A Celtic Goddess and a Christian Saint

June 6, 2016

There are churches dedicated to Saint Brigid in many parts of the world. With time, she became one of the most important icons of the Catholic Church. However, it is still uncertain if she was a real person. An analysis of various resources suggests that her legend actually grew from a myth about a Celtic goddess.

During the first centuries of its existence, the Christian religion adopted and modified many pagan sites and stories. Several churches replaced ancient altars and sacred pagan locations.

Moreover, stories about the great people of the past and myths about their deities became the foundation for legends which describe the lives of Christian saints. When the early Christians discovered a powerful story in the land of a recently converted community they tried to replace it with one of their own.

A Goddess of Spring

Her name is often said to be Brigid, but she has also been called Brigit, Brig, Brighid, Bride, etc. She was an Irish goddess who was associated with spring, poetry, medicine, cattle, and arts and crafts. Brigid’s feast day was celebrated around February 1 and was called Oimlec (Imbolc). The original Irish text says the following about her:

”Feast of the Bride, feast of the maiden.
Melodious Bride of the fair palms.
Thou Bride fair charming,
Pleasant to me the breath of thy mouth,
When I would go among strangers
‘Thou thyself wert the hearer of my tale.”

The name Brigid may come from the word ”Brigani” meaning ”sublime one”. It was romanized as Brigantia during the times of the Roman Empire’s domination. This form was used to name the river Braint (now Anglesey), Brent (Middlesex), and also Brechin in Scotland. Brigid appears to be related to the Roman goddess Victoria, but sometimes she was presented as similar to Caelstis or Minerva instead.

According to Cormac’s Glossary (written by 10th century monks) she was a daughter of the god Dagda, a protector of a tribe. She was seen as a goddess of poetry, fertility, and smithcraft. Her identification with Minerva comes from the interest of both goddesses in bards and artists.

In ancient times, smiths were not only recognized for their craft, but their work was also connected with magic. Brigid was strongly associated with the symbol of fire as well. She was a part of the Tuatha Dé Danann, an Irish supernatural race known from mythology. She may have also been one of the triple deities of the Celts.

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