In late September of 2023, I moved to a particular neighborhood of Detroit called Corktown. The oldest neighborhood in the city of Detroit, it was also home to a predominantly Irish community - especially for those who emigrated to the United States and found themselves in Detroit for work (often working in the automotive companies known to the area). My maternal great grandparents even joined the local Irish community club after leaving Ireland, The Gaelic League as a way to build friendships and keep their Irish heritage alive.
Since moving to a community so soaked in my own heritage, I have found myself more drawn to learn and understand the stories and history that has formed generations that came before me.
The single female patron saint of Ireland, St. Brigid of Kildare, is one such woman I have found myself getting to know.
What is known about the life of Brigid is a combination of legend, myth, and folklore. It is believed she was born in the year 451 near Dundalk in County Louth to a pagan Chieftain and to a Christian slave mother, who was sold shortly after Brigid’s birth. She was named after Brigit (or Brigantia), an ancient Celtic goddess of poetry, prophecy, and divination. Her name in Gaelic means “exalted one.”
At one point, her father wished her to marry the King of Ulster, but she refused and eventually won his permission to become a nun. In time, the king of Lienster recognized Brigid had a beautiful soul and gifted her a large plain in Kildare, Ireland. Brigid built many convents in Ireland, but Kildare was the most famous for housing both monks and nuns. She continued to be active in founding other communities of nuns throughout Ireland for the rest of her life.
As an abbess of the monastery in Kildare, she ranked above the abbot who governed the monks; which is why she is often shown carrying a bishop’s hooked staff called a crozier. Such a position of leadership was highly unlikely for women at this time in history.
A woman of great faith, St. Brigid is revered for her gentleness, piety, and charity to the poor. She was known for miraculous healings and for the gift of hospitality to all she encountered. She was once called to the bedside of a dying pagan chief to speak to him about God and Christ's love for mankind. To illustrate her point, she picked some of the reeds covering the dirt floor and wove them into a cross, which she then used to help him understand how Christ died. Today we know this as St. Brigid’s Cross - a common expression of faith found in Irish homes.
When portrayed in sacred art or imagery, fire is a symbol of St. Brigid. And I think fire is a fitting symbol for such a woman - a gifted leader, prophet, and spiritual teacher in her time. Brigid of Kildare is one of the two spiritual bookends that helped bring Christianity to Ireland, as well as developing the rich gift of Celtic spirituality. Her legacy is a combination of bold tenacity and mystery.
What was the fire deep in her belly that fueled her to lead and impact the people of Ireland?
And more importantly, perhaps the question to sit with, is what is the fire burning inside of your heart? What is the call in your heart that leads you on, just as Brigid was led to do all she did?
Perhaps it is connecting your sacred fire to the sacred fire that lived within Brigid is a place to find both connection and kinship with her. May she inspire you and pray for you - wherever your life and your sacred fire takes you.
Blessings on your work.
May your inspiration be St Brigid, the generous, patron of artisans, who once having set her mind on Christ never took it off.
May your strength be your community whose prayers are ever with you.
And may your love br friends and family, dearest kin of the heart.
Grace be with you, my sister.
-Jan Richardson, In the Sanctuary of Women: A Companion for Reflection & Prayer