John Speller's Web Pages Hymn to St. Brigid

John Speller's Web Pages

A Hymn to St. Brigid Celtica Horizontal Menu Boar's Horizontal
St. Bridget or Bride or Brigid of Kildare (c. 451-525) was considered second only to the Virgin Mary among Irish saints. The fact that she shared her saint's day (February 1st.) with the festival of the pre-Christian goddess Brigid may suggest that she was partly or even entirely a fictional Christianization of the pagan myth of Brigid.

St. Brigid is particularly associated with the love of beer, and the following lines are attributed to her:

I wish I had a great lake of ale for the King of kings, and the family of heaven to drink it through time eternal. I wish I had the meats of belief and genuine piety, the flails of penance, and the men of heaven in my house. I would like keeves of peace to be at their disposal, vessels of charity for distribution, caves of mercy for their company, and cheerfulness to be in their drinking. I would want Jesus also to be in their midst, together with the three Marys of illustrious renown, and the people of heaven from all parts. I would like to be a tenant to the Lord, so if I should suffer distress, he would confer on me a blessing. Amen.

Among the miracles reported of her she is said once to have turned her bathwater into beer and on another occasion to have provided beer for the Great Fifty Days of Easter to 18 churches from a single barrel.

The iconography of St. Brigid is complex and interesting. The pagan goddess Brigid had a shrine in Kildare where a fire was kept perpetually burning. St. Brigid is said to have kept the fire burning but given it a Christian interpretation. For this reason she is often portrayed holding a bowl of fire. She is foten also portrayed holding the "cross of St. Brigid," perhaps derived from a pagan sunwheel. This is made of rushes and is a cross with four equal tapering arms which are offset to the left and attached to a central square. St. Brigid is also sometimes portrayed with an abbess' crozier.

The first line of the hymn has been altered from "Christ in our isle was shown to men," in order to make it singable outside of Ireland. The text is sometimes attributed to St. Ultan, Bishop of Ardbreccan, who died in 656 or 657 CE.
The Vesting of St. Brigid, by Lorenzo Lotto, 1524
St. Brigid with her distinctive pectoral cross and bowl of fire
Cross of St. Brigid. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
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