There are three Saints to whom Ireland has given her patronage, St.Patrick, St. Columba and St. Brigid.
And today, in Ireland, along with certain other parts of the English-speaking world, we celebrate the Feast of St. Brigid – which in the Irish language is called Lá Fhéile Bhríde.
St. Brigid was born in Ulster circa 450 and died around 525. Her remains lie with St. Patrick and St. Columba in Downpatrick, County Down.
When Roger and I visited this holy site, we were asked if we had brought any reeds with us. For we live in County Tyrone, where there grows a particular reed, specially selected for making the St.Brigid’s Cross.
Legend has it that out of charity, St. Brigid served a sick pagan chieftan, as his nurse. During the night, whilst the man slept, Brigid made a simple cross from some reeds on the floor.
When the chieftan awoke he noticed the cross and asked of its significance. St. Brigid told him of our Lord’s way to Calvary. This made such an impression on him that he was converted to the faith and his health was restored.
And here in County Tyrone, preparations for the Feast of St. Brigid have been in full swing.
The school across the road from our house is dedicated to the Saint. And the children there have been busy singing songs to St. Brigid and transforming the Tyrone reed into St. Brigid’s Crosses.
They will be blessed at Holy Mass today and people will place them in their homes or barns for blessings and protection.
So who is St. Brigid?
Sadly, much of her history has been buried in folklore and superstition. But, according to tradition, she was the daughter of an Irish chieftan and a slave, both baptised by St. Patrick.
Having committed herself to God, she made a small cell beneath an oak tree, where she lived a holy life of prayer.
Again, according to tradition, she received the veil from St. Mel, nephew and disciple of St. Patrick.
Her holiness attracted other virgins, who gathered around her. Soon there were many cells beneath the oak tree. This was the very site of the religious community she established. The place was named Kildare, meaning ‘cell of the oak’.
St. Brigid became Abbess of the community at Kildare and many other such communities began to spring up about the country.
Kildare became distinguished not only for its spirituality, but also as a centre of learning. Hence the Saint is sometimes depicted holding a book.
Statues of the Saint also depict her holding a church, which represents her role as founder of this first community of sisters in the country.
And she is often seen carrying a croisier, due to her position as first Abbess in Ireland.
In images painted of her, she is often seen with animals. For it is believed she has a special affinity with the animal kingdom. People pray to her for the care of their flocks and herds.
Many miracles have been attributed to St. Brigid and she holds a very special place in the hearts of the Irish people, who call her ‘Mary of the Gael’.
As Patroness of Ireland, let us pray to St. Brigid today for the preservation of the faith in Ireland.
St. Brigid, pray for us.