S. Bridget, or Bride as she is called in England, is the Patroness of Ireland, and was famous throughout northern Europe. She is held in so great honor by Picts, Britons, Angles, and Irish, that more churches are dedicated to God in her memory, than to any other of the saints. Unfortunately, little authentic is known of her. Taken from ‘The Lives of the Saints’ by Rev. S. Baring-Gould
Ireland was, of old, called the Isle of Saints, because of the great number of holy ones of both sexes who flourished there in former ages; or, who, coming thence, propagated the faith amongst other nations. Of this great number of saints the three most eminent, and who have therefore been honoured as the special patrons of the island, were S. Patrick their apostle, S. Columba, who converted the Picts, and S. Bridget, the virgin of Kildare, whose festival is marked in all the Martyrologies on the 1st day of February.
This holy virgin was born about the middle of the fifth century, in the village of Fochard, in the diocese of Armagh. Her father was a nobleman, called Dubtach, descended from Eschaid, the brother of King Constantine of the Hundred Battles, as he is surnamed by the Irish historians. The legend of her origin is as follows, but it is not to be relied upon, as it is not given by Ultan, Cogitosus, or Chilian of Inis-Keltra.
Dubtach had a young and beautiful slave-girl, whom he dearly loved, and she became pregnant by him, whereat his wife, in great jealousy and rage, gave him no peace till he had sold her to a bard, but Dubtach, though he sold the slave-girl, stipulated with the purchaser that the child should not go with the mother, but should be returned to him when he claimed it.
Now one day, the king and queen visited the bard to ask an augury as to the child they expected shortly, and to be advised as to the place where the queen should be confined. Then the bard said, “Happy is the child that is born neither in the house nor out of the house!”
Now it fell out that Brotseach, the slave-girl, was shortly after returning to the house with a pitcher of fresh warm milk from the cow, when she was seized with labour, and sank down on the threshold, and was delivered neither in the house nor out of the house, and the pitcher of warm sweet milk, falling, was poured over the little child.
When Bridget grew up, her father reclaimed her, and treated her with the same tenderness that he showed to his legitimate children. She had a most compassionate heart and gave to every beggar what he asked, whether it were hers or not. This rather annoyed her father, who took her one day with him to the king’s court, and leaving her outside, in the chariot, went within to the king, and asked his majesty to buy his daughter, as she was too expensive for him to keep, owing to her excessive charity.
The king asked to see the girl, and they went together to the door. In the meantime, a beggar had approached Bridget, and unable to resist his importunities, she had given him the only thing she could find, her father’s sword, which was a present that had been made him by the king. When Dubtach discovered this, he burst forth into angry abuse, and the king asked, “Why didst thou give away the royal sword, child?”
“If beggars assailed me,” answered Bridget calmly, “and asked for my king and my father, I would give them both away also.” “Ah!” said the king, “I cannot buy a girl who holds us so cheap.”
Keeping Her Eye on God
Her great beauty caused her to be sought in marriage by a young noble of the neighbourhood, but as she had already consecrated herself by vow to Jesus, the Spouse of virgins, she would not hear of this match. To rid herself of the importunity of her suitor, she prayed to God, that He would render her so deformed that no one might regard her. Her prayer was heard, and a distemper fell on one of her eyes, by which she lost that eye, and became so disagreeable to the sight, that no one thought of giving her any further molestation.
Thus she easily gained her father’s consent that she should consecrate her virginity to God, and become a nun. She took with her three other virgins of that country, and bidding farewell to her friends, went in 469 to the holy bishop Maccail, then at Usny hill, Westmeath; who gave the sacred veil to her and her companions, and received their profession of perpetual virginity. S. Bridget was then only fourteen years old, as some authors assert.
The Almighty was pleased on this occasion to declare how acceptable this sacrifice was, by restoring to Bridget the use of her eye, and her former beauty, and, what is still more remarkable, and is particularly celebrated, as well in the Roman, as in other ancient Martyrologies, was, that when the holy virgin, bowing her head, kissed the dry wood of the feet of the altar, it immediately grew green, in token of her purity and sanctity.
