St. Bridget

Yesterday, I returned  from a bike trip around Co. Clare in Ireland.  I spent 10 days riding around the beautiful countryside with my sister.  I’ve never been to Ireland before; so I was just entranced with the clashing of the ancient cemeteries, churches, shrines alongside the golf courses and plastic kiddy slides.  

One day, as we were riding up the hills to the Cliffs of Moher, we came up on St. Bridget’s Well.  Bridget, of course, was originally one of the three goddesses that make up the sort of heart/head of Celtic tradition.  When Christianity came to Ireland oh so many years ago, Bridget became a saint and is often portrayed as a nun.  So at this well is a statue of St. Bridget, dressed as a nun, and a countless prayers and offerings to the saint.  But its all mingled together–Catholic prayers, Celtic imagery, the Virgin.  All adorn the inside of the well, plaintively asking for support.

I have often been frustrated by this sort of Catholic take over of native traditions in order to make all Catholic. So colonial, so inauthentic, so untruthful. But, for the first time, I wasn’t grossed out. It felt sort of organic; like people weren’t dismayed that Bridget had shifted from being Celtic to Catholic.  And that maybe there wasn’t even a shift at all–Bridget remains, though the traditions around her shift. 

(And then I bought this great kids’ book: “The Incredible Sister Bridget” all about how cool of a nun Sr. Bridget was! Sort of captures the entire clash and symmetry.)

I stood in that well amazed by people’s capacity to relate with the divine and to appreciate something bigger than ourselves–the names change, the experience stays.  And that’s at the heart of why I still call myself Catholic.

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3 thoughts on “St. Bridget

  1. What an awesome post, Kate! I came to a similar understanding when I was in the Cathedral in Guatemala City back in 2002. All up the center naive were built in incense pits for the native Mayan people to make offerings and pray to God, the saints and their ancestors (as members of the communion of saints) as they have been doing for thousands of years. From an anthropological standpoint, it was obviously the collision of the Spanish conquers/missionaries (who all ran together for the most part) and Central America’s indigenous people, but from a faith standpoint, it was the merging of two faith traditions on the big Truths: God and those who go before us have given us life, love and wisdom, so we must continue to cultivate relationships with them as a part of our worship and ritual traditions. And that’s at the heart of why I am still Catholic too!

  2. So lovely, thank you for this. I wish I were there! You did a great job of making me feel like I was close though. I think many of these opportunities are really cause for rich spirituality. I grew up in an area where there was a great deal of first nation families. And the spirituality of respect for nature and communing with God in nature really enriched my Catholic beliefs. Now, there is the flip side unfortunately when we remember that may times these were forced conversions of a people.

    I am always intrigued by the ways people held onto beliefs and practices, either by incorporating it into the new faith, or finding ways to disguise it so they can still practice it. I was particularly struck by the ways Jewish families in Spain found ways to maintain their rituals and even make them almost look Catholic so they could practice their faith. I am so sad that it represents a time where people had to do so in secret for fear of death literally, but I am encouraged by their strong, enduring faith. Even the fish symbol for Christians and beating the chest three times, those sorts of things Christians did when they were under fear.

  3. St./Goddess Brigid is my favorite of the Celtic pantheon, and one of my favorite saints. Celtic Christianity has such a rich history, in many ways very different from the Roman church. There was even a time when communities who identified themselves as part of Brigid’s line had both men and women together at the altar saying the Mass.

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