St Brigid




Saint’ Day 1st February


Also known as Bride, Bridget


The parish church of Abernethy is dedicated to St Bride, who is better known as St Brigid.  This Irish saint founded a famous religious house at Kildare, and is recorded in the two foundation legends of Abernethy church.  Although it is unlikely that St Brigid ever came to Abernethy herself, there does seem to have been a link between Abernethy and the saint from early times, possibly as the result of church men or women coming to Scotland from Ireland and bringing her cult or relics with them.


Little is known for certain about St Brigid and some historians have suggested that she did not in fact exist, but was instead a representative figure made up by early church writers and based on other holy women and Irish pagan characters.  It is more likely that there was a historical saint who was responsible for the foundation of the church at Kildare, but that many of the stories told about her and the traditions associated with her have more to do with Irish folk legend than the real saint’s life.


Some of the confusion about the saint has arisen because Brigid was also the name of an Irish pagan goddess, and many of the attributes and traditions associated with the saint have clearly pagan roots.  St Brigid’s Day (1st February) is the same date as Imbolc, the pagan festival of spring, and the saint is often associated with fire and the sun, which may be a remnant of a pagan cult.

The following is the extract from the Museum of Abernethy leaflet
A Museum of Abernethy Guide

Brigid and Abernethy




The Parish Church at Abernethy is dedicated to St Bride, who is more commonly known as St Bridget or Brigid. The saint features in the two different legends associated with the foundation of the church of Abernethy.

The first legend tells that during the late fifth century there were two rivals who wanted to rule the Pictish kingdom. One of the men seized the throne, and the other, Nechtan, son of Wirp, had to leave and go into exile in Ireland.  While he was there, he met St Brigid, who told him that his rival had died. He returned to Pictland and claimed his rightful position, and in thanks for the saint's intervention he granted Abernethy to God and St Brigid.

In the second foundation legend, set 100 years later in the late sixth century, the Pictish king Garmait, son of Domnach, founded and built the church of Abernethy, and gave land to God, St Mary and St Brigid, after St Patrick brought St Brigid and her followers to Pictland.

Although it is highly unlikely that either of these foundation legends can be taken as literal truth, there does seem to have been a link between Abernethy and St Brigid from early times, possibly as the result of church men or women from Ireland coming to Scotland and bringing Brigid's cult or relics with them.

Brigid's Life



Although Brigid is probably tile most famous Irish saint after Patrick, very little is known for certain about her life. Her story was written and rewritten throughout the Middle Ages, and tile supposed facts often differed between accounts.   The earliest Life of Brigid. by Cogitosus, was written only a century after her death, but the author was concerned more with describing her miracles than her life. Because so little is known for certain, some historians have suggested that she did not actually exist, but was instead a representative figure, made up of other holy women and Irish pagan characters. There is no real reason to doubt Brigid's existence, but much of what has been attributed to her does come from traditional Irish folklore or other saints' lives.

It is generally accepted that Brigid was bom in Ireland around 450 AD, although several places have been claimed as her place of birth. One account says that her parents were slaves, but the more common version is that her father, Dubthach, was a chieftain and her mother, Brocseach, was either a Christian noblewoman or Dubthach's slave! When she was a young girl, Brigid took tile veil under the guidance of St Mel, and it is said that he mistakenly consecrated her as a bishop.

About the year 470 she founded a double monastery at Cill-Dara (Kildare) and was Abbess of the convent, the first in Ireland. The foundation developed into a centre of learning and spirituality, and the illuminated manuscripts produced mere became famous, especially me Book of Kildare, which was believed to be one of the finest of all illuminated Irish manuscripts before it was lost three centuries ago.

Brigid died at Kildare around 525 AD on 1st February, which became her Saint's Day. She was buried at Kildare, but a later tradition claims that her remains were moved to Downpatrick to protect them from Vikings, and that she is now buried with SS Patrick and Colmcille.

The Pagan Goddess



Brigid, meaning 'exalted one' was also the name of an Irish pagan goddess and many of the attributes with which the saint is credited were those which were particularly respected in pagan times, such as healing powers, great learning and the gift of poetry. Kildare, also means 'the church of the oak', suggesting that there had been a pagan sanctuary there before the church, and St Brigid's Day (Ist Feb) is the same date as Imbolg, the pagan festival of spring.

The saint is often associated with fire and the sun, which may be a remnant of a pagan cult. A perpetual flame was tended at Kildare by a group of nineteen nuns until after the Reformation, and the remains of the flame house can still be seen.

Stories about Brigid



One day while she was tending her sheep, there was a very heavy downpour of rain and the saint was soaked to the skin. When the sun came out again she was dazzled, and mistaking a sunbeam for the branch of a tree, hung her cloak on it until it dried out.

One day Brigid visited a dying chieftain. As she sat by his bedside praying, she picked some rushes up from the floor and began plaiting them into a cross. The man was curious about what she was doing, so she explained that the cross was a symbol of God's love.  As she told him about her religion, he became very impressed, and converted before he died. In some places, it is still the custom to make these crosses on St Brigid's Day to ensure good luck for the household over the coming year.