The story is told of her, that when she was a little child, playing at holy things, she got a smooth slab of stone which she tried to set up as a little altar; then a beautiful angel joined in her play, and made wooden legs to the altar, and bored four holes in the stone, into which the legs might be driven, so as to make it stand.
Cell of the Oak
S. Bridget having consecrated herself to God, built a cell for her abode, under a goodly oak, thence called Kil-dare or the Cell of the Oak; and this foundation grew into a large community, for a great number of virgins resorted to her, attracted by her sanctity, and put themselves under her direction. And so great was the reputation of her virtues, and the place of her abode was so renowned and frequented on her account, that the many buildings erected in the neighbourhood during her lifetime formed a large town, which was soon made the seat of a bishop, and in process of time, the metropolitan see of the whole province.
What the rule embraced by S. Bridget was, is not known, but it appears from her history, that the habit which she received at her profession from S. Maccail was white. Afterwards, she herself gave a rule to her nuns; so that she is justly numbered among the founders of religious Orders. This rule was followed for a long time by the greatest part of the monasteries of sacred virgins in Ireland; all acknowledging our Saint as their mother and mistress, and the monastery of Kildare as the headquarters of their Order. Moreover, Cogitosus informs us, in his prologue to her life, that not only did she rule nuns, but also a large community of men, who lived in a separate monastery.
This obliged the Saint to call to her aid out of his solitude, the holy bishop S. Conlaeth, to be the director and father to her monks; and at the same time to be the bishop of the city. The church of Kildare, to suit the requirements of the double monastery and the laity, was divided by partitions into three parts, Cogitosus says, one for the monks, one for the nuns, and the third for the lay people.
As S. Bridget was obliged to go long journeys, the bishop ordained her coachman priest, and the story is told that one day as she and a favourite nun sat in the chariot, the coachman preached to them the Word of God, turning his head over his shoulder. Then said the abbess, “Turn round, that we may hear better, and throw down the reins.”
So he cast the reins over the front of the chariot, and addressed his discourse to them with his back to the horses. Then one of the horses slipped its neck from the yoke, and ran free; and so engrossed were Bridget and her companion in the sermon of the priestly charioteer, that they did not observe that the horse was loose, and the carriage running all on one side.
On another occasion she was being driven over a common near the Liffey, when they came to a long hedge, for a man had enclosed a portion of the common. Then the man shouted to them to go round, and Bridget bade her charioteer so do. But he, thinking that they had a right of way across the newly made field, drove straight at the hedge; then the proprietor of the field ran forward, and the horses started, and the jolt of the chariot threw Bridget and the coachman out of the vehicle, and severely bruised them both.
Then the abbess, picking herself up said, “Better to have gone round; short cuts bring broken bones.”
Once a family came to Kildare, leaving their house and cattle unguarded, that they might attend a festival in the church, and receive advice from Bridget. Whilst they were absent, some thieves stole their cows, and drove them away.
They had to pass the Liffey, which was much swollen, consequently the thieves stripped, and tied their clothes to the horns of the cattle, intending to drive the cows into the river, and swim after them. But the cows ran away, carrying off with them the clothes of the robbers attached to their horns, and they did not stop till they reached the gates of the convent of Bridget, the nude thieves racing after them.
The holy abbess restored to them their garments, and severely reprimanded them for their attempted robbery.
Other strange miracles are attributed to her, of which it is impossible to relate a tithe.
She is said, after a shower of rain, to have come hastily into a chamber, and cast her wet cloak over a sunbeam, mistaking it, in her hurry, for a beam of wood. And the cloak remained there, and the ray of sun did not move, till late at night one of her maidens ran to her, to tell her that the sunbeam waited its release, so she hasted, and removed her cloak, and the ray retired after the long departed sun.
Saved by a Wolf
Once a rustic, seeing a wolf run about in proximity to the palace, killed it; not knowing that it was the tame creature of the king; and he brought the dead beast to the king, expecting a reward. Then the prince in anger ordered the man to be cast into prison and executed.
Now when Bridget heard this, her spirit was stirred within her, and mounting her chariot, she drove to the court, to intercede for the life of the poor countryman. And on the way, there came a wolf over the bog racing towards her, and it leaped into the chariot, and allowed her to caress it.
