CELT document T201010

On the Life of St. Brigit

Unknown author

English Translation

Edited by Whitley Stokes

On the Life of Saint Brigit


Hi sunt, etc.. These are the folk that follow the unpolluted Lamb, whatsoever way He may wend.

John, Son of Zebedee, Jesus' bosom-fosterling, heir of the Virgin, he it is that wrote these words, and that left them in the Church Christian in memory of the reward and guerdon which God hath given to the third grade of the Church, namely, to the Virgins, that is, the following of the unpolluted Lamb.

Inde Johannes, etc.. Now this is the parallel part of the declaration by John, as far as where he previously said in his Gospel (sic) Nemo potest, etc.. There cometh not to any one on earth to make unto the Lord meet praise or fitting quire-song, save only of a surety one of the all-fullness of either Church, who hath been brought up in chastity and in virginity, and hath been redeemed with the price of Christ's blood.

Virgines enim sunt. For those are the virgins assuredly. So on the track of these words John saith Hi sunt, etc. Nihil enim prodest, etc. It profiteth not any one to have the flesh a virgin if he be corrupt in mind. Virginitas enim, etc.. Hoc est enim in Evangelio, etc. For this is in the Gospel, that these are the virgins that have not oil in their vessels, namely,  p.53 the virgins that do not keep (to themselves) the approbation of the Lord, but (make) boasting before every one.

Haec est falsa castitas, etc. Now Patriarchs fulfilled the testament of virginity in prefiguration of Christ. And apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ son of the living God, fulfilled it also, the martyrs and anchorites of the Lord, the saints and holy virgins of the world besides, even as the holy, venerable virgin fulfilled it, she that hath a festival and commemoration on the occasion of this season and this time, to wit sancta virgo dei Brigida, for then it is that the Christians celebrate the feast and festal day of this holy Brigit, to wit, the Kalends of February as to the day of the solar month.

Here then is related in the churches of the Christians somewhat of her miracles and marvels, and of her birth according to flesh.

Brigit (was the) daugther of Dubthach, son of Demre (or Dreimne), son of Bresal, son of Den, son of Conla, son of Artair(?), son of Art Corb, son of Cairpe the Champion, son of Cormac, son of Oengus the Dumb, son of Eochaid Find Fuathnart, son of Fedlimid the Lawgiver, etc.

Now, that Dubthach son of Demre bought a bondmaid, named Broicsech, daughter of Dallbrónach of Dál Conchobair in the south of Bregia. Dubthach united himself in wedlock to her, and she became preganant by him. Thereafter Dubthach's consort grew jealous of the bondmaid (Brechtnat Blaithbec was the name of Dubhtach's wife) and the queen said “unless thou sellest this bondmaid in far-off lands, I will demand my dowry of thee, and I will go from thee.”

Dubthach did not at all desire to sell the bondmaid.

Dubthach went, and his bondmaid along with him, in a chariot, past the house of a certain wizard. When the wizard heard the noise of the chariot, this he said: “See, O gillie, who is in the chariot, for this is the noise of a chariot under a king.” Said the gille, “Dubthach is therein.” Then the wizard went to meet the chariot, and he asked whose (was) the woman who was biding in the chariot. Said Dubthach, “That is a bondmaid of mine,” quoth he. Maithgen was the wizard's name, and from him Ross Maithgen is named. The wizard asked by whom the bondmaid was preganant. “By Dubthach,” says the bondmaid. Said the wizard, “Marvellous will be the offspring, the like of her will not be in (all) the lands.”


Said Dubthach, “My consort did not allow me not to sell this bondmaid.”

Said the wizard through his gift of prophecy, “Thy wife's seed shall serve this bondmaid's seed, for the bondmaid will bring forth a daughter, noble, revered, before the men of the earth. As sun shineth among stars, (so) will shine the maiden's deeds and merits.”

Dubthach and the bondmaid rejoiced thereat, (and) Dubthach said, “Since I have (already) sons, I should like to have a daughter.”

Then Dubthach went (back) to his house and his bondmaid with him. The wife however was still jealous of the bondmaid.

Great was the honour in which God held this girl. For two bishops of the Britons came to her from Alba to prophesy of her and to sanctify her, to wit, Bishop Mél and Melchu nomina eorum. So Dubthach gave them a welcome and the bondmaid served them and tended them. Now Dubthach's consort was mournful thereat, and Bishop Mél asked her the cause of her sadness. Said the wife, “Because Dubthach distinguisheth his bondmaid from me.” Said Bishop Mél, “Thus shall it be as thou sayest, for thy seed shall serve the seed of the bondmaid, but with her seed shall be profitable unto thy seed.” She was angry with him. So the bishop asked her, “How many sons hast thou?” Said the wife, “Six sons.” Dixit Bishop Mél, “Thou shalt bear the seventh son, and he will be the worst of them, and the other sons will be bad unless the bondmaid's seed ennobles them, and thou thyself shalt be accursed because of the wrong which thou doest to the bondmaid.”

