by Nadia Ramoutar MMM Communications Coordinator Ireland 01.02.2024
The path to a woman becoming recognised as a saint is never very straightforward and St Brigid is not an exception, though while she was exceptional, her story is one that is very complex and in some places confusing.
After many years of effort and educating, an Irish organisation named Herstory, launched a successful movement in 2016 to see St Brigid have a National holiday in Ireland. This year for the second time, Ireland will celebrate St Brigid’s day and we will all get a day of rest and reflection. St Brigid holds many important roles in Irish culture. For one thing she was the first Irish saint actually born in Ireland, unlike the much more well-known St Patrick whose Irish National holiday is celebrated all over the world (though not always in ways I think St Patrick would appreciate at all).
As we look at why St Brigid’s day is significant we find that there is much confusion and controversy about Brigid. It was not just in 2016 that St Brigid’s importance was recognised. After her death allegedly three Knights in the 13th Century took part of her skull and presented the relic to King Denis of Portugal, who then placed it in the Royal Monastery of Odivelas.
Legend has it that the relic went missing on the journey and turned up in Lumiar. They eventually delivered it to Odivelas, only for it to disappear again and turn up in Lumiar again. King Denis then ordered that the relic be permanently placed in Lumiar. We can only ask ourselves how did the knights get her skull in the first place and why was it being traded between nations?
Just to complicate matter further – two Lisbon churches now lay claim to holding relics of Brigid—the Igreja de São Roque, or Church of St Roch, one of the earliest Jesuit churches, where a frontal part of her skull is still to remain; and the Igreja São João Batista, or Church of St. John the Baptist, near Lisbon airport.
In 2019, a campaign was launched to return her skull to Kildare for her 1,500th anniversary, however the campaign has not been successful – yet.
We know then that the legacy of St Brigid’s healing and compassion made her significant far beyond Irish shores. There are many tales of her generosity, beauty, devotion, compassion and love. Brigid was not just known as a leader but as a healer, a creator and a muse to the poets. St Brigid was luminous and she brought light where there was darkness.
After many, many centuries of male dominance in religious and political life, Brigid is also, a powerful and empowering symbol for Irish women and women everyone. We can look to Brigid for her divine feminine gifts and inspiration to be creative, generous and unusual. We can celebrate that as winter comes to an end, Brigid leads us again into the light. We can also see that a group of women working together can get a change made at a national level. Imagine if we worked together what else we could change in our world? I bet St Brigid would encourage such an ideal.