Category Archives: St. Brigid’s Day

Happy St. Brigid’s Day!

One Legend

There are so many stories of St. Brigid that I love (hint: you’ll find many of them retold in my novel, Brigid of Ireland). But I thought I’d talk about just one today, the story of Brigid and her mother. I wonder if this is where Disney got some its ideas. It’s an ancient story of a girl who longs for the mother she never had due to some cruel circumstances.

Born a Slave

Brigid’s mother was her father’s slave. Her father’s wife did not like it that her husband had impregnated his slave, so Brigid’s mother, Brocca, was sold to a druid while she was still expecting. Brigid’s father was cunning, however, and not about to sell two slaves for the price of one. Part of the transaction was the requirement that when born, the baby had to return to him. That is how Brigid came to grow up without a mother.

Not a Model Servant

St. Brigid mosaic at St. Patrick’s cathedral in Armagh.

Brigid is said to have become a Christian because of the teaching of Patrick. Most historians believe the two saints’ lives did not overlap, so it’s probable she was converted by his followers. Brigid had a heart for the poor. In that time, you were either a self-sustained property owner—as her father was, also known as a minor king—a slave, or part of the royal house. Without any of those things, you were a wanderer living in the woods, begging when you could, hunting and foraging for your food. There were plenty of needy people around. Brigid always gave to them. The problem was, what she gave away did not belong to her. Now, it’s said that whatever she gave away was miraculously restored, but despite that, her father grew weary of her generous ways. He decided to put her into the service of the King of Leinster.

Her Father’s Sword

Photo by Ricardo Cruz on Unsplash

While waiting in the chariot alone as her father went to seek an audience with the king, Brigid encountered another beggar. Being away from her dairy, she looked around the rig to see what she might give. The glint of metal caught her eye. Under a blanket lay her father’s sword. Not an ordinary weapon, this sword had a hilt encrusted with dazzling jewels. No matter. It was the only thing available. While she was handing the sword to the beggar, Brigid’s father and the king emerged from the castle.

“You see? You see why I have to get rid of her?” her father said.

The king nodded. Being wise, as kings tend to be, the king approached Brigid and asked her to explain herself. She waved an arm toward the king’s bountiful fields and hearty cattle, and said, “If I had all this, King, this is what I would give away to those who have nothing to eat and nowhere to lay their heads.”

The king felt humbled by her answer. (Perhaps even chastised.) He declared that this special woman should not be enslaved. Instead, he granted her her freedom. That sounds great, right? But, if you look at what I said about the social structure of ancient Ireland, you’ll realize that life would have been easier for Brigid if she had remained a slave. She does want to find her mother, though. This is where I began my novel, Brigid of Ireland.

Still a Giver

Now having nothing, Brigid continued to give. And as time went on, she continued to be the hands and feet of Jesus. This kind of example inspires me. I hope she inspires you as well.

Brigid of Ireland by Cindy Thomson, ebook

Book One, Daughters of Ireland

On the Eve of St. Brigid’s Day

Tomorrow is St. Brigid’s Day, but today, the eve, is the day traditionally that St. Brigid crosses are made. How they are made and how they are used varies by region in Ireland. I’ve talked a lot about this in The Roots of Irish Wisdom.

St. Brigid's Cross

I admit, I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to making these crosses. The one above really should have a tighter center, but it gives you the idea if you’ve never seen one.

School children make them in Ireland. If only we had access to reeds like those growing in Ireland, the ones we make here in Ohio would be prettier.

Here’s one description of how they are made. http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/1Kids/MakingBrigdXs.html

What Does it Mean?

Legend is that Brigid wove one of these crosses while explaining Jesus’ sacrifice to dying a pagan. Rushes or reeds were spread on the floors of houses back then to provide cushion like a carpet. So, she just reached down and grabbed some and wove this as she spoke. Of course, the dying man was converted because of this.

But why weave them? Where are they hung?

