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“Mary of the Gaels”

Saint Brigid

Feast day: Feb. 1

Patron saint of: Ireland, poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives and newborn babies

Canonized: pre-congregation

Meaning of name: Brigid comes from the Irish “Brighid,” meaning “exalted one.”

Claim to fame: Brigid was probably born near Dundalk in County Louth. Her parents were baptized by St. Patrick, with whom she developed a close friendship.She was inspired by the preaching of St. Patrick from an early age.Despite her father’s opposition, she was determined to enter religious life. Numerous stories testify to her piety. She had a generous heart and could never refuse the poor who came to her father’s door. Her charity angered her father; he thought she was being overly generous to the poor and needy when she dispensed his milk and flour. When she finally gave away his jewel-encrusted sword to a leper, her father realized that Brigid was best suited to be a nun and allowed her to enter a convent. In 470, she founded Kildare Abbey, a double monastery for nuns and monks on the plains of Cill-Dara, “the church of the oak.”As its abbess, she built it into a center of learning and spirituality.She also founded a school of art at Kildare and its illuminated manuscripts became famous, notably the Book of Kildare, which was praised as one of the finest of all illuminated Irish manuscripts before its disappearance three centuries ago.

Why she is a saint: Like St. Patrick, Brigid traveled throughout Ireland Christianizing and establishing monasteries. She lived a chaste and devout life. Hersanctity drew many people to her monasteries. Numerous miracles are attributed to St. Brigid – many about food. It was recorded that if she gave a drink of water to a thirsty stranger, the liquid turned into milk; when she sent a barrel of beer to one Christian community, it would satisfy 17 more. She had a deep devotion to the Virgin Mary and often wore blue. At an Irish synod, a priest recalled a vision in which the Blessed Virgin presented herself before the assembly. When Brigid walked into the gathering, appearing like the vision of Mary, she was called “Mary of the Gael.” Next to St. Patrick, she is Ireland’s most beloved saint.

Best quote: When her father questioned her about her alms giving, she said, “If I had all thy wealth, I would give it to the poor, for giving to the poor is giving to the Lord of the universe.”

How she died: Brigid died at the age of 70, on Feb. 1, 525, after a long and productive life in the service of others. She was buried in a tomb to the right of the high altar in Kildare Cathedral.