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The Community of St. Bridget

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In the belly of the human soul
Who was St. Bridget of Kildare, our namesake?

St. Bridget of Kildare (also known as Brigid, Brigit, and Bride, and known to the Irish as “Mary of the Gael”), was born in County Louth in the Province of Leinster around 453 CE and died between 524-528 CE.

 

St. Bridget of Kildare’s importance was finally recognized by the Irish government in 2022 by declaring her feast day on February 1, as a new national holiday. This happened through the work of the feminist organization Herstory. In the Celtic calendar, the Feast of St. Bridget is the first day of spring. It is known as Imbolc, “in the belly” where new life is to be found – that is, in the belly of the earth, in the belly of the feminine, in the belly of the human soul.
 

Bridget was born of a pagan chieftain and Christian woman, though they were not married. Her wealthy father kept Bridget and her mother as slaves. Bridget spent her early life cleaning, cooking, and feeding the farm animals. On her eighteenth birthday, she quit working for her father and decided to dedicate her life to the poor.

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The experiences and achievements of St. Bridget were not recorded during her lifetime. Stories of her life were passed down by word of mouth. Through these legends, we have been given a vivid understanding of who Bridget was and the work she did in spreading the Gospel of Jesus.

 

Along with being known to heal the sick, tame animals, and facilitate peaceful resolutions to violent situations, Bridget revealed the sacred in the feminine. She was a model for female leadership and embodied compassion and a boundless generosity toward the poor and those who seek refuge.

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Other women decided to join her, and as a result, she founded the Monastery of Kildare, the first religious house of women in Ireland, which later became a center of learning and religion for both women and men. Bridget was also acclaimed as a musician and educator, and her penchant for hospitality at her monasteries was widely known.

Bridget’s life and ministry became the portal between the pre-Christian and the Christian. Many of the Celtic pre-Christian traditions have continued in her monastery at Kildare. One of these traditions is keeping the ancient ritual fire continuously burning to celebrate the Light shining deep in all things, the light that is not overcome by darkness.

According to legend, Bridget went to the King of Leinster to request land on which to build a convent. The king was reluctant to give her anything, so she requested only as much land as her cloak would cover. At his order, she spread out her mantle, which was Tyrian purple. It stretched long and wide, until it covered such a large territory that Bridget became the most powerful Abbess in all of Ireland.

 

Another popular legend involves Bridget’s “accidental” ordination as bishop by Bishop Mel. He was so impressed with her that when he was to dedicate her as abbess, he recited the wrong prayer and instead declared her “to hold the episcopal ordination.”

Bridget remained a validly ordained bishop for the rest of her days. We claim her along with St. Therese of Lisieux as patron saints of all women who are called to ordination.
 

Bridget is a threshold person who stands at the doorway of every encounter, inviting us to look for the sacred in everyone—including the stranger, the foreigner, the other – and in the depths of our own being, to look with faith rather than with fear. She did things without asking permission, as when she gave sanctuary to refugee families needing shelter and protection from harm. She invites us to be aware of thresholds that we are in the midst of, both individually and together.

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Through Bridget’s life-giving spirit, we can identify the barren places within us in the most important relationships of life and in our societies and religious communities. She asks, In our role as midwives today, what are we being called to birth from our depths?


In this threshold moment, politically, culturally, religiously – when fear is lashing out with so much force, a new vision is being born among us, calling us to be watchful for where the waters are breaking.


Bridget, the Abbess of Kildare, dances the dance of the new life of creation, and through the Community of St. Bridget, we carry the Spirit of Jesus into the twenty-first century. 

With thanks to John Phillip Newell. His book, Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What Our Souls Know and Healing the World provided insights on the life of St. Bridget.

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