, the Swan, the Snake, the Cow, the Wolf and the magical Unicorn and Phoenix. It is expressing Her energy through poetry, songs and creativity, weaving your soul’s desire into being. It is experiencing Her fire and shining Her light out into the world.

Venue: all training weekends take place in The Camino Centre Glastonbury. The training is non-residential.

When: Saturday and Sunday 10am – 5pm
with breaks for lunch and refreshments.

Fee: The training is set up as a two year training to 
become a Priest/ess of Brighde. It is however possible 
to pay separately for the two training years or to pay 
in installments:

The options are:
£ 950 when paid in full
£ 1000 when paid each year separately
£ 1080 when paid in installments

Britannia by Marion Brigantia Van Eupen

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Saint Brigid’s Night Procession (Poem) by Mark Granier

Night Walk by Elizabeth McClung
Saint Brigid’s Night Procession

No sign of Faughart on the roadmap. Our dark
island kept itself to itself, each high-hedged bóthar
headlit, the same as another. Then, out of nowhere,
it came to us as a long-acre of parked cars
we added to. Nothing for it now but to go
with the cattle-press of the procession, its shuffle
a low-voiced, slow, inevitable river uphill.

Nobody minded us, disbelievers suspended in the flow
of candles and wobbly torch-beams. Our wariness lapsed,
shrinking as the night-eye opened. Through an unhedged
a softly trumpeted, familiar tune doodled
across clouded moonfields. Forgotten, remembered:
Faith of Our Fathers. As if it wasn't “if” but “when”.
And your whisper in my ear: “Were going to Heaven.”

                                       Mark Granier

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Brigit Reviews (Series Six): Nonfiction, Academic/Popular Academic

Finally! The last installment of my promised book reviews. A pleasure it was to acquaint myself with the breadth of writing available on Brigit. I'll pin links to the reviews on the Pages tab (below the title banner of this blog) in order to make them more accessible to later readers, and will also make the whole lot available by request as a pdf. In the meantime you can find the previous reviews and introductory material at these links:

Brigit Reviews (Series Six):
Nonfiction, Academic/Popular Academic

By “academic/popular” I mean books written in a scholarly style but accessible (sometimes with a real effort) to a general audience. They are footnoted, backed up citations, and so on, and so the thinking in them can be more or less traced and verified. These I can only observe as a reader, not criticize as an expert.

The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion, and Power in Celtic Ireland, Mary Condren (1989)

“Fire and the Arts” (etc) in Pagan Past and Christian Present in Early Irish

            Literature, Kim McCone (1990)

The Festival of Brigit, Séamas Ó Catháin (1995)
Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins and Mothers, Miranda Green (1996)

“Imbolc: A New Interpretation”, Phillip A. Bernhardt-House (pp 57-76) in Cosmos 18 (2002)

The Rites of Brigid, Goddess and Saint, Seán Ó Duinn (2005)

Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe, Lisa M. Bitel (2009)

“Queering the Flame: Brigit, Flamekeeping, and Gender in Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan Communities”, by Erynn Rowan Laurie in The Well of Five Streams: Essays on Celtic Paganism (Immanion Press, projected release 2015) 17 pp.


There are some delicious writings in here, with lots of obscure references and nimble interpretations; a cornucopia of ideas to mull over in building an understanding of Brigit. Two recommended sources which give abundant info on the world in which St Brigit lived are Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200 by Dáibhí Ó Crónín (1995) (not reviewed here) and Bitel’s Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe. Placing her in the context of her world allows for a much deeper look into her Lives and mythos, helping us to notice where our assumptions are modern and inappropriate, and allowing us to develop a more balanced perspective.

Though the earliest of these investigations, Condren’s The Serpent and the Goddess is less about Brigit as it is the Christian church in Ireland and its treatment of women. I don’t recommend it for developing an understanding of Brigit.
In The Festival of Brigit, Ó Catháin explores the festival of Imbolc and searches far afield for evidence linking Brigit to, for example, the bear cult and horned deities. Fascinating reading, carefully explored and documented.

McCone’s Pagan Past and Christian Present contains important insights into sacred kingship, the sovereignty goddess, and the three major divisions of Celtic society and convincingly suggests their reflection in Brigit’s various personae.