Well, again, many answers. They were hung above the cottage door or the barn door to ask for protection from fire or just general protection. A new one was woven and placed there and the hold one burned, or the old was buried in the garden, or it was placed in the cattle’s trough. OR…it remained in the roof and a new one added each year, thus revealing the age of the dwelling. As I said, it varied.

What Does St. Brigid’s Day Mean?

The beginning of spring in Ireland, the beginning of lambing season, the beginning of fishing season. The day aligns with the change of season, this one in the ancient Celtic calendar was Imbolc. (Learn more here.)

But it’s also a good time to learn about St. Brigid and her lasting influence.

Other Uses of the Cross

I have one (not a real one) hanging in my car. It was a gift from a friend who is no longer with us. Some people hang them in other places in their house. Wherever it’s a reminder of this saint and her example, is good. No rules.

I have a St. Brigid’s cross necklace. I often see folks at the Irish festivals wearing them.

It’s unique shape makes it distinctive. Once you are aware of it, you may start noticing it.

I won’t have time to make a cross this eve, but I make them often with groups of people, usually with pipe cleaners because that’s an easy way to learn. Have you made a St. Brigid’s cross?

Brigid of Ireland by Cindy Thomson, ebook

Book One, Daughters of Ireland

Why St. Brigid Matters

Brigid of Ireland by Cindy Thomson, ebook

Book One, Daughters of Ireland

Research

People are interested in St. Brigid: who she was, what she did…

Not long ago I got a call from a BBC1 researcher. She wanted to ask about St. Brigid because I’d written a book on her. The show she was researching for was exploring offering something a little different for St. Patrick’s Day. Some might find it odd that a “researcher” was consulting a fiction writer, but writing historical fiction requires research. For this book it was not only historical details about what life was like in the 5th century, but also legends and the beliefs of people today. We had a great talk. She asked me twice if I had plans to come to the UK. Oh, I wish. Hopefully in the future!

St. Brigid Stained Glass in Ireland

Lingering Interest

It’s not 100%, but more often than not when I make appearances, I sell more copies of Brigid of Ireland than my other titles. I’ve heard people comment about how hard it is to find anything on  Ireland’s female patron saint. There are schools and churches named for her, but there remains a mystique surrounding Brigid. I know some, especially nuns, are interested in the story that Brigid was consecrated as a bishop (something the church would not allow today) Other than that, I’m not sure why people are so intrigued (I know why I am. I’ll get to that in a moment.) If you have ideas, please leave a comment.

Fact or Fiction/Faith or Folly?

I’ll always remember a discussion that ensued at a talk I gave many years ago at the Milwaukee Irish Festival. Was Brigid real and a saint or was she really a goddess and the church made up the saint to appease the pagans and convince them to accept the faith? It was not a discussion I was trying to have, but rather one that came up in audience questions. The stage manager was insisting that she was a goddess and never real. A few Catholic women in the audience were saying that she IS real because they pray to her every night. (And the Protestants were aghast at that!) I mentioned this to the BBC researcher and told her that Americans in particular seem to want proof for everything, And that’s missing the point. What do the stories tell us? What is there in them that we need desperately to apply to our own lives? (And for the record, Brigid may have real and just named after the popular goddess. And for hundreds of years the legends about both saint and goddess got intertwined. That’s my feeling, anyway.)

Why She Mattered to Me

A question I often get is why did I decide to write a story about Brigid. My own father asked me that question. I don’t know if my answer satisfied him or if it satisfies anyone else either, but here it is.

Many years ago I was at the Dublin (Ohio) Irish Festival in the cultural area. There was a table set up with information on St. Brigid. The stories intrigued me but I had to leave before I learned very much. So I went home and starting reading all I could find on St. Brigid. Then I decided to write a book of short stories (fiction). Turns out that was a lame idea, and someone suggested I write a novel instead. I did, as you know.

