VIRGIN, PATRONESS OF IRELAND
Born in 451 or 452 of princely ancestors at Faughart, near Dundalk, County Louth; d. 1 February, 525, at Kildare. Refusing many good offers of marriage, she became a nun and received the veil from St. Macaille. With seven other virgins she settled for a time at the foot of Croghan Hill, but removed thence to Druin Criadh, in the plains of Magh Life, where under a large oak tree she erected her subsequently famous Convent of Cill-Dara, that is, "the church of the oak" (now Kildare), in the present county of that name. It is exceedingly difficult to reconcile the statements of St. Brigid's biographers, but the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Lives of the saint are at one in assigning her a slave mother in the court of her father Dubhthach, and Irish chieftain of Leinster. Probably the most ancient life of St. Brigid is that by St. Broccan Cloen, who is said to have died 17 September, 650. It is metrical, as may be seen from the following specimen:
Cogitosus, a monk of Kildare in the eighth century, expounded the metrical life of St. Brigid, and versified it in good Latin. This is what is known as the "Second Life", and is an excellent example of Irish scholarship in the mid-eighth century. Perhaps the most interesting feature of Cogitosus's work is the description of the Cathedral of Kildare in his day: "Solo spatioso et in altum minaci proceritate porruta ac decorata pictis tabulis, tria intrinsecus habens oratoria ampla, et divisa parietibus tabulatis". The rood-screen was formed of wooden boards, lavishly decorated, and with beautifully decorated curtains. Probably the famous Round Tower of Kildare dates from the sixth century. Although St. Brigid was "veiled" or received by St. Macaille, at Croghan, yet, it is tolerably certain that she was professed by St. Mel of Ardagh, who also conferred on her abbatial powers. From Ardagh St. Macaille and St. Brigid followed St. Mel into the country of Teffia in Meath, including portions of Westmeath and Longford. This occurred about the year 468. St. Brigid's small oratory at Cill- Dara became the centre of religion and learning, and developed into a cathedral city. She founded two monastic institutions, one for men, and the other for women, and appointed St. Conleth as spiritual pastor of them. It has been frequently stated that she gave canonical jurisdiction to St. Conleth, Bishop of Kildare, but, as Archbishop Healy points out, she simply "selected the person to whom the Church gave this jurisdiction", and her biographer tells us distinctly that she chose St. Conleth "to govern the church along with herself". Thus, for centuries, Kildare was ruled by a double line of abbot-bishops and of abbesses, the Abbess of Kildare being regarded as superioress general of the convents in Ireland.
Not alone was St. Bridget a patroness of students, but she also founded a school of art, including metal work and illumination, over which St. Conleth presided. From the Kildare scriptorium came the wondrous book of the Gospels, which elicited unbounded praise from Giraldus Cambrensis, but which has disappeared since the Reformation. According to this twelfth- century ecclesiastic, nothing that he had ever seen was at all comparable to the "Book of Kildare", every page of which was gorgeously illuminated, and he concludes a most laudatory notice by saying that the interlaced work and the harmony of the colours left the impression that "all this is the work of angelic, and not human skill". Small wonder that Gerald Barry assumed the book to have been written night after night as St. Bridget prayed, "an angel furnishing the designs, the scribe copying". Even allowing for the exaggerated stories told of St. Brigid by her numerous biographers, it is certain that she ranks as one of the most remarkable Irishwomen of the fifth century and as the Patroness of Ireland. She is lovingly called the "Queen of the South: the Mary of the Gael" by a writer in the "Leabhar Breac". St. Brigid died leaving a cathedral city and school that became famous all over Europe. In her honour St. Ultan wrote a hymn commencing:
The sixth Life of the saint printed by Colgan is attributed to Coelan, an Irish monk of the eighth century, and it derives a peculiar importance from the fact that it is prefaced by a foreword from the pen of St. Donatus, also an Irish monk, who became Bishop of Fiesole in 824. St. Donatus refers to previous lives by St. Ultan and St. Aileran. When dying, St. Brigid was attended by St. Ninnidh, who was ever afterwards known as "Ninnidh of the Clean Hand" because he had his right hand encased with a metal covering to prevent its ever being defiled, after being he medium of administering the viaticum to Ireland's Patroness. She was interred at the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, and a costly tomb was erected over her. In after years her shrine was an object of veneration for pilgrims, especially on her feast day, 1 February, as Cogitosus related. About the year 878, owing to the Scandinavian raids, the relics of St. Brigid were taken to Downpatrick, where they were interred in the tomb of St. Patrick and St. Columba. The relics of the three saints were discovered in 1185, and on 9 June of the following year were solemnly translated to a suitable resting place in Downpatrick Cathedral, in presence of Cardinal Vivian, fifteen bishops, and numerous abbots and ecclesiastics. Various Continental breviaries of the pre-Reformation period commemorate St. Brigid, and her name is included in a litany in the Stowe Missal. In Ireland today, after 1500 years, the memory of "the Mary of the Gael" is as dear as ever to the Irish heart, and, as is well known, Brigid preponderates as a female Christian name. Moreover, hundreds of place-names in her honour are to be found all over the country, e.g. Kilbride, Brideswell, Tubberbride, Templebride, etc. The hand of St. Brigid is preserved at Lumiar near Lisbon, Portugal, since 1587, and another relic is at St. Martin's Cologne.
(Taken from Catholic Encyclopedia)