Saint Brigid was born in the year 451 AD in Faughart, County Louth. Her father, Dubtach, was a chieftain of Leinster and her mother, Brocca, a Christian Pict who had been baptised by Saint Patrick and was a slave in Dubtach’s household.
Grew up as a slave Christian girl, Brigid was noted for her generosity to the poor. She loved the poor and would often bring food and clothing to them. One day she gave away a whole pail of butter, and then began to worry about what her mother would say. She prayed to the Lord to make up for what she had given away. Fortunately her prayers were answered. When she got home, her pail was full!
As a very pretty young girl, and her father thought that it was time for her to marry. She, however, had given herself entirely to God when she was very small, and she would not think of marrying anyone. When she learned that her beauty was the reason for the attentions of so many young men, she prayed fervently to God to take it from her. She wanted to belong to Him alone. God granted her prayer. Seeing that his daughter was no longer pretty, her father gladly agreed when Brigid asked to become a Nun.
Around 480, with seven other young women robed in white, she took her vows before Saint Mel, the abbot and bishop of Longford. Brigid founded a monastery at Kildare (Cill Dara, “church of the oak”), under a large oak tree on the ridge of Drum Criadh. Brigid, with an initial group of seven companions, is credited with organizing communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland. For centuries, Kildare was ruled by a double line of abbot-bishops and of abbesses, the Abbess of Kildare being regarded as superior general of the monasteries in Ireland. Her successors have always been accorded Episcopal honour. Brigid’s small oratory at Kildare became a center of religion and learning, and developed into a cathedral city.
Brigid became the first Religious in Ireland and founded a convent so that other young girls might become Nuns. When she consecrated herself to God, a miracle happened. She became very beautiful again! Brigid made people think of the Blessed Mother because she was so pure and sweet, so lovely and gentle. They called her the “Mary of the Irish.”
Many miracles of healing are attributed to Brigid, such as curing Iepers and giving speech to the dumb. There are tales of her turning water into ale or stone into salt, and many concern her rapport with animals. She also negotiated the release of captives. Perhaps the best known story is of her visit to a dying pagan chieftain. While she prayed, she plaited rushes into a cross. The chieftain heard her account of the cross as a Christian symbol, and was converted and baptised before he died. It is still customary on 1 February to plait Saint Brigid’s Crosses, in the hope that they will protect a household in the year ahead.
Brigid has been called “Mary of the Gaels” and a common salutation in the Irish language expresses the hope that “Brigid and Mary be with you”. Her influence is not confined to Ireland, however, for she has been revered throughout the ages in innumerable countries. One legend is that the medieval Knights of Chivalry chose Saint Brigid as their patroness, and that it was they who first chose to call their wives “brides”.