The myths and legends surrounding St Brigid are many. What ones are true and which are not?
When Brigid took a vow of chastity, some men took great offence at her refusing all these offers of marriage. One in particular told the beautiful Brigid “What use are those beautiful eyes in your head if you aren’t using them to look across the pillow at your husband?” In response, Brigid tells him “fair point, mate” and pulls her own eyes out. She also bursts the eyes in his head for good measure, then heals herself.
Brigid had a tough start in life – her father was a chieftain that had an affair with one of his servants. When she fell pregnant, the chieftain’s wife insisted the pregnant slave woman be sold. Brigid was born over the threshold of a door to a barn – thought to symbolise how she was half royalty, half slave. As she puked up the food fed to her by druids, she was instead raised on the milk of a red-eared white cow, which meant she was able to turn milk into beer later in life. So maybe breast is not always best?
Not only could Brigid supply the beer for a party, but she was also an excellent wing woman. She could brew up love potions and when one man approached her for advice on love, she sent him off to the woods to find the love of his life, and blessed him so her family would find everything he said favourable.
She could also save you from the creep at the club, as was the case with one woman who had been tricked into taking charge of a silver brooch from a ‘cunning and lustful man’. He secretly then stole this brooch from her and threw it in the sea. With the brooch gone, he demanded the woman give it back or she’d become his sexual slave. The woman goes to Brigid in a panic, just as Brigid is picking up a bit of fish for Friday dinner. She guts the fish and ta-da! There’s the brooch, and probably a thinly veiled threat of more eyeball popping if the guy doesn’t cop on.
Brigid was really sound. Maybe too sound, because as a child, she gave away everything to beggars and stray animals, leaving almost nothing for herself. Eventually, her father decided to fob her off to the King of Leinster, before she financially ruined him. Even while he was negotiating the best price for his own daughter, she gave away his prized ruby-encrusted sword to a leper. On seeing her kindness, the King persuaded her father to grant her freedom.
Not only did she give to the poor, but she even cured them of illness. Her cures include burns, leprosy, headaches, even blindness. Although one nun she cured found sight to be so distracting, that she prayed to be made blind once again, which seems a tad ungrateful. When she was trying to get through to crowds to meet Saint Patrick, she cut to the front quicker by doling out cures to people, which is how I plan on meeting Beyonce.
You too can avail of a Brigid cure with a trip to Rathbride, Co. Kildare. There is a stone which is thought to have marked the boundaries of her land and touching it will cure you of warts.
When a nun confided in Brigid about an affair and pregnancy, Brigid knew the nun faced severe punishment for breaking her vow of chastity. So Brigid placed her hands on the woman, and made the pregnancy disappear, completely painlessly and without a trip to England.
Even though some suggest Brigid and Patrick had a sexual relationship – making Columba the ultimate Third Wheel – but she had sworn off men for life. It is much more likely that she was a lesbian, and her long-term lover was a nun she trained called Dar Lugdach. Like any couple, they had their ups and downs – Dar Lugdach fell for a man, and had planned to meet him secretly at night. But having second thoughts, she filled her shoes with burning embers – figuring that fate would decide if she could endure the pain of walking in them to the man, or if it would make her stay with Brigid. Of course, she couldn’t bear the pain, and returned to Brigid’s bed. Brigid knew what had happened, and despite the betrayal, she cured the wounds on her feet immediately.
When Brigid died in 524 AD, Dar Lugdach succeeded her as abbess, and died exactly one year later of heartbreak. They now share the same feast day of February 1st. Can you make heart shapes from rushes?
Brigid the saint is said to be the embodiment of the pagan goddess Brigid – goddess of fire and fertility. There are various theories on this – most likely she was a priestess of the goddess, and seeing the increasing popularity of Christianity, converted as so to save her people and brought the ideals of the goddess with her. The goddess is one of the few Pagan Gods that survived the rise of Christianity in Ireland. Her festival of Imbolc, which celebrated the beginning of Spring, neatly coincides with St Brigid’s Feast day.
Both the saint and the goddess are strongly associated with fire. Brigid maintained a fire at her monastery in the Curragh, which had been burning since pre-Christian times for the goddess, for over 600 years. Bit like your anti-craic neighbour that complains about a party at 8pm, Archbishop of Dublin Henri de Loundres had the fire extinguished in 1220.
Working within a religion which famously denies women any sort of power, Brigid held a lot of sway within the church, ruling over her own monastery. As she travelled the country by chariot, she was highly respected by other clergymen, and was even ‘accidentally’ consecrated as a bishop by a priest, who the church later claimed was in a trance.
So here’s to Brigid – raise your glass of milk, hope for beer, and just maybe she’ll endow us all with eye-popping powers.