February 2008 - St. Brigit
St. Brigit of Kildare c. 460-525
Celebrated on February 8th
As with many popular saints, St. Brigit's (sometimes spelled Bridget) life story has become so romanticized by legend that it is difficult to sort out her biographical data but some edifying facts are known. Her traditional birthplace is in Ulster around the year 460. As a teenager, Brigit became a nun and entered a monastery in County Kildare ("Church of the Oak"). She built one church that was used jointly by a monastery of men and by Brigit's monastery for women. The men were headed by St. Conleth, who was both abbot and bishop. Brigit seems in some sense to have been the head of both the men's and the women's monasteries. At any events, she had the status of superior of all the women's convents in Ireland.
The monastery of Kildare became a center of learning. As abbess, Brigit founded a school of art noted for its metal work and the copying of manuscripts. The "Book of Kildare," now lost, is said to have been a most splendid illuminated manuscript of the Gospels.
St. Brigit was also a missionary. She often went from Kildare on works of charity. She became well-known throughout Ireland, and well-recognized for her good deeds. The respect in which she was held is expressed in the lyric Irish lines of the "Book of Lismore." "It is she that helped every one who is in straits and in danger; it is she that abated the pestilences; it is she that quelled the rage and storm of the sea. She is the prophetess of Christ; she is the Queen of the North; she is the Mary of the Gaels."
If the legendary lore of St. Brigit obscures her biographical facts, at least it has recorded such lovely stories as the one about the saint and a blind nun named Dara.
"One evening, as the sun went down, Brigid sat with Sister Dara, a holy nun who was blind, and they talked of the love of Jesus Christ and the joys of Paradise. Then the sun came up from behind the Wicklow Mountains, and the pure white light made the face of earth bright. Then Brigit sighed when she saw how lovely the earth and sky were, and knew that Dara's eyes were closed to all this beauty. So Brigit prayed to God, and then touched the sightless eyes of Sister Dara. Dara was cured, and was able to look at the sun, the trees and flowers `glittering with dew in the morning light.'
Sister Dara looked on for a while, charmed by the vision. But then she turned to the abbess and said, "Close my eyes again, dear Mother, for when the world is so visible to the eyes, God is seen less clearly to the soul." The saint understood. So she prayed to God once more, and Dara's eyes grew dark again."
It is easy to see in this story itself why the Irish so reverenced the "Mary of the Gaels."