After those words there came to Dubthach's house, out of the border of Hui-Maiccuais, another wizard who had been gathering treasures. Now when the wizard knew that the bondmaid was the cause of the anger of Dubthach's wife, he said, “Wilt thou sell the bondmaid?” “I will sell,” saith Dubthach. Quoth the bishops, “Sell the bondmaid, but sell not the child that is in her womb.” Thus did Dubthach.

The wizard went forth and the bondmaid with him. The wizard with his bondmaid arrived at his house.

A certain poet came out of the province of Conaille to the house of the wizard aforesaid in order to buy a slave or a bondmaid.  p.57 The wizard sold him the bondmaid, but sold him not the offspring. Then it came to pass that the wizard made a great feast, and bade the king of Conaille to the feast, and it was then the time for the king's wife to bear a child. There was a prophet along with the king, and a friend of the king's asked him what hour would be lucky for the queen to bring forth the royal offspring. Dixit propheta, “That the child that would be brought forth on the morrow at sunrise would overtop every birth in Ireland.” Now the queen's travail came on before that hour, and she brought forth a dead son. Then the poet asked the prophet “What hour would be lucky for the the bondmaid to bring forth?” The prophet said that the child that would be brought forth on the morrow at sunrise, and neither within the house nor without, shall surpass every child in Ireland.

Now on the morrow, at sunrise, when the bondmaid was going with a vessel of milk in her hand, and when she put one foot over the threshold of the house inside and the other foot outside, then did she bring forth the girl, to wit, Saint Brigit.

The maid-servants washed the girl with the milk that was in her mother's hand. Now that was in accord with the merits of Saint Brigit, to wit, with the brightness and sheen of her chastity.

On a Wednesday and on the eighth of the lunar month was Brigit born in Fothart Murthemni. Still, to the south-east of the church is the flagstone where Brigit was born, and the girl was taken straightway after her birth to the queen's dead son, and when Brigit's breath came to him he swiftly arose out of death.

Then the wizard and the bondmaid with her daughter went into the province of Connaught: her mother (was) of Connaught, her father out of Munster, her abode with the Connaughtmen.

On a certain day the bondmaid went to her island, and covered up her daughter in her house. Certain neighbours saw the house wherein the girl was all ablaze, so that a flame of fire was made of it from earth to heaven. But when they went to rescue the house, the fire appeared not, and this they said, that the girl was full of the grace of the Holy Spirit.

One day the wizard went with his bondmaid to visit the cattle. The cow-dung(?) that lay before the girl was seen ablaze. But when the wizard and the bondmaid stretched down their hands to it, the fire appeared not.


Once upon a time when the wizard was sleeping, he saw three clerics in white garments, to wit, three angels of heaven, and they poured oil on St. Brigit's head, and they completed the order of baptism. And the thrid cleric said to the wizard “This shall be the name of this holy maiden Sancta Brigita.” The wizard arose, and told what he had beheld.

Now this holy virgin, namely Brigit, was nourished with food and like to her those of her age besides, and she rejected the guidance of the wizard and used to give it back. The wizard meditated on the girl, and it seemed to him that it was because of the impurity and the corruption of his food. Then he entrusted a white red-eared cow to give milk to Brigit, and he enjoined a faithful woman to milk the cow. The virgin took her fill of that.

That holy virign was reared till she was a handmaiden, and everything to which her hand was set used to increase and reverence God. Every store of food which she saw and served used to grow. She bettered the sheep: she tended the blind: she fed the poor.

Brigit was minded to go and watch over the fatherland. And the wizard sent messengers to Dubthach, that he might come for his daughter. The messengers declared unto Dubthach the maiden's miracles and many wonders. Then Dubthach came, and the wizard makes him welcome, and gave him his daughter free.

Then they went to their country, Dubthach and his daughter Brigit, in the province of Offaly; and there did Brigit work a wonderous miracle, to wit, her fostermother was in weakness of disease, and the fostermother sent the holy Birgit and another maiden with her to the house of a certain man named Boethchú, to ask him for a draught of ale. He refused Brigit. Then Brigit filled a vessel out of a certain well, and blessed it, and (the water) was turned into the taste of ale, and she gave it to her fostermother, who straightway became whole thereby. Now when they went to drink the banquet not a drop threof was found.

