Thursday, 9 February 2017

Saint Columba's Hymn to Saint Brigid

We conclude the series of posts on Saint Brigid on the octave day of her feast with a hymn attributed to her fellow-patron, Saint Colum Cille. He enjoyed a reputation as a prolific writer, as the compiler of the 'authoritative sources' tells us:

Saint Columba was passionately fond of books and learning in all its branches. He himself, we are told, copied out many hundreds of verses and also wrote poems himself, one of the latter being the following hymn on Saint Brigid, for whom he entertained a great affection: -

"Bridget the good and the virgin,
Bridget our torch and our sun,
Bridget, radiant and unseen,
May she lead us to the eternal kingdom,
May Bridget defend us,
Against all the troops of hell,
And all the adversaries of life,
May she beat them down before us,
All the ill-movements of the flesh.
This pure virgin whom we love,
Worthy of honour without end,
May she extinguish in us.
Yes, she shall always be our safeguard,
Dear Saint of Lagenia;
After Patrick she comes the first,
The pillar of the land,
When old age comes upon us,
May she be to us as the shirt of hair;
May she fill us with grace,
May Bridget protect us."

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 71-72.

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Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Vision of Saint Brigid

A curious episode today from the Life of Saint Brigid, her childhood vision of the trouble ahead for the Irish church. By the 10th century hagiographers were keen to put our national patroness in the company of our national apostle and thus the two meet at various gatherings, with Saint Brigid and her nuns eventually preparing a burial shroud for the dying Saint Patrick. In this case she sees the pristine purity of the Patrician church under threat from outsiders, most commentators suggest that this is a reference to the Vikings but of course they are only the first of a number of invaders to threaten Ireland:

Saint Brigid was brought by some friends to hear Saint Patrick speak of heavenly things. While the Apostle was discoursing, Saint Brigid fell into a state of ecstasy. Saint Patrick commanded Saint Brigid to tell the assemblage what she had seen in her vision. "I saw" said the child, "a herd of white oxen among white crops; then I beheld spotted animals of different colours; and after these appeared black and darkly coloured cattle.  Afterwards, I saw sheep and swine and lastly dogs and wolves worrying each other."

The Apostle interpreted this vision for his hearers: "The Church he had founded would enjoy peace for a time. Her brow would be adorned with snow-white flowers typical of the purity of her children and her peaceful progress through the first three centuries of her existence. The flowers would be then changed to a crown of thorns which she would have to wear for many long and weary centuries to come."

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 46.

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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Saint Brigid and the Anchorite

Today we meet a holy anchorite who denies his disciples the chance to meet with Saint Brigid and to receive her blessing. His reluctance arises from his vow not to be in the company of women, but of course Saint Brigid is not just any woman....

A bond of holy friendship existed between Saint Brigid and Saint Erc of Slane, on the banks of the Boyne. It appears from her Acts that she paid him a visit and accompanied him on a tour to his native province of Munster. We are told an anecdote in connection with this visit. The Saint was resting by the sea, not far from Saint Erc's house. Close by this an Anchorite and a number of disciples were resting while on their journey to form a hermitage. The news had reached them that Saint Brigid and her nuns, of whom they had heard so much, had taken up their abode not many miles away and the disciples approached the Father and asked him to allow them to visit Saint Brigid to get her blessing. To which request the Anchorite replied: "My children, you know already my vow to visit no woman."

When they arrived at a hospice in which they were to pass the night, they discovered that the greater portion of their luggage had been left behind on the road. They at once attributed their loss to their neglect on not having sought the blessing of Saint Brigid when passing her cell. In atonement for their fault they spent the night in fasting and prayer. 

Saint Brigid called her nuns round her and bade them carry into the Convent the property which these holy men had left on the wayside, and there the monks with their leader, who had returned for their belongings found them. They humbly knelt for Saint Brigid's blessing and remained three days and as many nights near where she lived. At the earnest request of the Anchorite and his brethren, our Saint accompanied them for one day, on their return journey and imparted a special blessing to them on her leave-taking. 

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 55.

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Monday, 6 February 2017

Saint Brigid gives King Dunling a Lesson in Charity

Today we have a concrete example of the generosity of Saint Brigid spoken of so approvingly in yesterday's post as our saint shows an Irish king the meaning of Christian charity. For the ability of the saints to speak fearlessly and frankly to those in secular authority is also something recorded in hagiography:

C. Chandler, The Red Book of Saints (1958)

Another story showing how exceedingly charitable the Saint was is taken from Colgan. It relates that when Dunling, King of Leinster, reproved her for having given to a poor man the jewelled sword he had with his own hand given to her father in token of friendship and esteem, she replied to him thus: "Do not wonder, O King, that I have bestowed what was in my keeping on the poor, since, were it in power to do so, I would give them all that is possessed by you, O King, and by my father; for God will give eternal rewards in exchange for such temporal riches." The king was deeply impressed by this answer, and he repented that, in a moment of anger, he had used harsh words to one who had shown him a striking example of the exercise of Christian charity. To signify his approval of an act, the motive of which he now understood, he bestowed another sword of greater value, and a number of rich gifts, upon Dubhtach, to show that he now admired her conduct.

