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PATRON SAINT: ST BRIGID OF KILDARE - (ca. 457-550)
St.Brigid of Kildare was known as “Mary of the Gael”. Her father, Dubthach, was a pagan nobleman of Leinster, and her mother, Brocessa, was a christian born of noble parentage. Much of what we know of Brigid is legend but she was revered with great esteem and admiration throughout Ireland. The first biography written about her was in the seventh century, long after any reliable historical information had been gathered. But at an early age Brigid decided to become a nun despite her father planning a suitable dynastic marriage.
Brigid established her first house for her nuns in the Liffey Valley; this became the most famous monastery in Ireland, and was known as Cell-Dara, “the church of the oak”. Brigid was the pioneer of Irish feminine monasticism in that she was the innovator of community life for women. She rallied together both bondwomen and free in adequately protected communities up and down the land. Of all her settlements, the greatest, the best known and the most enduring in fame was Kildare, a double monastery for monks and nuns under the joint rule of an abbot-bishop and an abbess. Brigid presided over the nuns while St.Conlaed was abbot of the monks. This tradition continued for centuries.
As a Christian evangelist, Brigid seems to have travelled extensively in her chariot, founding churches and monasteries throughout Ireland, obtaining freedom for captives, offering advice where it was wanted and probably where it wasn’t. She negotiated the release of hostages, healed lepers, assisted the poor, and was known for her miraculous powers. Richard Woods in his book “Spirituality of the Celtic Saints”, from which the above notes have been taken, relates how Brigid was consecrated by two bishops. “By accident, St.Mell mistakenly read over her the prayer for the consecration of a bishop. When St.MacCaille informed him of his error, Mel replied that it should stand, but that Brigid would be the only woman to hold the episcopal office in Ireland.” (P.66-67) The statue in our church at Gisborne has St.Brigid holding the bishop’s crozier in one hand and the symbol of the church in the other.
In the ninth century the relics of St.Brigid were removed to Downpatrick because of the threat of Viking raids. There they were interred in a tomb said to contain the bodies of St.Patrick and St.Columba. The tradition of making “St.Brigid’s Crosses” has been an annual custom among the Irish on the day before her feast , 1st.February, which corresponds with the pagan cult of Imbolc, one of the four great festivals of the old Celtic year.
[Of the four churches that have been part of the history of Gisborne Parish since 1868 three of them were named after the great Irish saints: St.Patrick, St.Columba and St.Brigid. The Celtic tradition still retains its influence to the present day.]