Monday 24 February 2014

Winter Storms uncover Mythical Land of Cantre'r Gwaelod

This winter's storms hammered the UK and particularly Cornwall and the southwest. West Wales failed to escape the wrath of mother nature with the Ceredigion coast also receiving a battering in January by hurricane force winds. The Met Office issued a rare "red warning", the most severe level of threat, for "exceptionally strong winds" in west Wales.

Winds of over 100 mph battered the Welsh coast forcing the closure of roads, rail lines and schools. In Aberystwyth unusually high tides combined with the storm whipped up 50ft waves  reaching nearly as high as the buildings on the sea front. The promenade suffered with waves throwing shingle onto the promenade, battering the buildings on the front smashing the lower-floor windows of the seaside resorts, twisting railings, smashing through the sea wall and mangling the 1920s beach shelter. Twice the winter storms forced residents to be evacuated from buildings on the front.

The huge storms and powerful winds that have battered the coast of Britain in recent weeks have caused years' worth of erosion and damage said to “have changed the coastline forever”.

Just up the coast at Borth the power of the storm stripped the sand from a beach revealing the remains of oak trees dating back to the Bronze Age that had been hidden for thousands of years. The tree stumps on the beach between Borth and Ynyslas are said by some to be responsible for the legend of "Cantre'r Gwaelod", which according to myth was a kingdom submerged under the waters of Cardigan Bay and often described as the "Welsh Atlantis".

Before the storms recent photographs show a strip of pristine sand. Now the same spot shows a multitude of tree stumps of ancient oaks and pines dating back thousands of years spanning for miles.

The Mythical Land of Cantre'r Gwaelod, the Bottom Hundred, was said to be a fertile land with sixteen cities stretching twenty miles out to sea and some forty miles in length, from the estuary of the river Teifi at Cardigan in south-west Wales, to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) off the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula in the North.

The land of Cantre'r Gwaelod was protected from the sea by a dyke and sluice gates. During the time when Gwyddno 'Longshanks' Garanhir  was Lord of the Cantred, the keeper of the dyke was a man named Seithenhin, who one night, after drinking too much, forgot to shut the sluice gates. The sea came rushing in and few of the inhabitants escaped.

Further pictures at Surreal seascape revealed by the storms -  Mail Online 20 February 2014


Storm uncovers more of fabled sunken forest in Cardigan Bay
A forest which was buried more than 4,500 years ago may stretch further than thought after a summer storm uncovered more hidden trees. The prehistoric forest along Borth’s shoreline, on the mid-Wales coast, has become associated with a 17th century myth of a sunken civilization known as Cantre’r Gwaelod, or the Sunken Hundred. 

In the summer Storm Francis exposed further evidence of the petrified forest 13 miles further south in Llanrhystud when large amounts of stones and shingle were washed away.

Several trees on Llanrhystud beach were found after Storm Francis, which hit Wales in August

* * *

Friday 14 February 2014

The Feast of Saint Valentine

On 14th February, in the days of Emperor Claudius II, the priest Valentino was executed in Rome. Valentine was martyred and named a saint after his death.

Valentine's story starts in Rome under the rule of Claudius II, also known as “Claudius Gothicus”, who was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. After the Emperor Alexander Severus was murdered by his own troops the Roman Empire fell into massive turmoil. The so called 'Crisis of the Third Century' (235–284 AD) witnessed the Empire splitting into three competing states and facing near collapse.

It was essential Claudius maintained a strong army but was having difficulty recruiting new soldiers to his military forces. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families. To solve this problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. The priest Valentine, realising the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

This is evidenced by the discovery of the bodies of two young lovers in a perfectly preserved sarcophagus, the inscription revealing the marriage of Sabino, a pagan Roman soldier and Serapia, a Christian girl from Terni, by Saint Valentine in defiance of the emperor which has become the centrepiece of the legend of Saint Valentine of Terni.

