St Bridget of Kildare
She lived in the infancy of Christianity in Ireland. She was born at sunrise, with the birth of the year; the first of February is her day. The dandelion, "the little notched flower of Bride," is her flower, earliest gold scattered upon earliest emerald, and the anemone also, delicate blossom growing on the edge of the snowdrift, while the linnet, "the little bird of Bride," sings its earliest song from scarce veiled twigs.
As the old verses say of her:
"She dips her fingers in the river and the ice melts." "She breathes upon the world and winter is gone." She seems the shining and fresh and white, the pure and bright emblem of new life.
She is fresh and white as her symbol, the milk which is the beginning of life.
Shining she is and pure and bright as that other symbol of her, fire, which is the sustainer of life.
They say that her mother was a slave girl, Brotseach by name, in the house of the Great Dubhtach. One day Brotseach was returning to the house with a pitcher of milk warm from the cow, when she was seized with labour and sank down on the threshold. She being delivered, the angels poured the milk over the new-born child. Such was Bridget's baptism.
"Happy is the child that is born neither in the house nor out of the house," St Maccail has prophesied of her.
She was fed from the milk of a snow-white cow set apart for her by a Druid, and many wonders she performed in the multiplying of milk, and other things beside.
When she was living as a young girl in her father's house in Munster, five pieces of bacon were once given her to boil, some guests having come to visit. But a hungry dog came also. She gave him one of the pieces of bacon, and when he still seemed hungry, she gave him another. Yet when her father came, asking her for the five pieces of bacon, she gave them all to him and none was missing. But the guest who had seemed to sleep by the fireside had seen all, and when time came to eat, he refrained, for he knew himself unworthy, and the meat was given to the hungry and poor.
When she was still very young she was sent out to service on a farm, where she had charge of twelve cows. She used to divide the butter she made into twelve parts in honour of the twelve Apostles, but the thirteenth part she made bigger than the rest, and that part she gave to strangers and the poor, saying: "This is Christ's portion. In His name I feed the poor, for Christ is in the body of every poor man."
When the master of the twelve cows heard of this, he came to the farm to inquire into the matter, and his wife came with him. They brought a large jar into the dairy, where Bridget made them welcome, bathed their feet, and offered them food. Then they gave her the jar to fill with butter, and she had only a churning and a half to put into it. But she went to her kitchen and, standing in the middle of it, she prayed this prayer:
Then she brought out one half of the churning, and the wife derided her. But Bridget said: "Put it in the jar and God will add something to it."
She returned again and again to the dairy and each time brought out half a churning, having each time repeated her prayer. And she could in the same way have gone on filling all the jars in Ireland with butter.
Bridget was beautiful, with long golden hair, and eyes deep and blue as the heavens, but she early determined that none but Christ should be her bridegroom, and as her beauty drew after her suitors seeking her favour, she prayed that her loveliness might be dimmed, so that she need no longer be evading their entreaties, but might in peace devote herself to her Lord. Her prayers were answered. Soon one of her eyes was afflicted with a swelling, and her smooth skin suffered from unsightly blemishes.
But Bridget (have no fear) was not so to go through life, for when she went to St Patrick to be ordained a nun, and he put over her white habit the snowy cloak and veil in which she was ever after to be arrayed—her beauty blossomed again in all its freshness, and the very wood of the steps on which she knelt before the Saint, though old and seasoned, burst forth again into life and leafy greenness, and so remained.
Once, when she had made her cell under the oak, which after many days grew to be the monastery of Kildare, the Seven Bishops came to see her, and she had no food to give them. So she prayed, and angels came who bade her milk the cows for the third time that day. She milked them herself, and they gave so much that all the vessels in the place were filled and overflowed into a hollow near by and made the lake that is called the Lake of Milk to this day.
Another time she was minding her cow by the way-side, having no pasture land of her own. The rich man who owned the land bordering the road came by and asked: "How much land would it take to give grass enough to feed your cow?"
"As much as my cloak would cover," answered Bridget.
"I will give you that much," said the man.
When Bridget laid down her cloak it began to spread and spread and spread out for mile upon mile in all directions, and would have spread on to the very edge of the island, had not an old woman, passing by, cried out: "If that cloak goes on spreading, all the island will be free," and with that the cloak stopped, but Bridget owned that land through her lifetime, and it was she who established the right of free grazing.
Then is it a wonder if all Ireland loved her, her that was the friend of the poor and the sick, of lepers, paralytics, and lunatics; the friend and counsellor or great and wise men, bishops and kings; foundress of a great monastery, a great school, and the great city of Kildare; Bridget the milkmaid that blessed and preserved the flocks and herds; Bridget the Foster Mother of Christ, who blessed women in the hour of childbirth; Bridget the Flame, whose fire was for seven hundred years after her death preserved unspent in her church!
So all Ireland loved her, and does to this day, because she so loved Ireland that her very mantle tried to cover the whole land and make it free. One might say that the sunshine of Ireland loved Bridget and dwelt lovingly on her cloak, white like milk, and on her yellow locks, bright and golden like fire.
This was proved one day when, Abbess of Kildare though she was, she in all humility was out tending her flocks. St Brennain having come to see her, one of the Sisters went in haste to find her and bring her in to welcome him. As Bridget came, it rained till her cloak was drenched. But when she entered the sun was again shining, and came in by the window in a shaft of light. Hurriedly doffing her cloak, she threw it over the sunbeam, and—for the Irish sunbeam so loved Bridget—he held up her dripping mantle and dried it. Patiently he waited on, hour after hour, till she should come, take her cloak and let him be gone.
At last one of the Sisters went to her, saying: "My Mother, the hour grows late, and the sun has long been set. The sunbeam to whom thou didst entrust thy wet mantle tarries still, though now the garment is dry."
Bridget went swiftly to the hall and, seeing the belated sunbeam, cried: "Haste, haste, kind and gentle friend, the sun is far on its way, and unless thou go fast wilt thou never come up with him!"
Then she thanked him and, taking her cloak, put it upon her shoulders again, while he, smiling in farewell, vanished.