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Saint Bridget


BRIDGET, SAINT, one of the most eminent of the Irish saints, was born about 453. Her father's name was Dubtach and her mother's Brochessa, and were said to have been Christians at the time of our saint's birth ; this is opened to doubt as according to the most ancient authorities, Brochessa was but a handmaid and slave, and it ap pears under the Druidical religion, among the Hebrews, it was permissible for rich men to take a handmaid to wife. It is stated that the wife of Dubtach compelled him to dispose of Brochessa, and that he sold her to a Druid, but conditioned that he should return the child which she was then bearing in her womb. While the Druid was on his way home with Brochessa, he stopped at the house of a pious Christian, who, while praying, is said to have received a divine intimation, that the child of the slave was destined for great things; and told the Druid that he must treat her kindly, and that innumerable blessings would come to his house. Our saint was born at Fau gher, a village near Dundalk, but the native place of the Druid was Con naught, where St. Bridget spent her early years and was reared by a Chris tian nurse. Many wonderful things are told of her infancy, which fore shadowed her wonderful gifts and graces. She grew up full of every grace and virtue, meek, kind and sweet in manner, and so entirely unselfish, that she gained the love and admira tion of all, under the careful training of her mother. She developed a wonderful spirit «f prayer from her tenderest years. Her spirit of charity was not less mark ed, while her spirit of obedience was not satisfied with carefully doing all she was desired to, but in anticipating every wish of her superiors. After some years Dubtach demanded her from the Druid according to agreement. Her parting from her mother and from her kind protector the Druid was her first great grief, but though most heart broken, she submitted with that meek ness and patience which never forsook her during life. The Druid kindly al lowed her mother to accompany her which was her only consolation. Her father received her very kindly, but her step-mother with coldness and con tempt, which she did not seek to con ceal. She subjected her to ill-treatment, and tried to humiliate her by requiring her to do the most menial offices of the household. As her virtue and the ad mirable beauty of her character shone out more from the attempted degrada tion, winning the love and admiration of all, so did the malice of this wicked step-mother multiply and increase, and she tried to poison the mind of her father against her, by putting wrong constructions on all her actions. It is said that about this time she accompan ied a pious woman to a synod held in the plains of Liffey, and that St. Iber saw in a vision, one whom he supposed was the Blessed Virgin, standing in the midst of the Bishops, but on beholding this child of grace, he recognized in her the Virgin of his vision. She was treated with great honor by the assem bled Bishops, and it is said that mira cles attested her great virtues and the singular favor in which she was held by "her Divine Master. After this she was allowed to visit her mother, and while there, she had charge under her mother of the Druid's dairy. Her ever burning charity could not see want go unrelieved, and when she was asked to make a return of all the proceeds, she became alarmed lest trouble might come from her generosity, and she fervently implored God to aid her. Her prayers seemed heard, for her gifts to the poor did not reduce the property of the Druid. The Druid, seeing the tender attachment of the mother and child, and the pain that separation gave, was moved with compassion and gave the mother her freeedom, and told her to go with her beloved daughter. Their gratitude knew no bounds, and weep ing with joy they blessed him, and he, it is said, soon afterwards became a Christian. It is recorded also, that after returning to her father's house, she took the jewels out of the hilt of a sword which had been presented to him by the King of Leinster, and sold them to relieve the wants of the needy. This came to the ears of the King, and being present at a banquet at her father's house, he called the little maid and asked her how she dared to deface the gift of a King. She answered that she did it to honor a better King, and that rather than see Christ and his children, the poor, suffer for want, she would if she could give all that her father and the king possessed, yea, "yourself too," if necessary. The King was struck with the answer of one so young, and said to her father, she is priceless, let God work out in His own way His holy will, and do not restrain the extraordinary graces conferred on her. About this time, according to Jocylin, Bridget assisted at an instruction given by St. Patrick and had a vision. Pat rick, knowing that she had a revelation, asked her to relate what she had seen.