This (was another) of Brigit's miracles: while she herding Dubthach's swine, there came two robbers and carried off two boars of the herd. They fared over the plain, and Dubthach met them and bound on them the eric (mulct) of his swine. Said Dubthach to Brigit, “Is herding of the swine good, my girl?” saith he. Dixit Brigit to Dubthach, “Count thou the swine.” Dubthach counted the swine, and not one of them was wanting.


Guests, then came to Dubthach. Dubthach sundered a gammon of bacon into five pieces, and left them with Brigit to be boiled. And a miserable, greedy hound came into the house to Brigit. Brigit out of pity gave him the fifth piece. When the hound had eaten the piece Brigit gave him another piece to him. Then Dubthach came and said to Brigit: “Hast thou boiled the bacon, and do all the portions remain?” “Count them,” saith Brigit. Dubthach counted them, and none of them was wanting. The guests declared unto Dubthach what Brigit had done. “Abundant,” saith Dubthach, “are the miracles of that maiden.” Now the guests ate not the food, for they were unworth (thereof), but it was dealt out to the poor and to the needy of the Lord.

Once upon a time a certain faithful woman asked Dubthach that Brigit might go with her into the plain of the Liffey, for a congregation of the synod of Leinster was held there. And it was revealed in a vision to a certain holy man who was in the assembly, that Mary the Virgin was coming thereto, and it was told him that she would not be (accompanied) by a man in the assembly. On the morrow came the woman to the assembly, and Brigit along with her. And he that had seen the vision said “This is the Mary that I beheld!” saith he to Brigit. The holy Brigit blessed all the hosts under the name and honour of Mary. Wherefore Brigit was (called) the Mary of the Gael thenceforward.

On a time it came into Brigit's mind, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, to go and see her mother who was in bondage. So she asked her father's leave, and he gave it not. Nevertheless, she went without permssion from Dubthach. Glad was her mother when she arrived. Toil-worn and sickly was the mother and she (Brigit) ...... for her mother, and took to bettering the dairy. The first churning that Brigit had she divided the fruit thereof into twelve shares in honour of the twelve apostles of the Creator, and she set the thirteenth portion so that it was greater than every (other) portion in honour of Jesus Christ, and she gave them all then to the poor of the Lord. Now the wizard's herdsman marvelled at the ordering that Brigit gave the butter. Then said Brigit: “Christ with his twelve apostles preached to the men of the world. In His name it is that I feed full the poor, for Christ is in the person of every faithful poor man.”

The charioteer (that is the herdsman) went to the wizard's house, and the wizard and his wife asked him “hath the virgin well  p.63 cared for the dairy?” And the charioteer (i.e., the herdsman) said “I am thankful anyhow, and the calves are fat” — for he durst not carp at Brigit in her absence. The charioteer took with him a hamper, eight fists in height. Said the charioteer to Brigit: “The wizard will come with his wife to fill this hamper with the butter of the dairy.” “They are welcome,” saith Brigit. The wizard and his consort came to the dairy, and beheld the calves fat. And Brigit made them welcome and brought food. Then said the wizard's wife to Brigit: “We have come to know whether that which hath been entrusted to thee hath profited. Of butter what hast thou?” She had none in readiness, except the making of one churning and a half making, and she first brought the half. The wizard's wife laughed thereat and said: “This quantity of butter,” says she, “is good to fill the big hamper that I have!” “Fill your hamper” saith Brigit, “and God will put butter into it.” So she kept going still into her kitchen and carrying out of it a half making at every journey, for God did not wish to deprieve her of honour, so in that wise the hamper was filled. And this is what she repeated on going into her kitchen -

  1. O God, O my Prince
    Who canst do all these things,
    Bless, O God (a cry unforbidden)
    With thy right hand this kitchen!
  2. May Mary's Son, my Friend, come
    To bless my kitchen!
    The Prince of the world to the border,
    May we have abundance with Him!

The wizard and his consort venerated the Lord because of the miracle which they beheld; wherefore then said the wizard to Brigit: “The butter and the kine that thou hast milked, I offer them to thee. Thou shalt not abide in bondage to me, but serve thou the Lord.” Brigit answered him and said: “Take thou the kine and give me my mother's freedom.” Said the wizard: “Not only shall thy mother be freed, (but) the kine shall be given to thee, and whatsoever thou shalt say (that) will I do.” Then Brigit dealt out the kine unto the poor and the needy of God. The wizard was baptized and was faithful, and accompanied Brigit from that time forth.

