Devotees of St Bridget plan to celebrate her Sunday with the expected return of a relic associated with the so-called matron saint of Ireland. The festivities come around a millennium after her remains were removed from the city of Kildare, where she founded a prestigious abbey and inspired a host of colorful and miracle-filled legends.
The celebration in her hometown, southwest of Dublin, is part of Brigid 1500 – a series of celebrations around the world centered on the saint’s feast day, February 1, marking the 1,500th anniversary of her death around the ‘year 524.
In a sense, Brigid is on a roll. The commemorations come a year after Ireland began granting her an annual public holiday – the first Irish woman to be recognized with one.
While St. Patrick has long been the saint most identified with Ireland, Brigid has gained a growing number of followers in the 21st century. Devotees look to Brigid the Saint – and Brigid the ancient pagan goddess, whose name and attributes she shares – as emblematic of female spirituality and empowerment. This comes amid growing disenchantment with the patriarchal and historically dominant Catholic Church.
WHO WAS BRIGIDE?
First question: which Brigid?
Brigid was the name of a prominent goddess worshiped by the ancient pagan Celts – the namesake of the saint who lived in the fifth and sixth centuries.
Brigid, the goddess, was associated with everything from poetry, healing, and metalmaking to nature, fertility, and fire. She was honored on the midwinter holy day of Imbolc, always commemorated on February 1, which also became Saint Bridget’s Day.
It is said that Saint Brigid’s father was a ruler and her mother a slave. Although the story of Brigid’s life has been embellished by legend, she is believed to have been the abbess of a monastic colony of men and women which became a center of art and learning and which gave its name to the town, Irish for “oak church”. » Legend has it that when the local king agreed to give her just enough land for her monastery that could fit under her mantle, she miraculously distributed it throughout the surrounding countryside.
Saint Brigid traveled, preached and healed. She is often depicted with images of fire and light and is associated with fertility, the care of living beings and the restoration of peace.
Another legend has it that Brigid gave her father’s jeweled sword to a needy man to exchange for food.
WHAT RELIC HAS BEEN RETURNED TO KILDARE?
Brigid is said to have been buried in her monastic church in Kildare. Around the 9th century, his remains were moved to the northern town of Downpatrick, hoping to avoid pillaging by Vikings and others. This sanctuary was then destroyed by English troops during the Protestant Reformation.
Various churches on the European continent claim to possess relics of Saint Bridget. This includes a bone fragment from Brigid’s skull, which, according to tradition, was brought to a church in Portugal by three Irish knights. A fragment of this relic was returned in the 1930s to the Brigidine sisters elsewhere in Ireland and is preserved in a small metal reliquary, shaped like an oak tree, an image associated with Brigid. This is the relic returned to Kildare.
The relic’s new resting place will be the Catholic parish church named after Saint Bridget, which plans to put it on permanent display.
WHAT IS A RELIC AND WHY DO CATHOLICS VENERATE THEM?
Catholic canon law says that the Church “promotes true and authentic veneration” of saints because of their pious examples. This may involve the veneration of relics, which may include fragments of the bodies of saints, as well as their clothing and other objects associated with them.
“Veneration must be clearly distinguished from adoration and worship, which are due to God alone,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
WHAT IS IT. BRIGIDE’S DAY?
St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc, a pagan holy day associated with the goddess Brigid and heralding the arrival of spring, both fall on February 1, although Ireland observes the holiday the following Monday.
WHY IS BRIGID GAINING A 21ST CENTURY FOLLOWER?
Brigid’s moment comes as many Irish people are disillusioned with traditional Roman Catholicism and its patriarchal leadership amid a secularized culture. Even many devout Catholics are dismayed by the scandals, including the cover-up of sexual abuse.
Whether worshipers honor Brigid primarily as a saint, a goddess, or a combination of the two, they view Brigid as a symbol of female spirituality, environmental protection, and artistic creation.
Brigid’s Day is “an invitation to end the millennia-old war between Christianity and paganism” and to discover “the wisdom and beauty of both lineages”, wrote Melanie Lynch, founder of Herstory, which campaigned for of the new national holiday.
HOW IS ST. IS BRIGID’S DAY COMMEMORATED?
The most dramatic event is the planned return of the relic to Brigid’s hometown, with a short procession to St. Brigid’s parish church from Solas Bhride — a center of Christian spirituality run by the Brigidine sisters in Kildare with a mission to welcome “people of all faiths and faiths”. without faith. » The procession is to be led by three girls riding ponies and dressed like the medieval Irish knights who, according to one tradition, accompanied the relic to Portugal centuries earlier.
“What amazes me is that 1,500 years later she is still lovingly remembered in Kildare and Ireland,” said David Mongey, chairman of Into Kildare, the local tourist board. . “His words, his wisdom and his actions matter more today than ever, when we think about how we treat our land, how we treat our environment, how we treat our animals, how we treat each other and how we treat. ourselves.”
Several events are organized by Solas Bhride, the Irish word for “Light of Brigid”, including a “Pause for Peace” at noon. Thousands of students plan to mark the break on the nearby Curragh Plains by creating a human formation of a large St Bridget’s cross, shaped by a square with four symmetrical arms.
Others around the world are joining in the pause – a minute of silence at noon local time – said Sister Brigidine Rita Minehan, one of the founders of Solas Bhride.
“We are sending the message that we actively oppose war in our world and the proliferation of weapons,” she said. “What’s happening in our world is pretty scary. The country is in dire need of peace, and Brigid was known as a peacemaker.
Other sites in Kildare host music, ecumenical worship and other activities.
The Herstory group, which uses the arts and education to promote female role models, is planning events across Ireland over the holidays and beyond. These include spectacular light shows in which artistic depictions of Brigid are projected onto historic monuments.
Elsewhere around the world, groups of Irish origin plan to mark the day with concerts and cultural events. Churches plan masses in honor of the saint, while Wiccans and other pagan groups plan meditations and other ceremonies in honor of the goddess and in observance of Imbolc.
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