Life Story of St. Bridget
Bridget is (also spelled as Brigid)
450 – 525 A.D.
St. Bridget was probably born in a small Irish village named Faughart about the year 450 A.D. St. Patrick, with whom she developed a close friendship, baptized her parents. According to legend, Bridget’s father was an Irish chieftain of Leinster, named Dubhthach, and her mother, Brocca, was a slave at his court. Even as a young girl, Bridget showed an inclination to the religious life and as a youth took her first vows from St. Macaille at Croghan. She was probably officially professed as a nun by St. Mel of Armagh. It is also believed that he conferred on her the authority to establish a religious order and be its abbess. She settled with seven other nuns at the foot of the Croghan Hill, and then about the year 468 A.D., followed St. Mel to the city of Meath.
About the year 470 A.D., Bridget founded both a monastery and convent at Cill-Dara [translated Kildare] and was abbess of the convent, the first of its kind in Ireland. She built her room, called a cell, under a large oak tree, and thus derives the name of her convent: Cill-Dara [cell of the oak]. The convent developed into a center of learning and spirituality, while around the convent developed the cathedral city of Kildare. Bridget founded a school of art at Kildare and its illuminated manuscripts became famous, notably the ” Book of Kildare.” This book, which was praised as one of the finest of all illuminated Irish manuscripts, disappeared three centuries ago, when England invaded Ireland and killed thousands of Irish Catholics and destroyed many Irish treasures and buildings.
Bridget was one of the most remarkable women of her time, and despite the numerous legendary, often extravagant, and even fantastic miracles attributed to her, there is no doubt of her extraordinary spirituality, her boundless charity and compassion for those in distress. She died at Kildare on February 1, 525 A.D. This is also the traditional date of her feast day. Called “Mary of the Gael,” she is buried at Downpatrick, Ireland with two other great Irish saints: St. Patrick and St. Columba. She shares the title “Patron of Ireland” with St. Patrick.
[Adapted from the Dictionary of the Saints, John J. Delaney, Doubleday & Company, Inc., New York, 1980, page 120]
Other biographies of St. Bridget tell us that as she sat beside her dying father, she was meditating and began weaving a cross, made from the river ” rushes” [thatch growing along the banks of the River Shannon].
Rushes was the common floor material that covered an Irish home. Her father saw the cross and asked her to explain its meaning. After Bridget explained the cross’ significance, her father wanted to join the Church and was baptized by St. Patrick before he died. Today, people place a “St. Bridget Cross” in their homes and farm buildings believing that, with their faith, it protects them and their animals from evil and deprivation.
In Ireland, the festival of St. Bridget was celebrated on February 1. [It was sometimes confused with another St. Bridget, Bridget of Sweden, whose feast is July 23]. On February 1, a family would kill a sheep. They would share the meat, along with milk and butter with neighbors and especially any less fortunate of the area. This was done to carry on the tradition Bridget started, of sharing one’s bounty with the poor. It was also a custom to place a cake on one of the outside windowsills. This was meant as nourishment for Bridget as she made her rounds throughout the country. A sheaf of corn was offered for Bridget’s white cow, which according to legend always accompanied her on her charitable rounds.