Basilica di San Valentino, Terni, Italy.
The Basilica was begun in the 17th century and completed in 1854.
Today couples from many places come to Terni every February 14 to take or renew their marriage vows.
When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death and beheaded. The priest's execution was carried out on 14th February, on or about the year 270.

Legends vary on how the martyr's name became connected with exchanging romantic messages, but it claimed that while in jail, Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer's daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it "From Your Valentine."

The first representation of Saint Valentine appeared in the 15th Century Nuremberg Chronicle, alongside the woodcut portrait of Valentine the text states that he was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II. Various dates are given for his martyrdom, 269 or 270.

In truth, the exact origins and identity of St. Valentine are unclear. He does not occur in the earliest list of Roman martyrs, compiled by the Chronographer of 354, a 4th Century illuminated manuscript also known as the Calendar of 354. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of 14 February." One was a priest in Rome, the second one was a bishop of Terni and the third St. Valentine was a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.

Saint Valentine, left, Christ , centred, and Saint Zeno,
Mosaic from Chapel of S. Zeno, Basilica di San Prassede, Rome,
resting in an arch above the niche containing a piece of the Pillar of Flagellation.
The trail to this elusive saint leads to the Basilica di San Prassede, in Rome, where he is found in one of the few surviving Byzantine mosaics in Rome. The northernmost gate to the city, the Porta del Popolo, is the place where Saint Valentine was beheaded, the gate was later renamed the Porta Valentini to commemorate this moment. The flower crowned skull of St Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. The remains of the original Basilica di San Valentino are about a kilometre outside the gate, from which three entrances lead into the rock of the hill and the catacombs of Saint Valentine.

The date of his death may have become mingled with the Feast of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love held around the same time. On these occasions, the names of young women were placed in a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed.

Remains of Basilica of San Valentino and Entrances to Catacombs of Saint Valentine
The Feast of St. Valentine was first established in 496 AD by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among those "... whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God” thus bringing an end to the Feast of Lupercalia declaring that 14th February be celebrated as St Valentine's Day.

* * *

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Brigid's Eternal Flame

One of the most complex Goddesses of the Celtic pantheon, yet Brigid is one of the most powerful religious figures of Irish history. The tales of Brigid the Goddess and Christian Saint are irrevocably entwined and impossible to separate out as fact or fable, but from elements of her Christian story we find clear indications towards a pagan origin. In the story of Saint Brigid she was said to be a Druid's daughter who predicted the coming of Christianity and was then baptised by St. Patrick. She became a nun and later an Abbess who founded the Abbey at Kildare. As Abbess, Brigid was said to have had the power to appoint the bishops of her area, a role not usually delegated to such a rank, oddly her bishops were also required to be practising goldsmiths.

There can be little doubt that Saint Brigid is based upon a Celtic Goddess who was presented in Christian attire by the early church fathers in order to win over her pagan Irish followers. As a pagan Goddess She is known by her many names, Bride, Bridey, Brighid, Brigit, Briggidda, Brigantia; the traditional patroness of healing, poetry and smithcraft. Her name meaning literally “the high one” or "the exalted one”.

Veneration of St Brigid appears to have incorporated many elements of a much older, possibly pre-Celtic, tradition. Sun and fire are particularly stressed in the early lives of the Saint which were no doubt based upon older sources which appear to reflect traces of ancient lore relating to the Goddess. Significantly, the Gaelic word for Kildare is 'Cill Dara', which means the 'Cell, or Church, of the Oak'. Here Saint Brigid built her Abbey around 480 AD, on a hill beside a great oak tree. This was always an important gathering place and pilgrimage site in earlier centuries; the site became the centre of a great cult of the Goddess Brigid, who presided over healing, inspiration, poetry and smithcraft. She is provider of plenty, giver of life and identified with fertility and fire. Priestesses are thought to have gathered on this hill at Kildare to tend their ritual fires while invoking the Goddess to protect their herds and to provide a fruitful harvest.

