St Brigid was born in 451 to unmarried parents: a pagan chieftain called Dubthach and a Christian slave called Broicsech. Dubthach arranged for Brigid’s mother to be sold to a new master but for Brigid to be returned to him eventually.
Brigid was probably raised Catholic by her mother. When she was 10, she was given back to her father. She grew up surrounded by material wealth, but she enraged Dubthach by giving generously to the poor.
Brigid worked as a household servant to the King of Leinster. Once she was released from her work she was expected to marry, so she disfigured her face in order to discourage suitors. In the end, her pagan father supported her.
Brigid’s profession as a nun was accepted by Bishop Mél of Ardagh, who was St Patrick’s nephew. Legend has it that once she had taken her vows her beauty returned. From a unique double monastery in Kildare – with one house for men and the other for women – Brigid expanded her movement of consecrated women.
Her daily duties involved intense prayer, hard manual labour, cloth-making, dairy farming and rearing sheep.
A wise abbess
Brigid travelled widely throughout the country, founding new houses and building up a different form of Irish monasticism. Pilgrims, clerics and future saints would often travel to Kildare to seek, when she wasn’t travelling, the abbess’s wisdom.
St Brigid died around the year 525. Following her death, veneration of the saint spread rapidly throughout Ireland and beyond.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.