Tuesday, July 22, 2008

St Bridget of Kildare, Bride of Ireland and Four Gwent Churches. Feast Day February 1st

Bridget was born at Faughart, near Newry Co. Down (d 525) to a Druid named Dubhtach and his bondwoman, who was soon sent away after her birth. Bridget’s father raised her in Druid symbolism and "according t o the Rennes Dinnsenchus, she was a ban-druÍ, a female Druid, before she converted to Christianity" .Her 'lives' were written in the seventh century and are a series of miracle stories with a strong nature worship theme.However the advancement of female Christian nuns and their strong tradition of learning and above all kindness and munificence of the Christian ethic won many to the Christian ideal and Irish monks and nuns were at the forefront of missionary work carrying the gospel overseas.Latin was the spoken language of Church and liturgy and monks and nuns like St Tatheus also came to Gwent . Tatheus ounded the monastery at Caerwent which became a great seat of learning where St Cadoc of Newport studied.It is reasonable that he, and other monks who came with him would have recounted te stories of the miracles of St Bridget of Kildare.

Bridget first studied under Bishop Ibhair. He had prophesied that the Virgin Mary would appear in his church, however, on the chosen day, she did now appear, but Bridget appeared. He called her ‘Mary of Gael,’ and soon after she gave up her possessions and life to join the church as a nun. In Kildare, in Gaelic cill dara meaning 'Church of the Oak Tree', she founded a monastery. Soon Kildare grew into a cathedral city of learning and piety.

Some time later, to avoid a suit with the King of Leinster, she studied under Mel, the Bishop of Ardagh, son of the important abbess Darerca, sister of St Patrick, by whom Bridget was actually said to have been baptised.

The Oak Tree and Oak leaf emblem (borrowed from the pagan goddess Bride?

Her first monastic foundation overlooked the Liffey and was placed within the shade of an oak tree. She called her monastic church, "the church of the Oaks," which was also near the pagan fortress of Dún Ailinne. According to the Life of Bridget written by a monk in her following in 650 AD, it was a 'conhospitae' as both men and women were abundant in the community.The spirit of Bridget was kept alive through her memory as a Christian saint


The flame at the shrine in Kildare burned through its transition into a Christian nunnery until 1220 AD when Archbishop Henry of Dublin ordered it to be extinguished (Jones, p.102). At the time of its conversion into a nunnery, the Christian order dedicated it only to the Christian nun known as St Bridget.

Bridget's contribution was far ranging.Like Mother Theresa, she used her position to clothe the naked and feed the hungry.The Christian tradition too ad elevated the status of women too. They could choose whether to marry or take the veil if they were wealthy enough as dowries were still paid to the convents.Her conversion like many others contributed to the fall of Druidism.Hpspitality was the watchword of the convent and the poor were always welcome. St Bridget is a great ikon of prosperous Irland of today. The Brehon laws which regulated vil law in her time, stipulated that a free man had to give food and shelter to any man equal to or lower than his own rank. Bridget made a virtue of this law, seeing in the reflection of Christ's word, that whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to him.

Condlaed, Bridget's Chaplain

Bishop Condlaed, Bridget's chaplain had recently bought some fine new vestments over from Brittany. One day, when the bishop was not looking, Bridget cut them up to clothe the poor.Emeritus Professor E.G. Bowen remarks jovially :'We are left to imagine some Irish lad with angels embroidered on his pants being teased by his mates and possibly chased by the Bishop'.

Professor Bowen continues: 'And legend further says' She sailed from Ireland to Anglesea on a green sod of earth and instantly upon landing became a firm hillock and was afterwards called HOLY HEAD (Holyhead'. Acorns and oak leaves are the special emblems of St Bridget who is usually depicted with a holy flame over her head. Theseemblems can be seen over the churches. It is worth saying that the Wentloog levels were popular landing places for Irish-especially pirates and it may be some stayed in the area, bringing their local saints with them. Netherwent is also not so far from the Severn Channel , close to where Tatheus would have landed.

Bridget's father wanted to force Bridget into marriage with a wild chieftain of the neighbourhood, and when, like so many olthers, Tecla, Winefride etc she refused he threatened to force her, whereupon - and wait for it = the saint is said to have made her eyes fall out of their sockets. Her father (understandibly) shrieked with horrow and fled . Calmly, Bridget took up her eyes and inserted them back into the sockets and made her way to the sea shore where she cut little sods of turf and using them as boats sailed to Wales (or Britannia as it was then without England) Her miracles included the changing of stones into honey, or ashes into butter and rushes into smelts.

The Normans in Kildare
When the Normans reached Kildare in the twelfth century, thedy foiund a flame still alight on her shrine.Dedications to St Bridget (or St Bride) continued in the Middle Ages.She was a special favourite of Wales

Four Churches in Gwent have dedications to St Brigid. These are (in Welsh

1. St Bridget's Church, near Usk Llansantffraed (the Holy Place of St Bride)near Llanarth.This can be found in the grounds of the gorgeous Llansantffraed Court Hotel, a country house hotel with amazing views.This parish is the smal;lest in the county,consisting only of some 290 acres with its boundary excluding even the lodge at the entrance from the main road, which is in the parish of Llanarth.

2. St Bride's Wentloog Llansantffraed Gwynllwg (St Bride's Wentloog)
oS ST292823 This Church stands at the Mouth of the River Usk by the Britsol Channel off the B4239 south of Newport. The present church is 15th century and was restored in the 1990's.

3. St Bride's Netherwent. Llansantffraed Iscoed. OSST 428895
This charming little church has not changed since the days of Fred Hando who described it in the Pleasant Land of Gwent in 1951. The church is located near St Bride's Brook in a tiny hamlet just north of Junction 23 a on the M4. To the West of the church is the site of an abandoned Mediaeval village, which may have had more than ten houses. To the north is the site of Bride's mill.

4.Llansantffraid Ynys Gynwraidd (The Maiden's Island) St Bride's Skenfrith )OS S)4 56203)Maiden means 'Virgin' here-the Virgin of Kildare.It is possible that there was an ancient Celtic foundation here before the Norman Church, because of the translated name.

This Church stands next to the River Monnow(afon Mynwy) close to the border with England. Present building dates from 1207 AD. Acorns, oak leaves and flames can be seen in the sanctuary and there is an ancient head of a nun over the porch which is said to represent Briget. The tower dates from the time when this border country was often raided by the English and was a protective keep as well. The walls of the tower are five feet thick. St Fraed's Well (Bridget's Well) is marked on the OS map in nearby woods. (SO 462203)

A fifth dedication just south of Brecon on the Usk (Llansantffraed juxta Usk)is ouside Brecon and outside the county boundaries. (OS SO123235)A church on the site is mentioned in 1254 but was in ruins by 19th century.The gothic style building is from 1885 (during Oxford Movement and contains some stone and features rescued from the mediaeval church including a3th century font.

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