Green examines the place of women and female deities in Celtic society, and focusses on a number of female-related themes and specific goddesses in Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins and Mothers. Brigit is looked at in the chapter on the transition from paganism to Christianity.

Bernhardt-House offers a detailed and unique examination of the meaning of the word Imbolc and its possible links to the wolf in ancient times in “Imbolc: A New Interpretation”.

In The Rites of Brigid, Ó Duinn examines a variety of Brigit-related folk customs. He compares in detail the perpetual fires of the Vestal Virgins and Brigit, and describes other sacred and perpetual flames in medieval Ireland.Very useful.

Bitel looks at some important Lives of St Brigit in Landscape with Two Saints, comparing that by Cogitosus of Kildare with those of later writers of Armagh, and putting them into the political context of their times. She examines the legacy of Brigit, and the changing role of women in Ireland.

A rather different perspective is offered in Laurie’s “Queering the Flame: Brigit, Flamekeeping, and Gender in Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan Communities”. This piece, which could have fit well into the Nonfiction, Popular (NeoPagan) section, I place here because of Laurie’s exacting standards of research and presentation. (Footnotes and citations and quotes, oh my!)

You may notice trouble linking to footnotes through their symbols. No worries. Just scroll to the end of the post and they are there.

Read More!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has to say about Brigit

St Brigit in Melbourne, Australia
Brigit [St Brigit, Brigid] (439/452–524/526), patron saint of Kildare, is the only native Irish saint to enjoy a widespread cult in all the Celtic countries. About the events of her life little can be said, since the earliest sources come from more than a century after her supposed death, on 1 February in either 524 or 526, and were in any case interested in miracle stories rather than biographical detail. Her early cult is, however, among the most influential and the most interesting of any saint in Ireland or Britain.
The cult and lives
The early texts in Brigit's hagiographical ‘dossier’—ranging from the seventh to the early ninth century—contain different perceptions of her natural clientele. At one end of the spectrum, she was a pan-Irish saint, enjoying local support in all the provinces of the island; at the other end, she was the saint of her own people, the Fothairt, settled mainly in Leinster but with outposts elsewhere. The Fothairt were never, in the historical period, a leading power even in Leinster, let alone anywhere else; indeed, their particular pride was that Brigit belonged to them. Even within Leinster different texts emphasized different themes: the life by Cogitosus (c.675) was written by a champion of her principal church, Kildare; there, so the life claimed, she lay enshrined, alongside her episcopal helper, Bishop Conlaíd [Conláed, Condlaed] (d. 518/520). On the other hand, the Vita prima, which powerful arguments would date earlier than Cogitosus, is more interested in Brigit's relationship with the people of her father, Dubthach, the branches of the Fothairt settled on the north-western frontier of Leinster. The same is true of the ninth-century vernacular life, Bethu Brigte, which is related to, but not dependent on, the Vita prima; both probably drew on a lost life of the mid-seventh century. These local affiliations were to be enduring: Brigit has remained to this day the patron saint of Kildare, but her cult has continued to be vigorous around Croghan Hill in Offaly, which is mentioned in Bethu Brigte and was close to the home of her father.

One of the most interesting aspects of the hagiography of Brigit is, therefore, its variety, rooted in particular places and enjoying different audiences. Cogitosus's life was addressed initially to the bishop and other educated clerics within the double monastery of Kildare and then to their equivalents in the other major churches; to meet the expectations of such a readership it had to be, and is, a polished piece of writing; Read More...

Monday, July 21, 2014

St Brigit from the 'Lilywhites' Perspective

Following is a short article on St Brigit from the point of view of a native of Kildare.

