Did you know that Saint Brigid of Ireland is highly regarded and revered in Portugal?
In the village of Lumiar, about six miles from Lisbon, and in the parish church of St. John the Baptist, is a chapel, dedicated to Ireland's beloved Saint Brigid. Here a relic of the saint, her actual skull, has been preserved and revered for centuries.
And so, on her feast day today, February 1st, let's explore the links between Saint Brigid and Lisbon, Portugal.
St Brigid – Her Final Resting Place:
St. Brigid of Kildare (c.452 - 525) died in the convent she had founded in Kildare in the eastern part of Ireland.
She, with the help of St. Conleth, whom she invited to join her, built a great religious center, including a convent, monastery , school of art and metal work.
After her death her remains were protected and venerated in an ornate altar in the monastery church along with the remains of St Conleth.
A monk named Cogitosus, writing an account of St Brigid’s life around the year 650 AD, described this altar as being “adorned with a refined profusion of gold, silver, gems and precious stones, with gold and silver chandeliers hanging from above and different images presenting a variety of carvings and colors”.
Burial Place of Saints Brigid and Patrick in Downpatrick, County Down
Her remains are said to have been moved to Downpatrick, Co Down in the year 835 AD for fear of the Danish Vikings, who were plundering Irish towns and monasteries.
Indeed, the following year the Danes attacked Kildare and stole the jeweled shrines of St Brigid and St Conleth.
Downpatrick was also at risk of Viking attack so St Brigid’s remains, along with those of St Patrick and St Colmcille were reburied in a place that was kept secret.
By 1185, when St. Malachy was bishop of Down, the site of the three saints’ burial place was unknown.In response to St. Malachy’s prayers a beam of light showed him the place on the floor of a church beneath which he found the saints’ graves.
Pope Urban the third, gave St Malachy permission to move the bodies to Down Cathedral, where they were interred on Jun 9th 1186 AD, on the Feast of St. Columcille.
Sadly, most of the relics of the saints were lost at the time of Henry VIII when he went on he indiscriminately dissolved monasteries all over the British Isles.
St Brigid – The Lisbon Link:
Saint Brigid's skull was brought to Portugal by three Irish knights in the 13th century.
It's not known why or how these three Irish knights came to have the skull of St Brigid. And the question as to why they brought it with them on their way to the crusades in 1283 has never been answered.
Legend has it that they fought the Moors in Portugal and this is why her relic is now in the Church of St John, in Lumiar, in the suburbs of Lisbon.
The three faithful knights remained with the Holy Relic for the rest of their days, and when they died they were interred in tombs let into the wall of St. Brigid’s chapel.
An inscription on the outside wall of St John’s church, dated January 1283, tells us that the head of St Brigid rests in the chapel and that the knights are buried there. Here is the translation..
"Here in these three tombs lie interred the three Irish Knights (or gentlemen) who brought the head of the Blessed Saint Bridget, virgin, a native of Ireland, whose relic is in this chapel, for remembrance of which the officials of the board (or confraternity) of the saint, out of their own funds, caused this to be made A.D. 1283."
Today, many Irish pilgrims to Our Lady’s Shrine in Fatima include a visit to venerate St Brigid at St John’s Church in Lumiar, Lisbon on their way home to Ireland.
A Piece of Saint Brigid's Relic Returned to Dublin from Portugal:
In 1929 a small portion of St. Brigid’s skull was given back to the people of Ireland by the Cardinal of Lisbon and placed in St Brigid’s Church in Killester, Dublin with the approval of the Archbishop of Dublin and the solemn ceremony of translation occurred on Sunday 27th November 1929.
This is the church where my parents were married and I only recently learned that a relic from our beloved saint rests there.
St Brigid, Saint of the Earth and Farming:
Saint Brigid of Kildare is a patroness of Ireland and also of those who have a care for the earth, for justice and equality, for peace and reconciliation.
In Portugal, on February 1st, she is called upon to bless all farming produce and livestock.
She is said to be the patron saint of cattle and many traditions link her to farming. One legend says that as a baby she was fed by the milk of a white cow with red ears. Other legends say she traveled around the countryside blessing farms, accompanied by her favorite white cow with red ears.
In some parts of Ireland homemade cake or bread and fresh butter are left on a windowsill outside with corn for the cow on her feast day in case she might pass by or as a gift to poor people, honoring St Brigid’s hospitality and charity.
In other areas a piece of cloth or a ribbon was left on the windowsill, near the house door or tied on the door knob to be touched by St Brigid and provide protection for people and animals from illness and pain.
St Brigid’s crosses would be used to bless cows that were ill or increase milk yield. Water from a well dedicated to Brigid would be sprinkled water on fields, livestock and homes.
How wonderful that the tradition of St Brigid as patroness of farming has survived the centuries in Portugal too, where around Lisbon, on her feast day, cattle, crops and vines are blessed.
Beannachtaí na Féile Bríde oraibh go léir!
which translates into English as...
The Blessings of Saint Brigid's Day Be With You.
Here's a sound file to help with pronunciation.
Plus a phonetic guide for pronounciation.
Ban-uck-thee na fay-la Bree-da ur-iv guh lay-ur
Thanks for stopping by to learn about Saint Brigid of Ireland.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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