Historians say we know a lot more about St. Brigid than we have facts, a polite way of saying that legends swirl about Ireland’s most celebrated woman. But even legends may have cores of truth. And some miracle stories are not legends at all, but true accounts of God’s interventions.
Brigid was the daughter of a slave woman and a chieftain, who liberated her at the urging of his overlord. As a girl she sensed a call to become a nun, and St. Mel, bishop of Armagh, received her vows. Before Brigid, consecrated virgins lived at home with their families. But the saint, imitating Patrick, began to assemble nuns in communities, a historic move which enriched the church in Ireland.
In 471, Brigid founded a monastery for both women and men at Kildare. This was the first convent in Ireland, and Brigid was the abbess. Under her leadership Kildare became a center of learning and spirituality. Her school of art fashioned both lovely utensils for worship and beautifully illustrated manuscripts. Again following Patrick’s model, Brigid used Kildare as a base and built convents throughout the island.
Brigid’s hallmark was uninhibited, generous giving to anyone in need. Many of the saint’s earliest miracles seem to have rescued her from punishment for having given something to the poor that was intended for someone else. For example, once as a child she gave a piece of bacon to a dog, and was glad to find it replaced when she was about to be disciplined. Brigid exhibited this unbounded charity all her life, giving away valuables, clothing, food—anything close by—to anyone who asked.
One of the most appealing things told of Brigid is her contemporaries’ belief that there was peace in her blessing. Not merely did contentiousness die out in her presence, but just as by the touch of her hand she healed leprosy, so by her very will for peace she healed strife and laid antiseptics on the suppurating bitterness that foments it.