Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Brigid of Kildare: Animals, Fire & Beer

There are many stories about Brigid of Kildare's concern for the needs of others, including animals. One tells of her taming of a wolf at the request of a local chieftain whose dog had died when a peasant accidentally killed it. She also loved birds, as is evidenced in the Gaelic name given to the oyster-catching bird: gall-brigade. On one occasion, according to her biographer, Cogitosus, she saw some ducks swimming in the water and occasionally taking wing. Overcome with tenderness, she watched as the flock took off and flew towards her. She took them in hand and embraced them tenderly, then released them to fly away again. Cogitosus says: "And as they did so she praised God the Creator of all living things, to whom all life is subject, and for the services of whom all life is gift." Another time, it is said, a wild boar was being hunted and charged out of the forest and, in panic, ended up in the midst of Brigid's herd of pigs. When she saw the boar, she blessed it and it became calm, settling down quietly with the rest of the herd.

Kildare, where Brigid gathered a group of women, and later men, into a community of nuns and monks, had formerly been a pagan shrine where a sacred fire was kept perpetually burning.  Instead of stamping out the fire, Brigid and her nuns kept it going, but interpreted it in a Christian way. This was in keeping with the general process in Ireland whereby Druidism was supplanted by Christianity with minimal opposition. Many Druids felt that their own beliefs were a partial and tentative insight into the nature of God, and many recognized in Christianity what they'd been looking for.

Perhaps my favorite bit of lore about the "Mary of the Gaels" is the prayer attributed to St. Brigid:

I'd like to give a lake of beer to God;
I'd love the heavenly host to be tippling there for all eternity

I'd love the men of heaven to live with me to dance and sing
If they wanted, I'd put at their disposal vats of suffering
White cups of love. I'd give them with a heart and a half;
Sweet pitchers of mercy I'd offer to every man.

I'd make heaven a cheerful spot
Because the happy heart is true.

I'd make people contented for their own sake
I'd like Jesus to love me too.

I'd like the people of heaven to gather from all the parishes around;
I'd give special welcome to the women
The three Marys of great renown.

I'd sit with the men, the women, of God
There by the lake of beer;
We'd be drinking good health for ever
And every drop would be a prayer.

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