Irish or not, most of us know that we honor the Christian missionary, St. Patrick, on March 17. However, there is another Celtic saint whose celebration occurs on February 1. Her name is Brigid, and she is considered one of the greatest saints in the Celtic church.
She was born in the Fifth Century. Her father was a local chieftain named Dubtach. Her mother was a slave named Brocseach. Shortly before she was born, dad sold mom to a druid priest. Her mother was a Christian, and there is evidence that Brigid herself was baptized at an early age by St. Patrick. Living as a follower of Christ within a pagan household would certainly have been a challenge.
Around the age of ten, Brigid’s father brought the girl back into his court, but Dubtach soon regretted it. Brigid, moved by Christian compassion, began giving away the chieftain’s food and goods to the poor. The chieftain was so exasperated that he tried to marry Brigid at the age of fourteen to a local nobleman. Brigid, however, stubbornly refused and vowed to become a nun. Her father finally relented.
As with many of the Celtic saints, Brigid founded a Christian community. Celtic society and the Christian Church definitely allowed women more opportunities for leadership and service than the culture of the Roman Empire, but Brigid went well beyond her peers. She was a determined woman of energy, wisdom, faith, and love. The monastic community she founded in Kildare was made of both men and women, and she was the one in leadership. That rarely happened.
There is a legend that when she took the vows to become a nun, the Holy Spirit intervened, and the rite for the ordination of a bishop was read. When the error was noted, that a woman could not be a bishop, the presiding bishop declared, “No power have I in this matter. That dignity has been given by God unto Brigid, beyond every woman.”
Over the years, Brigid has been associated with a cross that is woven from rushes. The story is that a local chieftain was delirious and dying, and his servants brought Brigid to comfort the old man. As she spoke, she shared the only comfort that she had. She told the story of Jesus, his life, his suffering, his death, and his resurrection. To illustrate the point, she picked up the rushes from the floor and began to weave a cross. Because of the cross of Christ, we need not be afraid.
If we live in Christ, we have works of service and love to be done. If we die in Christ, we have the blessing of eternal life. As Paul said, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
The old chieftain was so comforted that he became a Christian that day and was baptized shortly before he died. Some versions of the story suggest that this man was, in fact, Dubtach, her father. The gospel of Jesus Christ can inspire a woman to offer compassion to a man who rejected her and her mother and sold them both into slavery. Brigid was a woman of uncommon grace and forgiveness. Through God, she did amazing things. May it be said of us as well.
Grace & Peace,