Then, when she reached the palace, she went before the king, with the wolf at her side, and said, “Sire! I have brought thee a better wolf than that thou hast lost, spare therefore the life of the poor man who unwittingly slew thy beast.” Then the king accepted her present with great joy, and ordered the prisoner to be released.
One evening she sat with sister Dara, a holy nun, who was blind, as the sun went down; and they talked of the love of Jesus Christ, and the joys of Paradise. Now their hearts were so full, that the night fled away whilst they spoke together, and neither knew that so many hours had sped. Then the sun came up from behind Wicklow mountains, and the pure white light made the face of earth bright and beautiful.
Then Bridget sighed, when she saw how lovely were earth and sky, and knew that Dara’s eyes were closed to all this beauty. So she bowed her head and prayed, and extended her hand and signed the dark orbs of the gentle sister. Then the darkness passed away from them, and Dara saw the golden ball in the east, and all the trees and flowers glittering with dew in the morning light.
She looked a little while, and then, turning to the abbess, said, “Close my eyes again, dear mother, for when the world is so visible to the eyes, God is seen less clearly to the soul.” So Bridget prayed once more, and Dara’s eyes grew dark again.
A Better Sermon
A madman, who troubled all the neighbourhood, came one day across the path of the holy abbess. Bridget arrested him, and said, “Preach to me the Word of God, and go thy way.”
Then he stood still and said, “O Bridget, I obey thee. Love God, and all will love thee. Honour God, and all will honour thee. Fear God, and all will fear thee.” Then with a howl he ran away. Was there ever a better sermon preached in fewer words.
A Vision of the Harvest
A very remarkable prophesy of the heresies and false doctrines of later years must not be omitted. One day Bridget fell asleep whilst a sermon was being preached by S. Patrick, and when the sermon was over, she awoke. Then the preacher asked her, “O Bridget, why didst thou sleep, when the Word of Christ was spoken?”
She fell on her knees and asked pardon, saying, “Spare me, spare me, my father, for I have had a dream.”
Then said Patrick, “Relate thy vision to me.” And Bridget said,
“Thy hand-maiden saw, and behold the land was ploughed far and wide, and sowers went forth in white raiment, and sowed good seed. And it sprang up a white and goodly harvest. Then came other ploughers in black, and sowers in black, and they hacked, and tore up, and destroyed that beauteous harvest, and strewed tares far and wide.
“And after that, I looked, and behold, the island was full of sheep and swine, and dogs and wolves, striving with one another and rending one another.” Then said S. Patrick, “Alas, my daughter! in the latter days will come false teachers having false doctrine; who shall lead away many, and the good harvest which has sprung up from the Gospel seed we have sown will be trodden under foot; and there shall be controversies in the faith between the faithful and the bringers-in of strange doctrine.”
Gone to Immortality
Now when the time of her departure drew nigh, Bridget called to her a dear pupil, named Darlugdach and foretold the day on which she should die. Then Darlugdach wept bitterly, and besought her mother to suffer her to die with her. But the blessed Bridget said, “Nay, my daughter, thou shalt live a whole year after my departure; and then shalt thou follow me.” And so it came to pass.
Having received the sacred viaticum from the hands of S. Nennidh, the bishop, the holy abbess exchanged her mortal life for a happy immortality, on February 1st, 525.
Her body was interred in the church of Kildare; where her nuns for some ages, to honour her memory, kept a fire always burning; from which that convent was called the House of Fire, till Henry of London, Archbishop of Dublin, to take away all occasion of superstition, in 1220, ordered it to be extinguished.
The body of the Saint was afterwards translated to Down-Patrick, where it was found in a triple vault, together with the bodies of S. Patrick and S. Columba, in the year 1185. These bodies were, with great solemnity, translated the following year by the Pope’s legate, accompanied by fifteen bishops, in presence of an immense number of the clergy, nobility, and people, to a more honourable place of the cathedral of Down; where they were kept, with due honour, till the time of Henry VIII., when the monument was destroyed by Leonard, Lord Grey, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
Bridget’s head was saved by some of the clergy, who carried it to Neustadt, in Austria; and from thence, in 1587, it was taken to the church of the Jesuits at Lisbon, to whom the Emperor Rudolf II. gave it.