She answered, * I beheld an assembly of persons clothed in white raiment; and I beheld ploughs and oxen, and standing corn all white, and immed iately they became all spotted; and after wards they became all black; and in the end I beheld sheep and swine, dogs and wolves, all fighting and contending to gether," and St. Patrick said: The whiteness represented the church of Ireland as it k it was then, for all the prelates and servants of the church were pure and faithful and diligent in all things. The things which were spotted belonged to the succeeding gen eration, which would be stained by evil works. The blackness represented the following and more remote times, when the world would be profaned by evil and the renouncement of faith. The contest of the sheep and swine, the dogs and wolves, represented the contest of the pure and unpure prelates, and good and bad men, which in the lapse of time would come to pass. Bridget's step-mother having failed in all her evil designs, urged her father to get her mar ried. As she was very beautiful, a most desirable match could be easily arranged but Bridget firmly refused and told her father that she had long since resolved to devote herself to God. It is said her step-brother lifted his arm to strike her for disappointing their wishes, when it became paralyzed. Having communi cated her intentions of consecrating herself to God to some of her pious companions, they resolved to accom pany her. Having arranged all their matters, the band of pious maidens di rected their steps to Ussna Hill, in the County of Westmeath, where the holy Bishop Maccaile was. He graciously received them, and the next day they made their vows before him, he placed white veils on their heads and a white mantel or habit to wear. This took place in her sixteenth year, about 469. Some authors say it was St. Mell from whom she received the veil, but they admit the presence of Bishop Maccaile. Bridget's first community was established at Bridget's Town near Ussna Hill, under the spiritual direc tions of Bishop Maccaile. She govern ed her house with great prudence, sweetness and firmness, and here her charities knew no bounds ; the needy never went empty away, and her char ity and miracles soon drew crowds to receive benefits from her hands. Her work partook of the nature of the apos tolic, for she is credited with the power of casting out devils, which she often used. She did not confine her labors or good works to her convent, but went about serving and instructing the poor, and reproving and converting the pa gans, many of whom she brought with in the fold. The fame of her works spread all over Ireland, and she was in vited by many pious Bishops to estab lish branches of her community in their diocese. It is said that once while at Ardagh the See of St. Mell, a great banquet was given by the Prince of Longford, at which a servant let fall a, vase of great value and it broke in pieces. The Prince, in a rage, ordered the man executed, and St. Mell was called upon to intercede without avail. When he ordered the fragments of the vase to be sent to Bridget, when she im mediately restored it to its original per fection, at which the man was pardon ed and many conversions followed.

Stopping once at the house of a pious family who had a deaf and dumb child, and being alone with the child when a beggar called, she asked the child where the provisions were kept, who im mediately answered, and the parents were filled with joy on their return to find their deaf and dumb one perfect.

It is also related that she confounded a wicked woman who made a false charge against one of Patrick's disciples named Bronus, by making the sign of the cross on her lips, compelling her to speak the truth. On this occasion St. Patrick appointed the holy priest Natfroich to be her chaplain and to accompany her on all her journeys.

She visited the eastern part of Ulster and also Munster establishing convents and performing wonderful works of mercy, curing the sick, giving sight to the blind and even abating a pestilence. It is said while in Limercik a female slave fled to her for protection from her mistress; Bridget pleaded for her libera tion, but the woman seized the slave, who clung te the saint for protection, and commenced to drag her away when her arm became paralized. She became frightened and begged the saint to restore her arm which she did on release of the slave. Bridget established her com munities all over Ireland, found ing convents, and placing over them the most worthy of her disciples. She spent much time in Connaught parti ticular in Roscommon, and established many convents throughout the province, besides gaining many souls to the faith by her miracles. Her fame was now second only to St. Patrick's. He sowed the good seed and she was cultivating it to rich blossoms and an abundant harvest. While she was thus engaged, the people of her own province Leinster became uneasy lest they should not be blessed with her presence again, so a deputation of prominent men were sent to invite her back to her native home. She consented, and returned with them. When they arrived at the Shannon which they were to cross, no boats were there, and some pagans who were present taunted Bridget saying, "Why don't you walk over, if your God is so powerful? " Some of the men asking the prayer of Bridget and God's assis tance immediately proceeded to walk across, which they did safely to the great discomfiture of some pagans and the conversion of others. Her tour through Ireland, establishing houses occupied about seventeen years, and they rivalled the monasteries in numbers, the sanctity of their inmates and the abundance of their charity. St. Bridget was received by the people of Kildare with great affection and joy, and a large convent soon rose which proved of inestimable benefit to its people ; a source of joy to the rich and benedic tion to the poor. The convent of Kil dare was erected about the year 487. Near it stood a great oak, which Brid get blessed, and which stood for cen turies afterwards, giving the name to the place which it retains to this day Kil-dara, Church of the oak. It finally yielded to time and relic hunters. Here our saint was visited by pious souls from all parts of Ireland, and even Britain and Scotland, to seek advice, to ask her prayers and blessing. Saints, bishops and nobles came; mothers brought their children t© be blessed, the poor to be fed and the sick to be heal ed. So great was the crowds that came that the place soon grew up into a large town, the chief one in Leinster. Kings and nobles vied with each other in fav oring it, and it was made a city of re fuge. Bridget desired that it might be made a see and at her request, Con laith, who was an humble hermit, was made its first Bishop. It has preserved an unbroken line ever since, and is one of the most ancient sees in Europe. Bishop Conlaith aided by Bridget built a Cathedral which in the course of time became large and imposing. Cogitosus, who wrote about 200 years after Bridget, describes it as extending over a large surface of ground and of an imposing elevation. It was adorned w r ith paint ings and contained under one roof three spacious oratories separated by wooden screens, while the wall at the eastern end of the church ran across the whole breath of the structure from side to side, frescoed with hoty figures and orna mented with rich tapestry. This had two entrances, one at each end. The one on the right was for the Bishop and his regular college, and through the other no one entered but the abbess and her community. This church con tained many windows and one orna mented door on the right, through which the men entered, and another on the left through which women entered. St. Bridget was probably first amongst the saints of Europe who gathered into communities holy women under certain rules of obedience. The Abbess of Kildare exercised control over all the convents of the Bridgetatine Order in Ireland, as is now the general custom with religious communities, being all subject to a mother house ; but in those days it was not so, as the Augustinian nuns were subject only the superioress of the house in which they lived. The church of Kildare and its plate and pro perty belonged to the nuns, and this mother house became in the course of time very wealthy from the gifts and largesses it continually received from the rich and noble. St. Bridget was held in high esteem by the holy men of her day, as well as by the kings and princes of the land, who often came to profit by her advice and instruction. She stood sponsor for the nephew of King Echodius and prophesied that he would be raised to the episcopacy. He after wards became bishop of Clogher, suc ceeding St. Maccartin. She also fore told of the birth and greatness of St.. Columbkill.