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 44.

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Sunday, 5 February 2017

Saint Brigid 'the best and most generous benefactress'

If one has to identify a single virtue which the sources claim typified Saint Brigid, it would have to be her generosity to those in need. The compiler of the series of vignettes we have been enjoying since her feast certainly thought so:

A virtue that drew all hearts irresistibly to the Patroness of Ireland was her wonderful sympathy with and charity toward the poor and afflicted. She looked upon them as her dearest friends and loved to have them around her. They came to her in their need, and they found her to be their best and most generous benefactress. She was never happier than when giving food or raiment to those who asked it of her, and no doubt felt that, although so young, she was old enough to bring happiness to many that had not her advantages or position. It must have been pleasing and profitable to behold this little child distributing her gifts to the poor. The air was filled with blessings and benedictions upon her head, the cry of distress was stifled; the impoverished and needy bodies were strengthened, the wan look of hunger was exchanged for that of radiant joy and delight, as the saint poured her charity into the outstretched hands of the crowds that followed her. we are told that she had a storehouse  erected, into which she placed everything she could collect, whether food or clothes, or other necessities of the age. The meals, necessary for her own nourishment, were often also placed in this hiding place.

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 43.

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Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Testimony of Saint Brigid on the Angels

Continuing the vignettes from the life of Saint Brigid with a follow-up episode to yesterday's angelic intervention. Saint Brigid has been able to save her father's household from burning by an enemy thanks to the warning of an angel. Now back in her newly-established convent at Kildare she elaborates on her relationship with the heavenly host:

C. Erskine, Angels in Art (1898)

When she returned to her new home one of the sisters said to her: "I pray that the angel of the Lord may always assist you, as he had done, during the past night, by the liberation of yourself, your father and his family".  "Not only this night," said the saint, "but in every age, I shall have the Lord's assistance in all things, through the ministry of His angels. For daily I experience a great joy of spirit, while I hear through divine inspiration songs, spiritual canticles and strains of heavenly organs. I am able also to hear every day those sacred Masses which are offered in honour of the Almighty in distant parts of the world, in like manner as if I were present at their celebration, while the angels of God present my prayers to heaven day and night. Wherever I am the Lord always hears me, as I will show by the following two incidents:

On a particular occasion a certain woman, who was a leper and infirm, asked me to bring her water and to perform some other charitable offices for her. Whereupon, I blessed the vessel, which was  filled with water, and presented it, telling her to place the vessel between herself and the wall, so that no person should be able to touch it until her return. But in my presence, the angel of the Lord blessed that water and it was turned into whatever kind of liquid the leper desired; thus it had the taste of honey when this was wished for, again the taste of wine, of beer, of milk, or of any other liquid that infirm woman especially required.

Again, when I was a little girl, I fashioned an altar-stone in honour of my God, yet with child-like intent. Then an angel of the Almighty, in my presence, perforated the stone at its four angles and placed at each of them four wooden feet. That you may glorify Our Lord Jesus Christ I have mentioned, O my daughter, these two interpositions of my Angel Guardian. Thus the grace of God hath always continued within me."

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 59-60.

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Friday, 3 February 2017

An Angel Warns Saint Brigid of Danger

Continuing the octave of posts in honour of Saint Brigid with another vignette drawn from her hagiography:

Having selected the site which was to be the scene of her labours for the remaining years of her life, St. Brigid paid a visit to the house of her father. Her mother had died during the saint's long absence in other parts of Ireland. She remained only one night under the parental roof, and an account is given of a dream she had while she was there and of its result.

For it appears that during her sleep an angel appeared to her and warned her of a terrible disaster which threatened the lives of those near and dear to her by ties of blood. Thus spoke the angel: "Arise immediately and arouse your father with his whole family and your religious daughters, now sleeping, for with an intention of murdering your father and his household an enemy approaches. But the Lord will prevent such intention on your account. Depart instantly from this house, for the foe will set it on fire."

The saint obeyed the order and warned the inmates and they all fled from the house in time to save their lives. They had only gone a short distance when they beheld with sorrow, their home devoured by fire, which the hands of their enemies had kindled. Dubhtach cried out to his daughter: "O holy Brigid, thy blessing has preserved us this night from impending death. We are now conscious of all those wonderful things predicted concerning thee." St. Brigid answering said "Not only this night, but so long as you live, blood shall not be shed within your dwelling."

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 58-59.  

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