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

But, as the BBC researcher asked me, did Brigid perhaps intrigue me because her story was so different than what I learned about in the church I was raised in? I think so. Yes, there are women in the Bible that are worthy of study, but Brigid was a leader in the church in her day. She performed miracles. She was incredibly generous. She lived out the Great Commission, and had a huge influence. I wanted to know more about what that looked like, and also what Celtic Christianity was about. (Hint: it’s not about paganism: https://celticvoices.blogspot.com/2007/11/does-celtic-pagan-evil.html )

Here is a wonderful synopsis that explains the significance of Brigid’s legacy from Solas Bhride http://solasbhride.ie/the-story-of-brigid/

Remember

I think that’s our calling. Learn from the past, and Brigid is a good example to follow. What do you think?

 

Happy St. Brigid’s Day! (and a giveaway!)

The drawing is over. Robyn was the winner. Thanks for your entries!St. Brigid Stained Glass in IrelandWhy St. Brigid?

I got interested in her long ago. That’s why I wrote my first published novel about her. Wow, it’s been 12 years this March! Today is St. Brigid’s Day!

How I’m Celebrating

I decided to post on Facebook seven of my favorite things about St. Brigid, one of three patron saints of Ireland. I hope you’ll follow. You can find the posts on my Facebook author page here: www.facebook.com/cindyswriting I’ll be posting links to blog articles I’ve written in past years on things like her special cross, her incredible generosity, her connection to spring, and more!

Her Legends Live On

Brigid of Ireland by Cindy Thomson, ebook

Ebook, Book One, Daughters of Ireland

The fact is, there are a lot of people like me who are fascinated by the stories of St. Brigid. Brigid of Ireland is still finding an audience even 12 years later. That fact blesses me beyond belief. I hope you’ll want to learn more. She’s had an influence on all my books in one way or another. Have you noticed? If so, please comment and tell me how. You’ll be entered into a drawing for a wee St. Brigid’s charm! (If you live beyond the U.S., you can still win but will have to pay for postage.) Drawing will be held Feb. 8 and winner must contact me in 24 hours.

Blessings to you!

Saint Brigid of Ireland

Happy St. Brigid’s Day!

Brigid of Ireland by Cindy Thomson, ebookFebruary 1, St. Brigid’s Day, Imbolc in the Celtic calendar, and Ground Hog’s Day (Feb. 2) in the U.S., are associated with the arrival of spring. It certainly feels like spring where I am, although that might not last.

As you might know, the Irish saint Brigid is special to me. Many years ago I began to learn about her, and I thought I should tell people what I learned. Eventually this led to my historical novel. Last year I published a Kindle version. It was only available on Kindle but I will soon change that to make it available in other book formats as well. I have updated the Kindle file with better formatting, which I hope will be available by the time you read this. If you’ve already purchased it, you should be able to go upload the new updated version. Same text, just looks better. And this summer the sequel, Pages of Ireland, should be available in both print and ebook.

Why Brigid is Special

For me, it’s all the stories of her amazing generosity. The miraculous way God restored her goods–the items she gave to the poor–so that she and her followers never went without. The fact that she was born a slave and became the most venerated woman in ancient Irish history.

There are three patron saints of Ireland: Patrick, Brigid, and Columcille. She’s the only woman. And her cross? I had never seen anything quite like it before, and the story behind it intrigued me. Traditionally, school children in Ireland weave a new St. Brigid’s Day cross on this day. The cross has an odd shape, at least to the non Irish. Some say it’s shaped like a wheel and indicates the four seasons.

St. Brigid's Cross

Learn More About St. Brigid

Here are some links to previous blog posts I’ve written on St. Brigid. I’d love to hear what you think.

St. Brigid Stained Glass in Ireland

St. Brigid (center) window in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, Northern Ireland

Happy St. Brigid’s Day!, 2011

Happy St. Brigid’s Day, 2012

St. Brigid’s Eve (How to Weave a St. Brigid’s Cross)

St. Brigid’s Day, 2010 (Brigid’s Oat Bread recipe)

One Legend About St. Brigid

About That Sequel, Here’s a Sneak Peek!

“I am Brigid, Abbess of Cill Dara. We welcome you, traveler. You come without a torch, so we assume you seek sanctuary here. You have found it.”