Bridget practiced the most severe aus terities, spending her nights in prayer and contemplation, and as her body was not vigorous she suffered severely. St. Patrick highly extolled her virtues and mission, and looked upon her as one raised up by God to perfect the good work he had commenced. She frequently visited him for his blessing, advice and encouragement. She was: warned of his approaching end, and set out with four of her nuns to receive his.

dying benediction and to attend his obsequies. Her life was filled with acts of mercy and charity. She labor ed in every way to promote the glory of God, and the good of souls. The consolations of a life overflowing with good works, was hers, as she calmly and serenely awaited the inevitable call, a call to her full of sweetness and hope, as coming from her Divine Spouse for whom she so ardently sighed. She was forewarned of her approaching death, and told a favorite nun named Derlug dacha of the event, who was distressed at the prospect of losing her beloved mother; but the saint told her to be con soled for one year from the day of her death she would be united with her in heaven. The prediction was fulfilled and St. Bridget having received the Blessed Sacrament from the hands of St. Neunnidh, she soon after passed away in the odor of sanctity on the 1st of February, 525, in the 72d year of her age. The venerable St. Conlath had died some time before, and was in terred on one side of the high altar. On the other, the holy remains of St. Brid get found a resiting place. Her tomb was the resort of pious pilgrims for centuaries, and innumerable cures were attributed to her intercession. During the invasion of the Danes, her remains which had been enshrined were removed to a place of safety. This church was plundered by them in 831. The re mains were subsequently deposited with those of St. Patrick in the Cath edral of Down where they remained for nearly 400 years, or until the more bar barous reformers plundered and de stroyed the shrine. The relics or por tions appears to have been preserved, for we find by Cardosus, that the head of St. Bridget was in a church of the Cistercian nuns near Lisbon, where her festival and an office is yearly held on the 1st of February, and that outside church door was a slab with this in scription, "In these three graves are interred the three Irish Knights who brought the head of the glorious St. Bridget who was born in Ireland, and whose relics are preserved in this cha pel. Erected in the month of January, 1283." Few saints were perhaps ever honor ed during their lifetime as was Saint Bridget. She was not alone regarded as a model of all sanctity, but also as a special friend of God, who could obtain any favor asked. She was consulted by holy Bishops, and it is said that her opinion was asked for by an Irish Synod and taken as authoritative and'the people called her, "Altera Maria,'' another ' 'Mary and Mary of the Irish. " Churches in her honor were founded all over Eu rope. In Ireland, her name is justly held in the highest veneration, and the praises bestowed on her by the saintly writers who were her cotemporaries, show that she was indeed preeminent for saintly qualities, when so marked in days in which the Isle was filled with saints. The ruins of the ancient church of Kildare still exist.

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