Happy Easter everyone! This update has been a work in progress for so long. Originally this was meant to be uploaded two weeks ago before I left for my Easter/Spring Break but I was busy writing a paper and packing as well as a few other things so I wasn’t able to finish and upload then. Break was absolutely amazing. The girls I traveled with and I got to see some really awesome sights. All in all, we visited three countries–Poland, Italy (Sicily), and England. And you’ll be getting posts about them soon. As you might have been able to guess those of you who read my posts regularly (to you, guys thank you!) I’m a bit behind this semester. I’ll just go ahead and let y’all know now, I will probably be a bit behind for the rest of the semester but I promise that I’ll get around to telling you guys all about my adventures. It just seems that I have a lot more of a life this semester. Kidding. Kind of. But I am a lot busier and am traveling a lot more. Anyway, I think that’s all the “housekeeping” that I have for you so…on to the topic of this post!
I’m sure most of you guys are probably wondering if I meant to say St Bridget’s Day and just totally misspelled it. Just so you know, I didn’t. It’s an old way of spelling Bridget (one of a few actually). Now if you’ll notice, it says St Brigid’s Day. The “day” part of that being what I’m trying to get at right now. Does anyone know when St Brigid’s feast day is celebrated? I didn’t so it was news to me. Her feast day is February 1st and is celebrated by not only the Roman Catholic Church but also the Eastern Orthodox Church and some Anglicans. Since our trip was the 2nd, we didn’t actually get to see all the celebrations but that might have been just as well. I’m not sure the people visiting the well would have appreciated a group of about 25 college kids wandering about and listening to a tourguide giving a historical account of the area. Ready for some background information?
Ireland has three main patron saints–Columba, Patrick, and Brigid. Dates for St Brigid, as for many people during this time, are not certain but some speculate that she was born in 451AD, working backwards from her death that sources place to be in 523AD. Again, as with many things at this time, not all the details surrounding the life of St Brigid are certain. There are controversies regarding the authenticity of her biography. Her parents, for example. Some believe that her father was a Pagan chieftan in Leinster and that her mother was a Christian Pict and a slave who’d been baptized by St Patrick (Picts were a group of Late Iron Age/Early Medieval Celtic people that lived in ancient northern and eastern Scotland). Others suggest that her father was from Lusitania and was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland as a slave while stories portray her mother’s status as being property belonging to Dubhthach, a Pagan chieftan in Leinster. A third opinion is that Brigid’s mother was a slave and that Brigid herself was born a slave and the daughter of a druid. So, like I said, not much is certain about her early life. It’s said that she goes on and performs many miracles throughout her life. Scattered evidence can attest to some of her activities but writing at this time was still fairly new as writing only really began in Ireland with the spread of Christianity (so the early 400s maybe). It is believed that Brigid and Patrick knew each other based on a passage in the Book of Armagh (a 9th century Irish manuscript written in Latin).
Now what I thought was interesting is that St Brigid (or St Bridget if you like) is a prominent figure in Irish history and a Saint in the Catholic church but there is speculation that she was kind of put together with Brighid, a pagan goddess. Many of the holy wells in Ireland were originally sites of pagan importance that were renamed when Christianity began to spread throughout the country. Medievalist Pamela Berger believes that “Christian monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions on her Christian counterpart, St Brigid of Kildare.” Her feast day also just happens to coincide with Imbolc, a prehistoric pagan festival associated with Brighid. So…I’ll let you guys draw your own conclusions on that but I found it interesting.
Most of our day revolved around St Brigid since it was the day after her feast day. We visited her well and then went into Kildare and visited her Cathedral. It was nice. Fairly simple but pretty and the stained glass windows were very well done. There’s a hole in one of the cornerstones of the church and it’s said that if you slip your arm through it and make a wish, that your wish shall come true. Roberta, our program person, said she can’t bring herself to do it because it makes her nervous. I guess I could see that since it’s a hole in the side of the church so if that little bit of the stone erodes, the wall would probably come down. That didn’t stop several of us from making a wish though. Outside, there was a cemetery to one side of the church, a round tower in the back, and the remains of St Brigid’s perpetual fire. It was a big walled in square and the place where a fire burned constantly for a thousand years. One story says that to test St Brigid, she was thrown in the fire and wasn’t let out for three days. After the three days, when the door was opened, she walked out and was right as rain with no harm even though she’d just spent the last several days in the midst of a raging fire. After that she was believed to be holy. Today, it’s possible to walk down the few steps and actually stand in the middle of the square. Some people even leave small offerings for St Brigid. Only girls are allowed to enter the square though. Guys aren’t allowed. I wish I could remember what supposedly happens to guys that enter the site but it’s slipping my mind at the moment.
We also were able to visit a holy well named after her. That was so beautiful. There was a statue of her by a tiny little brook that led away from a well. A sign in Old Irish (I’m assuming) identifies it as St Brigid’s Well. Nearby was a tree that was covered in ribbons and small notes that people had left behind the day before. Seamus (a local historian who was our guide for the day as well as a friend of Roberta’s) said that the notes contained prayers that people had left behind and the ribbons were tokens that others had left behind in place of a note. This seemed to be a fairly common occurrence throughout Ireland as we saw similiar trees in later trips. There were also a few St Brigid’s crosses left around the area that people had made.
In class the next week, we attempted to make our own St Brigid’s crosses and had mixed results. It’s a little harder than it looks! But I think I’m going to leave things here for now.
Another Happy Easter to everyone and to those of you who just finished Pesach, happy Passover. The Maccabeats used Les Miserables as inspiration for Pesach this year, take a look! ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmthKpnTHYQ )