St. Brigid is the female patron saint of Ireland. She was born in the middle of the 5th century during an era of great change in Irish history, the beginning of Christianity. She was actually born into a pagan community and converted to Christianity. So both her life and her legacy spanned periods of religious change.
Many of the stories and legends associated with St Brigid date to the earlier goddess Brigit/Brigantia; St. Brigid’s feast day of the 1st of February falls on the same date as the pagan Imbolc festival that marks the beginning of Spring.
Coming from a family with many Brigids (grandmother, aunt, cousins) and living and teaching in Kildare where she founded her famous monastery, it was difficult not to have an interest in this lady.
Many of the miracles attributed to St. Brigid took place around Kildare town which became an important place of pilgrimage from the Early Medieval Period. There is still a focus on pilgrimage in Kildare today. That legacy is particularly embodied within St. Brigid’s Cathedral in the heart of Kildare town and at the more newly established Brigidine Solas Bhríde Centre, located on the outskirts of the town.
And so we come to this year’s particular celebration of ‘Brigid 1500’ as we look at Brigid, the woman and her the life and legacy in a broad and rich way. The main aim of ‘Brigid 1500’ is to appeal to a diverse contemporary audience and engage them in meaningful way with the ‘Brigid’ story and heritage. It is hoped also to provide a relevant link with the past and with Brigid’s own values of faith and spirituality, biodiversity and sustainability, arts and culture, social justice, peace, hospitality and education. The ‘Brigid 1500’ programme comprises of initiatives including festivals, concerts, talks, art commissions, illuminations, pilgrimages, and craft workshops.
Brigid around the world
It was interesting for me as a child to see that Brigid was recognised around the world. There were many churches dedicated to her across “the British Isles” some of them relating to stories that she travelled there as a holy lady but others relating to the pagan goddess.
However, I only realised this year with a planned visit to New Orleans, that Brigid features in the voodoo culture of New Orleans as Maman Brigitte. Voodoo is a cross cultural religion which supposedly developed in the Caribbean around the 18th Century at the height of the slave trade. Maman Brigitte, sometimes symbolised by a black rooster, is the only goddess whose did not originate in Africa; she is probably a blend of cultures and beliefs of enslaved people from Africa and indentured servants from Ireland. She was associated closely with death and cemeteries. Like our Brigid, she was also known to be a powerful healer and a protector of women.