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Brigid: Mary of the Gael

and triple goddess of light, healing and fire

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Brigid's Cross

O! Brigid, Mary of the Gael, may thy protection never fail,

Spread they mantle over me where’er I pass, where’er I be.

 

In weather foul, or weather fair keep me in they loving care,

‘til I rest my journey’s o’er, with God and thee for evermore.

– An old Irish prayer

Ireland's second and lesser known matron saint is Brigid. She is the patroness of women, poets, and Ireland, among many other wonderful things.

 

Her name is also variously spelled as Brigid, Bridget, Bridgit, Bríd, and Bride and she is sometimes known as Mary of the Gael. Her feast day is celebrated on February 1 (Lá Fhéile Bríde).

 

Irish hagiography makes her an early Irish Christian nun, abbess, and founder of several monasteries of nuns, including that of Kildare in Ireland, which was considered legendary and was highly revered.

 

As an abbess she had jurisdiction over a double monastery of men and women – a centre of learning and culture that kept the perpetual light of knowledge burning through ages that would have been very dark otherwise.

 

She also may have been the Christian face of the Celtic goddess of abundance and fire, a spirit-driven bridge between Eire’s Druidic past and its Catholic present.

 

Ages before her feast day in the Calendar of Saints, February 1 was celebrated by the Celts as Imbolc, the inauguration of the spring season of lambing and of cattle coming into milk.

 

Imbolc means “in the belly,” a reference to the ewes’ bellies full to bursting with pregnancy. Brigid’s association with nature is certainly an inheritance from Ireland’s pagan past.

 

Of the many miracles attributed to St. Brigid, the most notable are those connected with fertility and abundance and hospitality – increasing the yield of milk in times of drought, making butter churns overflow.

 

Her foundation at Kildare (in Irish, Cill Dara, “church of the oak”) was built under an oak tree sacred to the Druids, next to a holy well to which women had long come asking for deliverance from barrenness.