Aine hadn’t realized she had been holding her breath until that moment.

Lowering the cowl from her head, the woman’s hair flowed freely in the night air.

“’Tis you, Brigid! I knew it!”

Brigid clutched the arm of the woman standing next to her as she spoke to Aine. “God be with you, child. There is welcome here for you.” She narrowed her eyes to gaze in the dim light. “Do I know you?”

“I do not blame you for not remembering. I was just a girl when you healed me on the road to Aghade. We learned to read together, remember? My Uncle Cillian taught us.”

Brigid brought a hand to her mouth. By the light of the torch held by one of Cill Dara’s sisters, Aine detected tears forming at the corners of Brigid’s eyes.

“Aine? You are so grown up now.” Brigid reached for the girl and gave her a tight squeeze.

A Giveaway to Prepare for St. Brigid’s Day!

In honor of the upcoming St. Brigid’s Day, I thought I’d host a Goodreads giveaway for a print copy of Brigid of Ireland. Please share!

Get ready for St. Brigid's Day with this Goodreads giveaway: http://wp.me/p5bkeC-iR Click To Tweet

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Brigid of Ireland by Cindy Thomson

Brigid of Ireland

by Cindy Thomson

Giveaway ends February 04, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Getting Ready for St. Brigid’s Day

Tired of winter?

Don’t worry. Soon it will be St. Brigid’s Day.

Brigid of Ireland by Cindy Thomson, ebookIn many parts of Ireland St. Brigid’s Day signifies the beginning of spring. Similar to Ground Hog’s Day, folks would look for signs that warmer weather was coming. Count the hedgehogs you see. Note the new lambs being born. Return to your fishing boat. It’s St. Brigid’s Day!

Why St. Brigid?

I’m often asked how I got interested in St. Brigid. The answer is in her stories—or rather the stories told about her. Unlike St. Patrick who left some of his writings for prosperity, the stories about the life of St. Brigid were written at least a hundred years after her death. But they still make fascinating reading, even when you take into account that monks often wrote these as a kind of propaganda—our saint is better than your saint so you pilgrims should come to Kildare to spend your coins and trade your goods for blessings and sacred inspiration.

Hmmm. Maybe this was a type of storytelling competition. I would give the upper hand to Cogitosus, the monk at Kildare who wrote The Life of St. Brigit the Virgin and to the fifteenth century scribe of Beatha Bhrighdi (The Life of Brigid) found in the Leabhar Breac (The Speckled Book.)

A Story or Two About Brigid

Some brief examples:

From the Leabhar Breac on Brigid’s birth:

“The prophet said that the child that would be brought forth on the morrow at sunrise, and neither within the house nor without, shall surpass every child in Ireland.”

Apparently, Brigid’s mother gave birth to her as she was coming in from the morning’s milking. She slipped on the threshold, fell, and right there Brigid was born, just as the prophet had predicted: neither inside nor outside the house.

In my book, Celtic Wisdom: Treasures From Ireland, I recount the legend of Brigid and her father’s cherished sword. Apparently Brigid had been so generous with the poor that her father decided he could no longer afford to keep her. He decided to put her into the King of Leinster’s service.

St. Brigid mural

Mural at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh showing St. Brigid and the King of Leinster

Dubthach took Brigid in his chariot and traveled to the castle. He bid her to stay put outside while he inquired of the king. While he was gone, a beggar happened by. Being away from the dairy, the supply of food from which she had fed the poor, Brigid searched for something to give the poor man and spotted the gleam of metal in the sun. She pulled out her father’s sword from beneath some blankets. It was not an ordinary sword, but one with a jewel-encrusted hilt. Just as she was handing it over to the beggar, her father returned with the king. Dubthach declared that this was just the reason he had to be rid of her. The king, being as wise as his position required, asked Brigid whether, if she were to be under his authority, she would give away his cattle and possessions. Brigid answered truthfully. If she had all the wealth of the King of Leinster, she would give it away to the poor in the name of God. The king was humbled by this reply and told her father that she was far nobler than either of them. He gave Dubthach a sword to replace the one given away and granted Brigid (who had been her father’s slave) her freedom.

