St. Brigit, Abbess

English Language Study for Russian Orthodox Learners

St. Brigit, Abbess (✝523)
Feast Day – January 19 (February 1)

For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have
put on Christ.  ...there is neither male nor female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
- Galatians, 3:27-28

Saint BrigitSt. Brigit, beloved patron saint of the Irish and founder of the nunnery at Kildare, was born into slavery.  A legend says that she was the child of a young bondswoman and her master, Dubtach.  When the master learned that one of the slave girls was carrying his child, he sold her.  Years later, however, Dubtach reclaimed his daughter, and Brigit was returned to her father.  She grew into a beautiful maiden, loved by people for her charity and compassion for others.  Brigit worked on her father’s farm cooking, cleaning and taking care of the animals.  Dubtach, an impoverished man by then, decided to sell his daughter to the king of the province for much money.  But the king refused, saying that Brigit’s virtues were great and that she should serve God, not men.  

The maiden lived during the time of St. Patrick and, inspired by his preaching, became a Christian.  When Birgit was eighteen, she decided that she would spend the rest of her life serving the poor, sick and elderly.  Dubtach insisted on giving his daughter in marriage, but Brigit asked God to make her unattractive to suitors.  Her prayer was answered:  the girl lost vision in one eye, and her face became disfigured because of it.  Dubtach let his daughter go, and Brigit, after taking the veil, entered a convent.  On the day she took her vows, Brigit’s sight and loveliness miraculously returned.  The maiden’s outer beauty reflected her spiritual grace.

Word of Brigit’s good work as a nun spread among the people, and other young women who wished to consecrate their lives to God joined her in the convent.  In her lifetime, Brigit founded many convents in Ireland, but the most well-known was in Kildare.  The saint built a small cell for herself under an oak tree.  The name Kildare came from two ancient words – kil, or “cell”, and dare, or “oak.”  At first, the community had only twenty nuns, but the number quickly grew.  Brigit was elected abbess.  Like a simple nun, the Mother Superior worked in the fields and took care of the cattle.  People who lived near the nunnery received food and medical care from the holy sisters.  The nuns established a school for local children.  

In 470 Kildare became a double monastery for monks and nuns.*  The Abbey was famous as a great  centre of learning not only in Ireland but throughout Christian Europe.  The school of art in Kildare taught metal work and manuscript illumination.  The magnificent book of the Gospels, or “Book of Kildare” (now lost), was described as “the work of angels, not men.”  

St. Brigit continued to travel all over Ireland starting schools and hospitals.  The Lord gave His faithful servant the power of healing.  It was recorded that St. Brigit cured a leper and gave speech to two mute children of a village woman.  She also helped to release slaves and captives.  The Abbess had a habit of plaiting a cross while praying.  Once, she visited a dying pagan chieftain.  As she was praying for him, she made a cross from rush.  The chieftain asked St. Brigit about the meaning of the cross, and then asked to be baptised before he died.

St. Brigit knew in advance the day of her death.  She blessed her spiritual children before falling peacefully asleep.

* Double monasteries were numerous in the early years of monasticism, a tradition originating in ancient Egypt.  Religious houses comprising both men and women were untied under the direction of one superior who was always an abbess.  The reason for such an arrangement was that the spiritual needs of the nuns could be attended by priests of the same community.

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