Brigid : Goddess, Celtic

Saint Brigid

Saint Brigid seemed destined for a special life. Her parents were a Druid king and his Christian wife.

Named after Ireland's beloved goddess Brigid, she was born in the exact moment when the sun rises above the horizon. When she was delivered, a beam of radiant light burst like a flame around her forehead, suffusing the house with a golden glow.

Marveling at this wondrous event, the villagers surrounded the house and speculated about what great events would follow.

Brigid was a gentle and loving woman whose gifts of healing and compassion were evident even when she was a child. Her touch would heal the sick and her blessing bring food and warmth to the poor. Her compassionate nature and strong will eventually led her into her religious vocation.

Some versions of her legends tell that her parents sent her to the nunnery because they could no longer afford her incredible generosity. Giving her father's jewel-encrusted sword to a poor leper was simply the last straw! Others say it was her persistent refusal of all marriage proposals.

When the Bishop went to interview the young girl in her home to assess her suitability for the religious life, Brigid was called in from the fields where she was tending the cattle to meet him. When she entered the room, sunbeams from the window surrounded her head like a halo of flames.

Brigid removed her cloak and hung it up as the Bishop hastened to introduce himself. He was started to noticed that her mantle was hanging on a sunbeam. Needless to say, she passed the entrance exam and was promptly accepted into the convent.


Brigid's influence in the church grew steadily and soon she was given permission to form a convent of her own. She asked for land on which to build, and the local king was greatly amused at the audacity of a woman to make such a request. Mockingly he responded that yes, she was welcome to take as much land as she could encircle with her cloak!

Thanking him, the clever Brigid unraveled the yarn in her cloak and with it staked out the ample boundaries of her new site!

Eventually, with the help of other women who joined her work, Brigid built her abbey. The land she had chosen was the site near a large oak (rowan) tree near Kildare, the ancient site used for the worship of the pagan goddess Brigid and the location of her holy well and sacred fires.

Those in distress soon found their way to Saint Brigid's convent where they were comforted, healed, and fed. Her fame spread quickly.

Legends arose that she was the midwife at the birth of Jesus, baptizing the infant with three drops of water from her holy well, weaving his swaddling clothes from the wool of her ewes, and leading the holy family to Egypt when she foresaw the 'Slaughter of the Innocents'. One of St. Brigid's titles became 'The Foster Mother of Jesus'.


It was rumored that Brigid and her convent enjoyed the protection of the goddess Brigid, as one band of rogues learned to their displeasure. Thinking that stealing from a bunch of gentle women would be easy work indeed, they rustled the convent's herd of cattle in the middle of the night.

They hadn't gotten far when Brigid sense the cows were missing and, surmising what had happened, caused the water in the nearby stream to rise. The cattle balked at crossing the rapid waters.

Realizing the would have to get in the stream and lead the cattle across, the thieves took off their clothes to keep them dry and tied them in bundles on the cattle's horns. As the men stepped into the water, the cattle promptly turned and ran back to the convent.

Shortly thereafter the men showed up at the abbey, repentant and pleading for the return of their garments.


Brigid's compassionate nature is also clear in the story of an unfortunate woodcutter who had been sentenced to death for killing a wolf even though he had been unaware that it was tame and, more importantly, the pet of the king. Brigid set out at once to plead the poor man's case with the king.

As she rode through the woods a wolf jumped into her carriage. Sensing her love for all living things, the wild beast allowed her to pat his head and then laid down at her feet. 

When they arrived, Brigid took the wolf with her into the interview with the king. "I've brought you another tame wolf," she said, "and I beg you to pardon the poor soul who unknowingly took the life of your other." And so the matter was settled to the satisfaction of all.


Eventually Brigid became the Abbess of Kildare and was given the authority of Bishop in the church. It is said that she would only approve the ordination of another bishop after he proved himself proficient as a goldsmith. (The goddess Brigid was known as the patroness of all metalsmiths.)

Throughout her life, Saint Brigid was revered for her goodness and her hospitality. She died on February 1, in 525 A.D. on Imbolc, the Feast Day of the goddess Brigid.

St. Brigid was buried close to St. Patrick and the two shared equally the honor of becoming the official saints of Ireland.



In some respects, St. Brigid can be compared to the Greek goddess Artemis. Like Artemis, she refused to marry, choosing instead to exercise her own authority in a community of female followers who were themselves forbidden to marry while in her service. Men (including her own Bishop) were not allowed to enter her abbey.


Also like Artemis, Brigid was a goddess of childbirth, a protector of children, and a fierce advocate of women's rights. Under the authority of Brigid, the increasing power of the patriarchy was limited...Saint Brigid insured that women were allowed to hold property in their own names, that the crime of rape was unpardonable, and that the rights of children born to unwed mothers were preserved.

In her abbey the nuns continued to tend the perpetual flames of the goddess Brigid. The abbesses of Kildare who succeeded her were all called Brigid and continued with the authority of bishops for hundreds of years.

Eventually, with the support of the Vatican, the eternal flame at the Abbey was declared a pagan atrocity and the fire was extinguished. All nuns were now required to submit to the authority of the priesthood.

During the 1960's the Church decided to "decanonize" the most beloved Irish Saint, stating that there was insufficient evidence that she had ever existed.

Goddess or Saint? Saint Brigid remains a mystery. But she continues to shine brightly, living on as a friend to her people, bringing them comfort and giving them hope.






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