Lilywhites, in this case, is the nickname of the Kildare GAA, (Gaelic Athletic Association). In this article the name seems to imply any Kildare local. Its insignia is a modernized Brigit's cross with a flying football:

  Co. Kildare Online

 Electronic History Journal


St. Brigid – Kildare’s very own Saint
shared with a national audience
St. Brigid, whose feast day is 1st February,  is regarded as Kildare’s very own saint but one that Lilywhites share with a much wider range of devotees, Indeed Brigid ranks with Patrick as national patron of Ireland and in virtually every corner of the land there are churches, shrines and holy wells dedicated in her honour.
 Brigid has a remarkable span not just in terms of geography but also in terms of time spanned. The story that has come down through the generations is personified in the form of a woman who, in early Christian times, was the founder of a monastic foundation in Cill Dara, the church of the oak tree. Her powers and spirituality are the stuff of legend – the brát Bride, for example, her expanding cloak which covered the distinctive plain now known as the Curragh is but one example. But even the story of the Christian Brid is a mesmerising blend of folk-tales which may have their roots in the depths of pre-Christian, Celtic and pagan Ireland.
The one constant in all the stories relates to the geography of the story which certainly puts both pre Christian and early Christian elements of the Brigid story in the area we now know as modern mid County Kildare. For example a chronicler of Ireland in the 12th century, Gerard of Wales wrote ‘ At Kildare, in Leinster, celebrated for the glorious Brigid, many miracles have been wrought … the first that occurs is the fire of St. Brigid which is reported never to go out but the nuns and holy women tend and feed it.’ On the face of it this recalls the tradition of the eternal fire being carried out in Kildare to perpetuate the life and work of a Christian era Brigid. However to show that nothing in ancient Irish folk life is that simple there are deeper and older explanations for this ritual of perpetual fire. One of the recent works on the rituals of St. Brigid suggests that even the Gerald of Wales account could be influenced by practices from the ancient Latin classics which describe rituals where virgins took care of a perpetual fire in Rome. A recent discussion by Seán Ó’Duinn OSB quotes another scholar of the era, Professor Kim McCone as writing ‘the twelfth century visiting cleric, Gerald of Wales, describes a fire cult at her main church of Kildare that can hardly be other than a pre-Christian survival’.
On the question of Brigidine geography many places in Ireland claim a share in the Brigid story not least her reputed birthplace of Faughart in north Co. Louth. However Seán Ó’Duinn makes a strong case for the position of Kildare in the Brigid tradition. He points out that a line could be drawn between Cill Dara itself across to Dun Ailinne (near Kilcullen), the great Iron age fort, then north to Nás na Ríogh (home of the Leinster chieftains), and then west to Dun Almhaine (the Hill of Allen). Within this terrain the ancient fair of Carman may have taken place on Cuirreach Life or the Curragh as it is now known. Thus Cill Dara lent itself to a myriad of influences with connections to places which have archaeological and annalistic pedigrees going far back into time.
Whatever about the necessarily conjectural blending of folklore and history in the story of Brigid there can be no doubting the persistence of the folklore and craft associated with devotion to Brigid. The best known tradition is of course the St. Brigid’s Cross, the four-armed design which is most familiar to us being one of just numerous styles woven from straw and twigs in country areas ranging from Kerry to Donegal. The St. Brigid’s Cross has made its way on to prominent graphic representations in the modern era. It forms one of the designs emblazoned on the Kildare County Council coat-of-arms. It featured too until recent years as the logo of the broadcaster RTE, showing that even the symbolism of an early Christian saint, who in turn inherited ancient pagan devotion, could be adapted to the technology of modern times.
  • The beginning of Spring is now marked in Kildare town with a week long recollection of Brigidine traditions and theems under the banner of Féile Bríd. Missing from the programme this year will be the late priest and philosopher John O’Donoghue who died suddenly in early January. This writer recalls a dawn mass which he celebrated at St. Brigid’s well at Tully. It was a morning of hard frost, the thoroughbreds on the adjacent paddock silhouetted against a luminous February sunrise, their breath crystallising in the frozen air, as Fr O’Donoghue evoked in words of poetry and philosophy the spirit of the ancient Brigid devotion bringing light and discovery to a world waking from its winter darkness. May he rest in peace.
Series no: no 52
An article by Liam Kenny from his regular feature 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' in the Leinster Leader of 31 January 2008 on the Patroness of the Gaels - St. Brigid. Our thanks as always to Liam. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Adomnán's Holy Well Blog: Saint Bridgid’s Well, Kildare

Holy Well by features postings on a small number of significant Irish holy wells, with photographs and in-depth articles. The article on Kildare focusses in large part on Brigit's "role in the establishment of the abbey in Kildare", giving the piece a different perspective than many popular writings on Brigit.

