Ireland on Thursday, February 1, is celebrating the 1,500th anniversary of the death of St. Brigid of Kildare, the island’s female patron saint.
St. Brigid (c. 453–524 A.D.) is credited with pioneering female monastic life in the Emerald Isle. Her feast is celebrated on February 1, which became an annual public bank holiday across Ireland in her honor, in 2023.
“St. Brigid was a huge figure of authority in the early Church, baptized by St. Patrick, professed by St. Mel, spiritual adviser to St. Conleth,” Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin said at a Mass ahead of St. Brigid’s feast.
Ireland’s Kildare County has organized pilgrimages, lectures, and many activities in its Brigid 1500 Program to mark the anniversary, including a workshop on how to weave a St. Brigid’s Cross, which is the Saint’s most enduring symbol.
A typical St. Brigid’s cross is traditionally made out of rushes or reeds freshly pulled from the ground.
Father Patrick Joseph Hughes, a country priest in County Cavan told sources that the story that has been handed down over the years is that St. Brigid was trying to explain to the local chieftain, who did not believe in God, that Jesus was his savior and died on a cross for him. The chieftain did not understand, so she made a cross out of rushes from the ground and presented it to him: “‘Look,’ she said, ‘that’s a cross, and Jesus was stretched out on that for the world.'”
St. Brigid’s Catholic Church in Kildare kicked off the feast day on February 1, with a Mass at 9:15 a.m. offered by Bishop Denis Nulty.
Bishop Nulty recently installed St. Brigid’s relics in St. Brigid’s Catholic Church on January 29, as part of the 1,500th anniversary celebrations.
The relics were taken from the bone fragment of the saint’s head, which has been kept in St. John the Baptist Church in Lumiar, Portugal, since three Irish knights brought it there in 1273. The Portuguese church gave the relic to the Brigidine Sisters in Tullow, Ireland, in the 1930s, and they recently gifted it to St. Brigid’s Catholic Church in Kildare.
“Today we have brought her home,” Bishop Nulty said. “Obtaining the relic of a saint like Brigid is no easy feat. I visited Lumiar in October 2021, with the singular intention of securing a relic for St. Brigid’s Church. I was privileged then to hold the relic of her head, which is contained in a splendid brass casket. Sadly, I couldn’t squeeze it into my Ryan Air flight bag!”
The bishop and female Anglican leaders also came together for an ecumenical service at 11 a.m. on the feast day at the historic St. Brigid’s Cathedral, built on the site of the ancient hilltop where St. Brigid founded her monastery in the year 480 A.D. The previously Catholic cathedral, which was consecrated in 1230, is now an Anglican cathedral.
Anglican Rev. Canon Alison Joyce from London delivered the sermon at the ecumenical service.
The service was followed by a “pause for peace,” a minute of silent prayer for peace. St. Brigid was well known as a peacemaker. Among the many stories told about her, local tradition holds that Brigid gave away her father’s sword in exchange for food for a family suffering from hunger.
St. Brigid is one of Ireland’s three patron saints, along with St. Patrick and St. Columba.