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St. Bridget

Bridget was born at Faughart, near Newry Co. Down to a Druid named Dubhtach and his bondwoman, who was soon sent away after her birth.  Bridget’s father raised her in Druid symbolism and "according to the Rennes Dinnsenchus, she was a ban-druÍ, a female Druid, before she converted to Christianity" (Ellis, Celtic Women, p.146).

Bridget first studied under Bishop Ibhair.  The tale says that was converted because he had prophozied that the Virgin Mary would appear in his church, however, on the chosen day, she did now appear, but Bridget appeared.  To save face, he called her ‘Mary of Gael,’ and soon after she gave up her possessions and life to join the church (Ellis, Celtic Women, p.146).

Some time later, to avoid a suit with the King of Leinster, she studied under Mel, the Bishop of Ardagh, son of the important abottess Darerca, sister of St Patrick.  Mel went on to first ordain Bridget as a priest and then later as a Bishop.

Bridget went on to found orders with Celtic traditions.  Her first overlooked the Liffey and was placed within the shade of an oak tree.  She called her church, "the church of the Oaks," which was also near the pagan fortress of Dún Ailinne.  According to the Life of Bridget written by a monk in her following in 650 AD, both men and women were abundant in the community.  Peter B. Ellis, a Celtic scholar, suggests that Bishop Conlaed and she were lovers at some point.  According to customs of the time, his suggestion is not that preposterous.

The Cult of Bridget

After Christian influence ended most sacred marriages, the cult of St Bridget helped it remain a vital part of Celtic life.   The spirit of Bridget was kept alive through her memory as a Christian saint and the Christians connected her memory with the Celtic goddess known as Brighde in Ireland.

The goddess Brighde represented warmth, fire, summer, and possibly the sun and in some Celtic cultures she watched "over thermal springs, presumably as the underground Sun" (Jones, p.102).  The goddess was celebrated with a shrine in Kildare County (Image to left), where a sacred flame burned and a number of women, possibly like the Vestal Virgins in Rome, tended it.  The flame burned through its transition into a Christian nunnery until 1220 AD when Archbishop Henry of Dublin ordered it to be extinguished (Jones, p.102).  At the time of its conversion into a nunnery, the Christian order dedicated it soley to the woman known as St Bridget instead of the Pagan goddess whose memory they wanted to disappear.

Bridget's contributed her Celtic beliefs to the changing world of Briton.  Although, she converted from the Celtic religion to Christianity to the detriment of most of her fellow Druid and Druidess colleagues, she continued the traditions of equality among men and women in Celtic society in her communities.  Her conversion like many others contributed to the fall of Druidism and Celtic religion and is a wonderful example of the conversion of Celtic figures into Christian saints.


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