I include it in its entirety here but urge you to see it and the other pieces in their original home.

See also "Saint Brigid’s Well, Liscannor, County Clare."

Holy Well

Finding holy well sites in Ireland and recording both religious practice and lore.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Saint Bridgid’s Well, Kildare
The welcoming hands at the parish of Saint Brigid

“Amid the galaxy of the saints, how lustrous, how divinely 
fair, shines the star of Brigid, the shepherd maiden of 
Faughard, the disciple of Patrick the Apostle, the guardian
of the holy light that burned beneath the oak-trees of 
Kildare! Over all Ireland and through the Hebridean
Isles, she is renowned above any other. We think of
her, moreover, not alone, but as the centre of a great
company of cloistered maidens, the refuge and helper
of the sinful and sorrowful, who found in the gospel that
Patrick preached a message of consolation and
deliverance. Let it be remembered that the shroud of
Patrick is deemed to have been woven by Brigid's hand;
that when she died, in 525, Columcille, the future apostle
of Scotland, was a child of four. So she stands midmost
of that trilogy of saints whose dust is said to rest in Down.”
--Alice Milligan (from ‘Irish Heroines’)

Interior of Saint Brigid's Cathedral

When Saint Brigid was given leave to pursue her religious vocation she is 
said to have gone to Kildare to establish an Abbey where she reigned as
its first Abbess. During the medieval period this abbey became
hugely significant throughout Ireland and its Abbess wielded considerable 
political power. This power was retained right through to the time of the
Flight of the Earls, when it is rumoured that the nuns of the abbey were 
raped as a potent symbol of the final breaking of the religious and
political power of the Abbess. From this time on the famous flame of
Brigid fell into cold ashes until more recent times.

The ancient High Cross in the cathedral grounds

I’ve already written a little of Saint Brigid in other places and I
don’t want to repeat what I have already said.  Here, I would
like to say more of her role in the establishment of the
abbey in Kildare. Saint Brigid first enters Irish history as a
disciple of Saint Patrick, acclaimed by Saint Fiech, also a
disciple of Patrick. Fiech flourished around 520AD and is
said to have written a life of Saint Brigid. This is now lost bar
a few cursory fragments, but his somewhat astonishing
hymn of praise to Saint Brigid – ‘Audite Virginis Laudes’ –
still survives. The hymn is a list of miracles attributed to
Saint Brigid listed in alphabetical order with each line
composed of sixteen syllables. There is a longer and fuller
version in the manuscript of Saint Magnus, but to my
knowledge this has never been reprinted or translated.
In any case even shortly after her death, Brigid was already
being honoured as a Saint and was to prove an incredible
inspiration for many Irish saints of the period, most notably
Saint Brendan, Saint Ultan, Saint Erc, Saint Fiech and Saint
Ninnicíus (her chaplain while she was alive). By the
Middle Ages, Saint Brigid was one of the best known and
greatest loved of all saints throughout all of Europe. She
appears regularly in the Breviaries of the Middle Ages and
continues to be mentioned (although with lessened
materials and hymns attributed to her honour) up until the
printing of the 1522 Venice Breviary and the 1622 Paris
Breviary. Some of the Breviaries of the Middle Ages even
contained an Office of Saint Brigid which was reproduced
in the Kilmoon Breviary here in Ireland (only some very
badly damaged fragments of this manuscript now survive,
but a better copy is preserved in the Antiphonary of
Clondalkin).  Brigid became so greatly honoured in Ireland
that she became known as ‘Mary of the Gael’ and many of
the stories of her life by the early medieval period begin 
to draw strong parallels between her and the Mother of God.

