If St. Brigit were here she’d pour you a pint of her own good ale while you read about her. February 1 is her feast day and I wanted to celebrate three fine qualities of this second patron of Ireland.
First Cheer: To a Remarkable Leader of the Church
Brigit (ca. 454 – ca. 524; also spelled “Brigid” and other ways), was among the earliest Christians in Ireland; St. Patrick’s death was during her childhood. She refused her Druid father’s choice of a mate and set up a community with seven like-minded Christian women — a woman of strong will.
She sparked a network of convents spreading Christianity in Ireland. She also led alongside a male counterpart when she created a very longstanding “double monastery” with both men’s and women’s communities, jointly led by an Abbess and Abbot Bishop.
The Church’s memory of her leadership is enshrined, if possibly touched with legend, in what is said to be the earliest biography. There she was in a service of consecration led by Bishop Mel:
The bishop being intoxicated with the grace of God there did not recognize what he was reciting from his book, for he consecrated Brigit with the orders of a bishop.”
Lift your glasses: Here’s to Bishop Brigit.
Second Cheer: To a Model of Generosity
The stories of Brigit’s childhood (even more possibly touched with legend — the documentable stories tend to be about grown up saints) are full of her generous nature.
- She saved up clothes to give to the poor.
- When her mom sent her to gather up the butter from the milking, she gave it all away.
- She even gave away her father’s sword.
And she was very generous with her ale, as we’ll see after we toast her again. Here’s to you, Brigit, generous soul. The world would be better with more like you.
Third Cheer: To a Lover of Beer
Brigit’s life can’t be told, it seems, without reference to beer and ale. She brewed it. She gave it away. When there wasn’t time to wait for a batch to ferment, she provided it by miracle.
- The story is told that she sent a keg to a monastery, and somehow it provided enough for 17 other monasteries too.
- The story is told that she turned well water into beer for a nurse who was ailing. (Should I have said “ale-ing”?)
- And my absolute favorite: When a priest was visiting she turned her bath water into beer for him.
(The mind reels. There are so many possibilities for that last one.)
She even waxed poetic about beer. Edward C. Sellner quotes the poem in a footnote, citing Pollard’s book In Search of St Brigid, Foundress of Kildare:
I should like a great lake of ale
For the King of Kings.
I should like the angels of Heaven
To be drinking it through time eternal.”
The middle of the poem details her hopes for other aspects of the feast, including “belief and pure piety,” with drinking metaphors like barrels, vessels, and cellars. Toward the end we see the party:
I should like cheerfulness to be in their drinking.
I should like Jesus to be there among them.
I should like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I should like the people of Heaven, the poor, to be gathered around us from all parts.
So here’s to St. Brigit, party animal for Jesus.
Your turn — What do you think of St. Brigit? Who is your favorite female saint — in any era including the present?
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Details in this post were gathered from Edward C. Sellnar, “Brigit of Kildare — A Study in the Liminality of Women’s Spiritual Power,” Cross Currents 39 no. 4 Wint. 1989-1990, p 402-419) and allsaintsbrookline.org