Ireland celebrates ‘matron saint’ with prayers, new holiday
KILDARE, Ireland (AP) — St. Patrick has long received the attention and grand parades, but another of Ireland’s patron saints is making a comeback in the 21st century.
St. Brigid of Kildare, a young contemporary of St. Patrick, is quietly and steadily gaining a following, in Ireland and abroad. Devotees see Brigid, and the ancient Irish goddess whose name and attributes she shares, as emblematic of female spirituality and empowerment.
For the first time this year, Ireland observes a public holiday in honor of St. Brigid and Imbolc, an ancient pagan holy day associated with the goddess Brigid and heralding the arrival of spring. The public holiday is Monday, but the celebrations have started in earnest this week.
The holiday designation, the first honoring a woman in Ireland, comes 120 years after St. Patrick’s Day got its holiday.
“St. Brigid’s legacy and its relevance to our world today is not about going back to the fifth century and staying there, but about looking at the needs of today’s world,” said Sister Rita. Minehan, a Roman Catholic sister and one of the founders of Solas Bhride, a center that opened here in 2015 to welcome pilgrims and foster spirituality inspired by Brigid.
“Does Brigid have anything to say to us today?” Minehan said. “We believe she does.”
Some call Brigid the “holy matron” of Ireland.
She is seen as embodying women’s empowerment, environmental protection and peacemaking in an Ireland that is increasingly shedding traditional forms of Catholicism.
“I think Ireland is ready to celebrate our women, our goddess and our saint,” said Melanie Lynch, founder and CEO of Herstory, who advocated for the holiday. The organization uses arts and educational programs to celebrate female role models. “You talk about a great role model for young girls.”
Herstory has sponsored celebrations across Ireland over the past few days – complete with fire dances and light shows – and a traveling exhibition highlighting Northern Ireland’s women peacemakers.
The holy day also begins the countdown to the 1,500th anniversary of Brigid’s death in 2024. The coming year will include a conference and other events marking this milestone.
“St. “But now St. Brigid offers this whole new dynamic. She’s a very, very modern saint who speaks to the most cutting edge issues of our time – gender equality, environmental issues, social welfare, poverty, peacemaking.
He said pilgrims came to walk on the ground where Brigid walked and founded an ancient wooden shrine – an ‘oak church’ or ‘cill dara’ in Irish, giving the name Kildare to this town where she was a prominent abbess of a monastic establishment of men and women.
On Tuesday evening, against the backdrop of traditional Irish music played on an accordion and pewter whistle, around 150 people gathered around a fire pit and a display of candles in a dark car park in Kildare.
Many came from the surrounding area, others from as far away as Italy and the United States, to mark the eve of the holiday.
Worshipers processed quietly in the dark, some holding lanterns, before a candle-lit holy well associated with Brigid. They walked in a fine rain on a country road, in front of the curious eyes of the horses here, in the heart of the Irish Thoroughbreds.
The pilgrims concluded their walk at Solas Bhride (Irish for “light of Brigid”), where they gathered in a circle for prayers for peace, for the environment, for immigrants.
All of this pays homage to a saint for whom no biography was written until two centuries after her life, but who was long honored as “Mary of the Gaels”.
It is said that Brigid’s father was a ruler, her mother enslaved. Brigid was probably named after the goddess worshiped by the ancient Irish and other Celts.
Legends associate St. Brigid with healing, fertility, caring for living things and bringing peace, according to Lisa Bitel, professor of religion and history at the University of Southern California.
Brigid’s moment comes as many Irish people reject traditional Roman Catholicism amid fallout over the cover-up of sexual abuse and other scandals, and seek alternatives to patriarchal structures.
“All the disenchantment with the Catholic Church, the slow infiltration of women’s rights into Irish society, the idea that you have religious choices – all of these things combine with other factors to give it renewed importance,” Bitel said.
Brigid is associated with miracles and legends.
When a ruler agreed to give her just enough land for her monastery that could fit under her mantle, she miraculously spread it across vast fields, according to legend. To a man in need, Brigid gave her father’s jeweled sword in exchange for food.
She traveled, preached, healed. She is often depicted with images of fire and light.
Inspired by his example, Solas Bhride organizers called for a moment of silence – a global pause for peace – at noon on Wednesday.
Colorado’s Lizz Pickard is staying at one of Solas Bride’s hermitages this week, the latest of several visits.
After learning about the saint from a herbalist in the United States, she increasingly embraced Brigid’s values, which she sees as less about doctrine and more about right action – “practicing acts of kindness, acts of service, acts of protection,” she said.
Solas Bhride was founded by sisters of the Brigidine order, which has largely focused on education since its founding in the 19th century.
At the end of the 20th century, the sisters began to discern their future mission. In 1993, they held a peacemaking conference where they ceremoniously lit an eternal flame, similar to the one that would have long been kept alive at the medieval monastery.
“People then started knocking on our door,” said Sister Phil O’Shea, coordinator of the center. “Groups of pilgrims, people who want to sit with the flame, see the flame.”
To accommodate them, the sisters worked with a team of lay people to open Solas Bhride in 2015. The self-proclaimed center for Christian spirituality welcomes “people of all faiths and without faith”.
One-story buildings have sparse ornamentation – the main feature is the light itself, streaming through large windows even on gray winter days. In a circular room, pilgrims meditate before the eternal flame.
“To us it’s symbolic of what Brigid stood for, carrying that light of Christ into fifth and sixth century Ireland,” O’Shea said.
Brigid offers a connection for those who identify with the goddess tradition, Minehan said.
“She belongs to both worlds,” she said. “She only became a Christian as a teenager. And she would have inherited part of the folklore and some of the attributes of the pre-Christian goddess. And some of those attributes are really adorable.
Two churches in Kildare bear Brigid’s name, a Catholic parish and the Anglican Cathedral. They honored the saint with a joint service on Wednesday.
“There’s something about the whole story of St. Brigid that taps into people’s imagination and the search for spirituality, and there’s a great energy there,” said Reverend Andy Leahy of the parish church. of St. Brigid. “There’s a great energy there.”
Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.