Tradition tells us that Brigid kept a shrine at Kildare, Ireland, with a perpetual flame tended by nineteen virgin priestesses, later called Daughters of the Flame. No one knows how long the flame had been tended by the priestesses, however, it is likely to have pre-historical origins. This perpetual flame was said to have been tended by nineteen Virgins symbolising the nineteen-year, metonic, lunar cycle; a period of 235 lunar months, or 19 years at the end of which the phases of the moon repeat in exactly the same order and on the same days as the preceding cycle. Needless to say, the moon was very important to astronomer-priests of pagan religions, the number 19 being found again and again throughout pagan mythologies and megalithic sites around the world. For example, at the world famous megalithic monument at Stonehenge we find 56 Aubrey Holes about a metre inside the ditch.Throughout mythology we find a cauldron possessing magical properties on an Otherworld island tended by nine maidens, the number nine being half a metonic cycle to the nearest whole number.

With the advent of Christianity in Ireland it quickly became apparent that the Goddess Brigid was so deeply etched on the Irish people that it would be impossible to eradicate her. The Christian solution was to make her a Saint and in the 6th century, a monastery was built on the site of the temple where the vigil of the eternal flame had been held. Consequently, a sacred fire continued to burn in Kildare from early Christian times and the custom of keeping the fire alight continued; the fire representing the new light of Christianity, the Daughters of the Flame kept her flame eternally lit, ensuring it was never extinguished.

On the north side of St Brigid's Cathedral, Kildare, are the restored foundations of
Brigid's ancient fire temple. The fire was lit on the 1st February, St. Brigid’s day.
This flame was symbolically relit in 1993 and is now tended at 
Solas Bhride.

In the 12th century the Welsh Chronicler Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) visited Kildare and recorded that the fire of Saint Brigid was still burning and attended by twenty "servants of the Lord" a clear reference to the tradition that each day, for nineteen days, a different priestess (or nun), would keep vigil over the sacred fire but on the twentieth day Brigid would tend the flame herself. By the time of Gerald's writing the fire had been burning continuously for at least 600 years, probably several hundred more, yet had apparently never had its ashes cleaned out, yet the ashes never seemed to increase in size.

No male was ever allowed to come near the eternal flame and neither were these women permitted to associate with men, consequently all their supplies were brought to them by women from the nearby village. Thus, surrounding the fire was a hedge that no male could ever cross. One legend recalls of a man who attempted to cross the hedge and ended up going insane. Another tells of an attempt to cross the hedge but just as his leg crossed the threshhold, his comrades pulled him back. Unfortunately the leg that did cross the hedge became maimed and he was crippled for the rest of his life. No trace of this legendary hedge with magical properties has survived today, but it clearly provided protection to the flame from male invaders by cursing them to either go insane, die, become maimed, or even have their penis wither.

However, in 1220 AD, a Bishop disagreed with policy of non-admittance of men to the Abbey of Saint Brigid of Kildare. The Arch-bishop of Dublin, Henry of London, insisted that as nuns were subordinate to priests they must open the abbey to inspection by a priest. They refused and requested the inspections be carried out by a female official such as another Abbess. The Bishop was not impressed with this show of disobedience and decreed that the keeping of the eternal flame was a Pagan custom and consequently demanded that the sacred flame to be extinguished. The flame was thought to have been briefly extinguished but was quickly relit by the local people and the Eternal flame survived up to the suppression of the monasteries in the sixteenth century.

It was at this time that King Henry VIII demanded the destruction of many monasteries and the Eternal flame was extinguished but never forgotten. Brigid remained the most popular Irish saint along with Patrick and on Saint Brigid's day, 1st February, in 1807, the Bishop of Kildare, Daniel Delany, commenced the restoration of the the ancient order of the Sisterhood of Saint Brigid with the clear intention to revive her legacy.

During Vatican II, the so-called modernisation of Catholicism in the 1960's, it was declared that there was insufficient proof of Brigid's sanctity or even of her historical existence; consequently the Church's gradual program against Brigid was finally successful and She was de-canonised. Today She is often called just "Brigid of Ireland" and it can be difficult to obtain images or even holy cards of Saint Brigid outside of Ireland.