Chapel of the Reserved Sacrament on the parish of Saint Brigid

There has been a persistent rumour that Brigid took up
her religious vocation at the very tender age of fourteen. To
this day the people of Dundalk insist that the church at the
top of Faughart Hill is part of the original foundation of Saint
Brigid. It may be possible they are right, but records point
to it being the dwelling place of a holy woman, who in all
likelihood had a deep influence on Brigid. This woman is not
considered to be a saint and there is some confusion as to
her real name. She does appear to have been honoured in some
way though, because a church was built on the site of what was
supposed to be her home - possibly out of interest in her
possible link to Saint Brigid. Kildare, however, remains
the main site associated with Saint Brigid and her order of
nuns. While abbess there she is described as being fearless,
strong willed and politically astute. She held a deep concern
for the poor and was particularly keen to care for the sick
and ill – hence why so many of her wells are considered to be
healing wells.

 The site of the well and the statue of Saint Brigid

It is now generally believed that in the period of early Christ-
ianity in Ireland, that the native Irish did not hold a
common pagan pantheon of gods and goddesses, but rather
that each area held its own beliefs and practices (this is also
attested to in quite a number of the records of the early Irish
saints); some having a complex order of gods and goddesses,
while other areas practiced something akin to animism or
elemental worship. It is in the area of Kildare and Athlone that
Saint Brigid is said to have found a substantial area where two
main systems of belief held great sway over the people. In
Athlone, worship of the moon prevailed as the dominant form
of belief (‘Ath’ meaning ford and ‘Luan’ meaning moon. Kildare
means ‘place of the oak’). In Kildare, the properties of light and
heat were honoured in the form of fire and a fire temple was
said to have been kept alive by many worshippers. It was at the
fire temple that Brigid is said to have established her commun-
ity, using the site as a new focus for a better light to the people.
This is an incident that demonstrates her political astuteness.
Rather than condemn the people in their fire worship, she
quietly turns it to her advantage and sustains a place of
ancient reverence as a new Christian community and overlays
it with a new symbolism to suit her mission. Saint Brigid is
said to have kept this flame alive as a potent symbol of the
light of Christ, but sadly the flame was to go out. The flame was
snuffed out by a Norman Bishop and then again by Henry VIII -
who was likely the last person to snuff it out. In 1993 the 
Brigidine Sisters (a new order of nuns that associates itself 
with the charism of Saint Brigid) symbolically re-lit the flame
of Saint Brigid and plans were set in place to create an eternal
flame in the heart of Kildare town. On 1st February in 2006
a well made bronze monument to house Saint Brigid’s flame
was unveiled by President Mary McAleese, but the flame has
since been replaced by a rather horrible plastic flame effect!

Saint Brigid's Holy Well

There are two significant churches in Kildare. The oldest
church is Saint Brigid’s Cathedral and round tower, with the
remains of a high cross and the fire temple in the grounds.
The original foundation would have been a wooden structure,
but the cathedral was built in stone between 1223 and 1230
and even by this stage it had been repeatedly ravaged. By 1500
it was in a semi ruinous state and left completely derelict in
1649. An attempt was made to partially rebuild it in 1686, but
it wasn’t until 1875 that work began in earnest to make it a
functioning and safe church to worship in once again. It’s an
interesting building with many well preserved fine stone
carvings. Tour guides will tell you that a Sheelagh-na-gig can
be found on the Wellesley tomb in the cathedral – it’s a lie!
Unfortunately it is a rather dull cherubic acrobat, unusual,
but no Sheelagh-na-gig (if such things exist at all!)

Saint Brigid's Cathedral

The Roman Catholic parish of Saint Brigid has a modern
interior, which works well in some aspects, but not in others.
It does have some rather beautiful bronze doors with
welcoming open hands as handles! However, even here it
is somewhat disheartening to see a modern myth retold as
if it were fact. Not so very long ago a ‘learned academic’ from
TCD decided to make a pronouncement that Patrick likely
never existed, that Brigid was really the pagan goddess
Brigit and that neither had been properly canonized as Saints
by the Roman Catholic church. As you can imagine it made a
little flurry in the press.  There has been some confusion over
Brigid’s name and its spelling, but this is not uncommon
among Irish saints. She is referred to at times as Saint Bride
by Saint Ninnicíus, as Saint Brigit by Cogitosus and Saint
Ultan and mainly as Saint Brigid by all others. All names
refer to the same person. The idea that there was ever a pagan
goddess with the same name is highly unlikely and hugely
speculative. There is a brief reference to a goddess with the
name of Brí in Cath Maige Tuireadh, a twelfth century
document and some try to cite references to her in ‘The Book
of Invasions’ (Lebor Gabála Érenn), an eleventh century work.
Both of these texts have been repeatedly cited as evidence for
the existence of a pagan goddess by the name of Brigid, Bride
or Bridgit. Maybe I’m too skeptical, but I’m really not convinced
by this at all. None of Brigid’s contemporaries relate that her
name bears a strange closeness to a pagan god, neither do
any of her subsequent biographers – a fact that it would be
very hard to believe would have escaped their notice.

