St. Brigid

From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

« start... Chapter IX. ...continued

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It would appear from a stanza in the Four Masters, that St. Brigid had some prophetic intimation or knowledge of one of the battles fought by Muircheartach. Her name is scarcely less famous for miracles than that of the great apostle. Broccan's Hymn [5] contains allusions to a very great number of these supernatural favours. Many of these marvels are of a similar nature to those which the saints have been permitted to perform in all ages of the Church's history.

Brigid belonged to an illustrious family, who were lineally descended from Eochad, a brother of Conn of the Hundred Battles. She was born at Fochard, near Dundalk, about the year 453, where her parents happened to be staying at the time; but Kildare was their usual place of residence, and there the holy virgin began her saintly career. In her sixteenth year she received the white cloak and religious veil, which was then the distinctive garment of those who were specially dedicated to Christ, from the hands of St. Macaille, the Bishop of Usneach, in Westmeath. Eight young maidens of noble birth took the veil with her. Their first residence was at a place in the King's county, still called Brigidstown. The fame of her sanctity now extended far and wide, and she was earnestly solicited from various parts of the country to found similar establishments. Her first mission was to Munster, at the request of Erc, the holy Bishop of Slane, who had a singular respect for her virtue. Soon after, she founded a house of her order in the plain of Cliach, near Limerick; but the people of Leinster at last became fearful of losing their treasure, and sent a deputation requesting her return, and offering land for the foundation of a large nunnery. Thus was established, in 483, the famous Monastery of Kildare, or the Church of the Oak.

At the request of the saint, a bishop was appointed to take charge of this important work; and under the guidance of Conlaeth, who heretofore had been a humble anchorite, it soon became distinguished for its sanctity and usefulness. The concourse of strangers and pilgrims was immense; and in the once solitary plain one of the largest cities of the time soon made its appearance. It is singular and interesting to remark, how the call to a life of virginity was felt and corresponded with in the newly Christianized country, even as it had been in the Roman Empire, when it also received the faith. Nor is it less noticeable how the same safeguards and episcopal rule preserved the foundations of each land in purity and peace, and have transmitted even to our own days, in the same Church, and in it only, that privileged life.

The Four Masters give her obituary under the year 525. According to Cogitosus, one of her biographers, her remains were interred in her own church. Some authorities assert that her relics were removed to Down, when Kildare was ravaged by the Danes, about the year 824.

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[5] Broccan's Hymn.—This Hymn was written about A.D. 510. See the translation in Mr. Whitley Stokes' Goidilica, Calcutta, 1866. Privately printed.


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