St. Brigid of Ireland

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St. Brigid lived in the era when traditional Irish religion was giving way to the formal institution of Christianity. Her very name was that of a Celtic sun goddess in ancient times. As best as can be known, Brigid was born into slavery and was baptized in her childhood by St. Patrick. She was granted her freedom when it proved impossible to curb her enthusiasm for giving alms. Brigid became a nun and ultimately abbess of Kildare, a double monastery consisting of both men and women. Through her fame as a spiritual teacher the abbey became a center for pilgrims. So great was her authority that she even induced a bishop to join her community and to share her leadership.  

The themes of generosity and compassion feature in many miracles attributed to Brigid, whose only desire was “to satisfy the poor, to expel every hardship, to spare every miserable man.” One time “she supplied beer out of one barrel to eighteen churches.” On another occasion she encountered a leprous woman asking for milk, but “there being none at hand she gave her cold water, but the water was turned into milk, and when she had drunk it the woman was healed.”  

In St. Brigid, the Irish people found a repository for primeval religious memories of the maternal face of God. She became known as “The Mary of the Gael.”  

“I would like a great lake of beer for the King of the kings; I would like the people of heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.”  

—St. Brigid 

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.