In 1993 at a conference, entitled “Brigid: Prophetess, Earthwoman, Peacemaker” held in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Saint Brigid’s Peace Cross Project, Mary Teresa Cullen, the then leader of the Brigidine Sisters, re-kindled the Eternal flame in a ceremony in Kildare’s Market Square. Since then, the Brigidine Sisters have tended the flame in their centre, 'Solas Bhride' (Light of Brigid) in Kildare.

In 2005 Kildare County Council commissioned a sculpture to house the flame in Kildare Town Square. The sculpture comprises a twisted column, flourishing at the top into a bronze, acorn cup holding the flame nestled amongst oak leaves. Surely, we have come full circle with the oak leaves symbolising the Druidic element of the legend of Brigid and the name of Kildare, 'Cill Dara', the Church of the Oak.

As Breo-Saighead (Fiery Arrow), Brigid was known as The Flame of Ireland; She is clearly the best example of the survival of an ancient Goddess into Christian times; disowned by the church, dismantled by the very hands that rocked her cradle, yet still held in high reverence by the people.


1. The number 56 is the nearest whole number to three metonic cycles; 19 + 19 +18 = 56. More accurately 3 metonic cycles of 18.61 = 55.83.

* * * 

Saturday 1 February 2014

Brigid: Goddess of the Dawn

Imbolc: Festival of Purification
The pre-Roman festival of purification known as Lupercalia became subsumed into the festival of Februra, celebrated by the Romans around the middle of the month and derived from Februus, personifying February as the month of purification. Februa was but one of many significant epithets attached to the goddess Juno, who was before other things the goddess of marriage and protector of married women. Every year, on the first of March, women held a festival in honour of Juno called the Matronalia. As Juno Februtis she was a purifier and fertility Goddess, especially connected with the month of February and the festivities in its latter half. The first days of each Roman month, the calends, were considered sacred to Juno, the month of June named after her. Juno had a long history of worship in Rome and was one of the three supreme deities known as the Capitoline Triad, along with Jupiter and Minerva.

One of Juno's oldest titles carried the epithet Lucetia; as Juno Lucetia, she was the Roman Goddess of light, (Lucetia = 'Giver of Light'), a Moon-Goddess and Goddess of the Dawn and the growing light of the day. As Goddess of the light of heaven, she was by derivation the goddess of childbirth, Juno Lucina, for the new-born child brought into the light of the day for the very first time.

Practically all of the many attributes and epithets attached to Juno, hold strong similarities to the traditions and customs of Brigid, Christian Saint and Gaelic Goddess, born at the dawn, Her feast day, 1st February, synonymous with the festival of Imbolc containing the lighting of fires, purification with well water and the ushering in of the new growing season by the maiden known as the Queen of the Heavens.

Many aspects of the ancient festivals of Lupercalia and the Matronalia, carry strong similarities to the traditions and customs associated with the pre-Christian festival of Imbolc a celebration of the lengthening of the days and the first stirrings of spring to the land. Imbolc, or Imbolg, is the feast marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring usually referred to as “when the ewes are milked at springs beginning”.

In Cormac's Glossary (Sanas Cormaic c.900 AD), we find 'Oímelc', a similar term for Imbolc, denoting "the time the sheep's milk comes, milking, i.e. the milk that is milked". This has led some scholars to state that the pagan festival of Imbolc has something to do with the period of the coming into lactation of sheep. On the other hand other scholars reject this explanation, claiming this to be a false etymology based on a derivation from the term oí-melg ('sheep', and 'milk') and that the feast of Imbolc is based on an old pastoral term which simply means 'milking'. However, apart from the time of year, this does not explain the the role of milk (or milking) in connection with the festival; indeed there appears to be no evidence for sheep having a ritual purpose among the Gaelic people.

