Brigid lived from 451 to 525. It is commonly held that her mother was a Christian Pictish slave named Brocseach and her father, Dubhthach, was a Celtic chieftain in Leinster, about 60 miles due east of Dublin.. Dubthach’s wife insisted that he sell Brigid’s mother when she became pregnant and so Brigid was born into slavery.
When she was about ten, her father bought her back and she became a household servant, where her habit of charity led her to donate his belongings to anyone who asked. It is recorded that her father was so annoyed with her that he took her to sell her to the King of Leinster. While Dubthach was talking to the king, Brigid gave away his jewelled sword to a beggar to barter it for food to feed his family. The king recognised her holiness and convinced Dubthach to grant his daughter her freedom.
She grew and Dubthach tried to marry her off but Brigid refused and insisted on becoming a nun. She was stubborn, and her father yielded to her decision.
We have already seen some of the best known concepts of Celtic Christianity – indeed, Ninian displayed mission as a key characteristic. Brigid did not withdraw into seclusion but sought to be with others. She it was who, referring to Anam Cara – the concept of a soul friend – said that, “Anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head.”
Brigid was someone for whom one word or characteristic was inadequate. She was a leader and founded the monastic community of Kildare 33 miles south west of Dublin where she was abbess. In her leadership, she displayed an organisational ability and, basically, common sense. She provided education not just for those under holy orders in Kildare, but for the ‘common worker.’ She worked energetically but took the time to be with people – she was known for her ability to console and counsel people from many walks of life.
We have already seen that Celtic women enjoyed a different status than in other cultures and were regarded as equals, not just with the right to own property after marriage, but with the opportunity to be elected leader of their tribe. This was continued into the Celtic Christian tradition, and indeed a Bishop Mel recorded an incident when a group of women were being accepted into holy orders. A fiery pillar was seen rising from Brigid’s head to the roof of the church and Mel, understanding the significance, ordained her as a Bishop. Another bishop, Maccaille of Croghan, was present and he demurred saying a woman could not be a bishop. Mel replied that neither of them had a say in the matter of anointing her a bishop for, “That dignity hath been given by God unto Brigid.”
Brigid was a complex character – leader, counsellor, charitable, educational. If, out of that, we could find one characteristic to define her; one that would tie together all the others, it would be ‘kindness.’ She showed compassion for others, was loved by others and, in fact, was straight out of Colossians:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:23)
Through her qualities, the way she led her life and in her actions, she can be a model to us today.
[from Timothy Pitt]