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!!

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