It has been argued that the meaning of Imbolc more correctly derives from the Old Irish 'imbolg' meaning "in the belly” a reference to the pregnancy of ewes. Another suggestion is that the word for Imbolc has possibly developed from the original Indo-European root *uts-molgo, meaning 'purification', this in turn developed into *ommolg, which simply means 'milking'. The festival for `purification', at this time of year would appear to have been established by association with various Roman customs, as discussed above, particularly the Lupercalia, and the goddess Juno, whose epithet februa means `purifying'. Significantly, Imbolc is immediately followed by the Christian festival of Candlemass, which marks the end of the season of Epiphany, and is also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, commemorating the ritual purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of her son Jesus. The beginning of February is unavoidably associated with purification.

Saint Brigid
Today Imbolc is also known as St Brigid's Day, an Irish festival heralding the beginning of spring. Brigid is associated with milk and is often depicted with a cow and milking stool, perhaps suggesting an ancient tradition now lost to us that linked milk at this time of year with a purification ritual.

Imbolc in the Somerset town of Glastonbury is traditionally known as the Maiden Brigid's Festival in which the Light of Illumination from Her perpetual flame is brought into a darkened room, heralding the coming of spring. Small honey and barley cakes are eaten and milk drunk in Her honour. On the first day, ears of corn gathered from the Lammas Corn Doll are planted in the ground and the dried stalks are burned, the flame releasing the life back into the earth. The ashes are spread upon the ground renewing fertility to the earth.

Brigid holds a special association with Glastonbury and is depicted on Saint Michael's tower on the Tor milking a cow. Brigid also appears on the north door of the Lady Chapel in the Abbey ruins in a carved figure and has traditional connections with the Somerset town. According to Giraldus Cambrensis and John of Glastonbury, She visited Patrick at Glastonbury during the 5th century. William of Malmesbury claimed that Brigid stayed at Beckery on the western side of Glastonbury where she founded a small chapel. Near the foot of Wearyall Hill, made famous by Joseph of Arimathea and the legend of the Glastonbury Thorn, is a small hillock known as Bride's Mound. On this mound was a spring known as Saint Bride's Well. Relics, claimed to be Brigid's, including a spindle and a bell, were left at Bride's Mound where the adjacent fields are called “The Brides.

The Cult of Saint Brigid of Kildare 
As a saint Brigid of Kildare (c. 451–525) is one of Ireland's most important holy figures along with Saint Patrick. Brigid is associated with Kildare and many other holy wells in the Celtic lands; She is commemorated in both Ireland and the highlands and islands of Scotland. Her feast day is 1st February, the traditional first day of spring in Ireland, significantly the underlying tradition associated with St. Brigid's Day, probably originally held mid-February, is food production as a continuous process and the successful reproduction of livestock as a perennial cycle.

St. Brigid was associated with perpetual, sacred flames, such as the one maintained by 19 nuns at her sanctuary in Kildare, Ireland. According to Giraldus Cambrensis the sacred flame at Kildare was said by to have been surrounded by a hedge, which no man could cross and any who attempted to were said to have been cursed to go insane or die. The tradition of female priestesses tending sacred "eternal flames" is a feature that can be traced back to ancient Indo-European pre-Christian spirituality.

Patrick is undoubtedly a historical figure as attested by his writings, the Confessio and the Letter to Coroticus, which provided his hagiographers with reliable information, whereas writers on Brigid, such as Cogitosus of Kildare and the anonymous Vita Prima Sanctae Brigitae (the so-called First Life of St. Brigit from the Leabhar Breac) and Bethu Brigte, were left no such historical texts to work from. Brigid had been commemorated in Ireland by Latin prose vitae from the 7th century onward. However, the surviving texts are known only through the numerous manuscript copies made in continental Europe. Indeed, the Life of Brigid is probably the most-copied of all the Vitae of early medieval women saints in Europe, yet no copy of the early vitae survived in Ireland.

The oldest account of St. Brigid is the hymn of St. Brogan-Cloen, said to have been composed at the request of his tutor, St Ultán of Ardbraccan, who collated all of her miracles in one volume. From this volume St Brogan recorded the miracles of Brigid in verse, which he must have composed prior to the death of St Ultan, recorded as 656 AD in the Martyrology of Donegal.

