Hidden lives

Daily Reading for February 1 • Brigid (Bride), 523

Celtic saints are tenaciously native and local. They have, from the beginning, been a natural part of life, associated above all with the place in which they lived out their vocation. The waters of the holy well after all are the very selfsame waters that they were in the lifetime of the saint. Men and women are deemed saints because of the memory of their lives of holiness (in many cases secret, almost hidden lives, particularly those less well known Welsh saints), rather than because of a decision by a remote ecclesiastical authority. . . .

One of the most important seasonal celebrations of a saint was that of St. Brigit (or Bride), whose feast day on February 1 seems to have incorporated pre-Christian elements into a Christian festival. This feast day comes at the end of the winter months, the three “dead” months of the year, when nature is asleep. Brigit, with her white wand, was said to breathe life into the mouth of the dead winter and bring him to open his eyes to the tears, the smiles, and laughter of spring. At the end of the last century in Scotland, Carmichael found this saying:

Bride put her finger in the river

On the feast day of Bride

And away went the hatching mother of the cold. . .

But then a further connection was made with Candlemas, for it was said in Ireland that Bride walked before Mary with a lighted candle in each hand when she went up to the temple for purification, and although the winds were strong on the temple heights and the tapers were unprotected, they did not flicker or fail, and for this reason Bride is called “Bride of brightness.”

From The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination by Esther de Waal (New York: Image Books, 1997).

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