The remains of the fire temple in the grounds of the cathedral

Saint Brigid’s well is actually a little way out of the town of
Kildare towards the National Stud. Legend has it that Saint
Brigid was in fact Abbess over the women’s abbey in Kildare
and also had control and governance of the men’s monastery
which was very close to the site of this well. Whatever the
truth of the matter, by the ninth century the monastery has its
own male Abbot and the well would have been important for
both practical matters and religious ones to the adjoining
monastery. Saint Brigid is said to have used the well to baptize

The arch marking the point where the underground river surfaces

The well is in a somewhat unusual setting. It’s down a narrow
road towards a modern house near the National Stud. Horses
peer curiously at passing pilgrims. As you enter the area it is
fenced off from the surrounding countryside with trees planted
 - some dedicated to the work of cross community groups and
planted in hope, and others in memory of loved ones and
planted in faith. The well is up at the far end of the enclosure; a
circular and deep well, surmounted by a stone cross. Pilgrims
traditionally say prayers at each of the tiny stone ‘stations’
leading up to the well (the stones are said to mark the course
of the underground river).

 A collection of items left at the shrine during the pattern

The site is maintained by the Brigidine Sisters and they have
done a terrific job. The statue of Saint Brigid by sculptor
Annette McCormack dominates the site a little more than
it should, but otherwise this is a fine area, peaceful and
reflective. The stillness of the water in the well and the sound
of the bubbling water below as it passes under the arch erected
over two ancient stones makes for a rather beautiful place. A
pattern is observed here every 1st February and many events
take place in the churches and in the town of Kildare around
this date. Events are usually posted on the towns website.

 A tree planted in hope

This well is supposed to have a little fish. Lady Gregory, co-
founder with W. B. Yeats of the Abbey Theatre and renowned
folklorist, records a story of a mother whose daughter began
to lose weight just before she reached puberty. The child very
quickly became seriously ill and her mother fretted greatly and
prayed most fervently. She decided in desperation, that she
would find somewhere a place that would bring healing to her
daughter. She endeavoured to bring her ailing child to Saint
Brigid’s well and as she prayed over the face of the wells waters
she saw a little fish and knew in that instant that her prayers
had been answered. The child took some of the waters and was

 Rags tied to the tree above the well

The idea of a fish in a well as a sign of God’s presence or as a
visitation of God is rather peculiar to Irish Christianity of that
early period. Of course, the fish was the principle Christian
symbol in the early period of Christianity - a much more
dominant symbol than the cross, so it is hardly surprising that
in early Irish Christian tales of the presence of God or of visit-
ations from God that the visions are of fish and not of a cross.
Later – although not much later it must be said – the cross
becomes the dominant symbol of Christianity throughout Ire-
land  and when saints have visitations of God it is sometimes 
accompanied by visions of a cross. Today at the well you will 
certainly see many crosses; perhaps if you are lucky you will 
see a little fish and enjoy the healing peace of this place.

The well waters

Brigit Bé Bithmaith

Bright, eternally good lady,
Golden sparkling flame,
May she lead us to the eternal kingdom,
The dazzling shining sun!

May Brigit deliver us
Past throngs of devils;
may she rout before us
the temptations of each attack.

The dear true virgin
Of immense honour,
I shall always be safe
With my saint from Leinster.

A portion of Saint Ultan’s ‘Hymn to Saint Brigit’, translated by 
Stokes & Strachan in 1901.

How to find it:
From the town head out past the Roman Catholic parish
towards the National Stud, traversing the motorway. After
passing the gates to the National Stud on your left, take the
first turn to the right and the well is signposted to the left,
down the lane.