The Vita Brigitae of Cogitosus is thought to have been written no later than 650 AD, at the request of the Kildare church, and the first life of Brigid, Vita Prima Sanctae Brigitae, thought to have followed about a century later. The Bethu Brigte followed in the early 9th century. Cogitosus' account has a mythological feel to it as it is made up of the many miracles Brigid is said to have performed with images of fire and sun being plentiful. In Cogitosus’ Vita he recalls the famous story of her hanging her cloak on a sunbeam, a motif probably taken from an apocryphal Continental story about the Christ child:

“As she was grazing her sheep in the course of her work as a shepherdess on a level grassy plain, she was drenched by very heavy downpour of rain and returned to the house with her clothes wet. There was a ray of sunshine coming into the house through an opening and, as a result, her eyes were dazzled and she took the sunbeam for a slanting tree growing there. So, she put her rain soaked clothes on it and the clothes hung on the filmy sunbeam as if it were a solid tree.” 

Devotion to Brigid was associated with Marian devotion and to the Irish She was popularly known as 'Mary of the Gael', and equated with the Virgin Mary. The worship of Saint Brigid has persisted up until the early 20th century with her Irish cult almost supplanting that of Mary. Indeed, the earliest documentary reference to Brigid, recalls how “She will be another Mary, mother of the great Lord ” and a prophecy of Brigid entering the Irish site of Kildare states, "This site is open to heaven ….and today the girl for whom it has been prepared by God will come to us like Mary”.

According to the Vitae, Brigid has a legendary involvement in the life of Jesus. Brigid being the midwife present at the birth, placed three drops of water on Christ's forehead. No doubt this is a Christianised account of the ancient Celtic myth telling of the Sun of Light upon Whose head three drops of water were placed in order to bestow wisdom. Brigid was said to be the foster-mother of Jesus, emphasising the very special position this Saint held.

The Exalted One
There can be little doubt that Saint Brigid is based upon a Celtic Goddess who was presented in Christian attire by the early church fathers in order to win over her pagan Irish followers. She is perhaps one of the most complex Goddesses of the Celtic pantheon; Brigid can be seen as one of the most powerful religious figures of Irish history with many separate traditions intertwined. She is known by her many names, Bride, Bridey, Brighid, Brigit, Briggidda, Brigantia, as the traditional patroness of healing, poetry and smithcraft. Her name means "exalted one”.

Veneration of St Brigid appears to incorporate many elements of a much older tradition. Sun and fire are particularly stressed in the early lives of the Saint which were no doubt based upon older sources and may reflect ancient lore relating to the goddess Brigid. The perpetual flame at Her shrine at Kildare in Ireland was said to have been tended by nineteen Virgins symbolising the nineteen-year, metonic, lunar cycle.

In Irish mythology, Brigid was the daughter of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. She had two sisters also named Brigid, the attributes of a classic Celtic Triple Goddess:

“Brigit i.e. a poetess, daughter of the Dagda. This is Brigit the female sage, or woman of wisdom, i.e. Brigit the goddess whom poets adored, because very great and very famous was her protecting care. It is therefore they call her goddess of poets, by this name. Whose sisters were Brigit the female physician (woman of leech craft), Brigit the female smith (woman of smith work), from whose names with all Irishmen a goddess was called Brigit.”

Many places in the British Isles bear witness to her name as an ancient Goddess. As “Brigantia” she gave her name to the Celtic lands of the North of England, and to that of the ancient people that bore her name, the Brigantes. She was worshipped especially in Yorkshire, and her name is still echoed in the names of rivers Briant in Anglesey and Brent in Middlesex, seen as the power of rushing rivers and the thrusting hills of the countryside; the Goddess in the ancient landscape.