Stories > Novel

Story after story declared Brigid’s heart for people and how God showed her favor. I thought, what if those things actually did happen? What would that look like? And then I wrote a whole novel about her. I still enjoy her stories and am inspired by her generosity and selflessness.

St. Brigid’s Day is this coming Sunday. You might weave a cross or bake some bread and look forward to the generosity of the rebirth of the earth—spring!

Reflections on St. Brigid

February 1st is coming, St. Brigid’s Day.

As some of you know, my first novel is titled Brigid of Ireland and it was inspired by the late 5th century-early 6th century patron saint of Ireland Brigid. But why Brigid? How did I get interested in her?

And by the way, if you are looking for a copy, contact me.

Miracles

Have you ever seen one? Experienced one? I know life itself is a miracle and as Leif Enger illustrated so well in his novel Peace Like a River they are all around us all the time if we will only look. St. Brigid, like all venerated saints I suppose, is known for her miracles. She doesn’t just perform them, though, they seem to happen around her whether she notices or not. Take the time she hung her cloak on what she thought was a hook but was really a sunbeam, and it stayed there. Or the way all the butter she gave away from her father’s dairy was just miraculously restored. I see Brigid as not one who invokes these things, asking God to bring about a mighty act, but as one who expects no less because she knows miracles abound. All you have to do is expect to see them.

Her Special Cross

St. Brigid is believed to have woven this cross while explaining Jesus’ sacrifice to a dying pagan. That fascinated me because this is not the typical cross we imagine Jesus actually hanging on. This is a special shape attributed only (in Ireland) to St. Brigid. This also enthralled me. Yes, it could have been a pagan symbol that was adapted to Christianity, but I imagine it being something more. Rather than a physical symbol of Good Friday, it’s a storytelling device. She explained about Jesus as she wove it. Perhaps she turned it as she recounted each step of what led up to the crucifixion. Perhaps the number of reeds represented something in the story (I’m not good at math so I’m not going to try to establish a formula or anything.) Perhaps the four points of the cross helped her explain how our sins are forgiven “as far as the east is from the west.”

Consecrated a Bishop

Yes, in the 6th century. The church has tried to explain that away as some kind of error. But women held positions of power in ancient Ireland so it’s not far-fetched. But it is something women today look up to. I once gave a talk to a group of nuns in a retirement home. They were interested in the novel and all, but what they really wanted to know was did I think she was actually a bishop? They loved that! 🙂
St. Brigid’s Consecration by Bishop Mel, mosaic in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh. ©2010CindyThomson

She Was a Slave

We can tend to forget that slavery has been an institution from almost the beginning of time. Like St. Patrick, Brigid was a slave. Patrick had been stolen away from his family, but Brigid was born into it. Her mother was her father’s slave. The fact that shortly after her birth Brigid was separated from her mother is the detail that launched the plot for my novel. But historically slavery was not the worst option for people. You needed to belong to a household to survive back then and you could do that by either being part of the royal family (and there were many, many regional kings at the time,) or being part of the family of gentry who owned property (which meant livestock, not land,) or you could be a slave in one of those households where you had shelter and food. With none of those things (which is the position Brigid found herself in after her father set her free) you had to figure out how to survive in the wilderness. There were some monasteries, but they were scarce at this time, and Brigid remember ended up being Ireland’s first nun, so moving to a convent wasn’t an option at this point in history. This part of the social structure was interesting to me.

She Has Been Nearly Forgotten

In America anyway, and for non Catholics. But even many Catholics don’t know about this saint. As a novelist I love writing about historical figures people forgot about. Keeping legacies alive is what drives me. (Yes, I know there is debate about whether or not Brigid was an actual person. You can debate that among yourselves without me.)
St.Brigid in center. St.Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. ©2010CindyThomson
So these are the major things that inspired my novel. Anything here new to you?
Happy St. Brigid’s Day to you all!!