Goddess of the Dawn
Imbolc, or St Brigid's Day falls on one of the four cross-quarter days of the modern Celtic calendar halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere ultimately indicating its origins as a solar festival. Brigid's attributes are light, inspiration and associations with fire. Indeed, we find one of Brigid's most ancient names is Breo-saighead meaning 'fiery arrow'. This is a reference to Brigid as light from the sun; she was born at the sunrise and is the Goddess of the Dawn. She possesses an unusual status as a Sun Goddess who hangs her Cloak upon the rays of the Sun and whose dwelling-place radiates light as if on fire. Brigid took over the Cult of the Ewes formerly held by the Goddess Lassar who also is a Sun Goddess.

In Irish mythology, Lassar, or Lasair ("Flame"), is the eldest of three sisters, a triple Goddess; together with her sisters, Inghean Bhuidhe and Latiaran, they represent the growing, ripening and harvesting of crops. Lasair, was Goddess of the spring budding. She later also became a Christian saint with her sacred well at Lough Meelagh in Ireland. Lassar's feast day is May 1st, Bealtaine.

History or Myth?
So, was the Christian Saint Brigid a real historical person, or the mythical Celtic pagan Goddess in another form? 

Brigid is arguably the most important Goddess in British history yet most of what we know of her has been passed down through oral tradition. The extant written sources date from several hundred years after Brigid had established her community at Kildare, so we must show caution in re-constructing a Goddess from what we know of the Saint; the two are so interwoven it is virtually impossible to separate them with any certainty.

St Brigid's Cathedral, Kildare
Second only to St Patrick in the esteem of the Irish people, yet of all the early Irish saints celebrated in hagiography and cult, Brigid is the most difficult to link to a genuine historical figure; it has been suggested that she was a living person, a Christian woman called Brigid who local people saw as a reincarnation of the Goddess. Sharing both her name and feast day with that of the earlier pagan Goddess Brigid may indicate that Saint Brigid is partially or entirely a fictional creation based on the pagan figure in order to convert pagan Celts to Christianity.

Burial Place of Saints
In Down, three saints one grave do fill, 
Patrick, Brigid and Columcille.

After Brigid's death the monastery at Kildare flourished. The first Life of St Brigid was written not much later than 650 AD, by a monk of Kildare named Cogitosus. The "Life" was a compilation of stories of St Brigid providing a glimpse of life in Kildare from that time. Cogitosus describes the great church of Kildare where the bodies of the Saints Brigid and Conleth were:

"laid on the right and left of the ornate altar and rest in tombs 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 colours"

The Irish Annals record that in the year 836 AD a Danish fleet of 30 ships arrived in the Liffey and another in the Boyne. They plundered every church and abbey within the territories of Magh Liffe and Magh Breagh, destroying the town of Kildare and carried off the shrines of Saints Brigid and Conleth. It is claimed that in the previous year, 835 AD, the remains of St. Brigid had been removed for safe keeping to Down.

Tradition claims that St. Patrick is buried at Down Cathedral (Cathedral Hill) in Downpatrick, County Down, alongside St. Brigid and St. Columba, although this has never been proven. However, Down suffered too from Viking raids; a further tradition claims her body was removed from Down and buried in a place known only to a few priests so that eventually all knowledge of her resting place was lost.

An alternative version claims that in 1185 St. Malachy, Bishop of Down, in an effort to discover the burial place of St. Brigid prayed to the Lord to reveal the burial place. A beam of light settled over a spot on the floor of the church and sure enough when St. Malachy dug at this spot he found the graves of Saints Patrick, Brigid and Columcille. Malachy petitioned Pope Urban III for permission to move the bodies to Down Cathedral. His request was granted and the remains of the saints moved on 9th June 1186, the Feast day of St. Columcille. During the dissolution of Henry VIII, the sacred shrine was despoiled and the relics of the Saints were scattered. Luckily some were saved and the head of St. Brigid was recovered and said to now rest in a chapel in Portugal, devoted to her in the Church of St. John the Baptist in Lumiar, near Lisbon.


The Festival of Brigit the Holy Woman - Séamas Ó Catháin
Brigit: Goddess, Saint, ‘Holy Woman’, and Bone of Contention - Carole M Cusack
Mary Jones - Celtic Encyclopedia

* * *