Then came Brigit, and her mother with her, to her father's house. Thereafter Dubthach and his consort were minded to sell the holy Brigit into bondage; for Dubthach liked not his cattle and his wealth to be dealt out to the poor, and that is what Brigit  p.65 used to do. So Dubthach fared in his chariot, and Brigit along with him. Said Dubthach to Brigit: “Not for honour or reverence to thee art thou carried in a chariot, but to take thee to sell thee and to grind the quern for Dunlang MacEnda, King of Leinster.” When they came to the King's fortress, Dubthach went in to the King and Brigit remained in her chariot at the fortress door. Dubthach had left his sword in his chariot near Brigit. A leper came to Brigit to ask an alms. She gave him Dubthach's sword. Dixit Dubthach to the King: “Wilt thou buy a bondmaid, namely, my daughter?” says he. Dixit Dulang: “Why sellest thou thine own daughter?” Dixit Dubthach: “She stayeth not from selling my wealth and giving it to the poor.” Dixit the King: “Let the maiden come into the fortress.” Dubthach went for Brigit and was enraged against her, because she had given his sword to the poor man. When Brigit came into the King's presence, the King said to her: “Since it is thy father's wealth that thou takest, much more, if I buy thee, wilt thou take my wealth and my cattle and give them to the poor?” Dixit Brigit: “The Son of the virgin knoweth if I had thy might with (all) Leinster, and with all thy wealth I would give (them) to the Lord of the Elements.” Said the King to Dubthach: “Thou art not fit on either hand to bargain about this maiden, for her merit is higher before God than before men.” And the King gave Dubthach for her an ivory-hilted sword, et sic liberata est sancta virgo Brigita captivitate.

Shortly after that came a certain man of good kin unto Dubthach to ask for his daughter (in marriage). Dubthach and his sons were willing, but Brigit refused. Said a brother of her brethren named Beccán unto her: “Idle is the fair eye that is in thy head not be on a pillow near a husband.” “The Son of the Virign knoweth,” says Brigit, “it is not lively for us if it brings harm upon us.” Then Brigit put her finger under her eye, and drew it out of her head until it was on her cheek, and she said: “Lo, here for thee is thy delightful eye, O Beccán!” Then his eye burst forthwith. When Dubthach and her brethern beheld that, they promised that she should never be told to go unto a husband. Then she put her palm to her eye and it was quite whole at once. But Beccán's eye was not whole till his death.

Said Dubthach to Brigit: “O daughter,” says he, “put a veil on thy head. If thou hast dedicated thy virginity to God, I will not snatch thee from Him.” “Deo gratias,” says Brigit.


Brigit, and certain virgins with her, went to Bishop Mél, in Telcha Mide, to take the veil. Glad was he thereat. For humbleness Brigit staid, so that she might be the last to whom the veil should be given. A fiery pillar arose from her head to the ridgepole of the church. Bishop Mél asked: “What virgin is there?” Answered MacCaille: “That is Brigit,” saith he. “Come thou, O holy Brigit,” saith Bishop Mél, “that the veil may be sained on thy head before other virgins.”

It came to pass then, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, that the form of ordaining a bishop was read over Brigit. MacCaille said that “The order of a bishop should not be (conferred) on a woman.” Dixit Bishop Mél: “No power have I in this matter, inasmuch as by God hath been given unto her this honour beyond every woman.” Hence, it is that the men of Ireland give the honour of bishop to Brigit's successor.

In the eighth (day) of the lunar month(?) was she born. On the eighteenth did she take the veil on her head. On the twenty-eighth did she go to heaven. Together with eight virgins was Brigit consecrated. According to the number of the eight beatitudes of the gospel did she fulfill (her course). Still remaineth the altar's leg that lay in Brigit's hand though the three other legs were burnt.

This was one of Brigit's miracles. When the solemnity of Easter drew nigh, Brigit set up, shortly before Maunday-Thursday, in a certain place near unto Bishop Mél. Brigit desired, through (her) charity, to brew ale for the many churches that were around her, and it was not usual to brew ale at that time. Brigit possessed only one measure of malt, and Brigit's family had no vessels save two troughs. They made a tub of one of the two vessels, and they filled the other vessel with ale, and the virgins kept taking the ale from Brigit to the churches, and still the vessel before Brigit remained full. And thus the produce of one measure of malt, through Brigit's blessing, supplied (?) seven churches of Fir Telach for Maundy-Thursday and for the eight days of Easter.

When the solemnity of Easter was fulfilled, Brigit asked her maidens whether they had the leavings of the Easter ale. Replied the virigns: “God will give food,” say they. Then two maidens came in with a tub full of water. “The Virgin's Son knoweth,” says Brigit, “that there is good (ale) there.” She thought that it was ale. Quicker than speech, as she said that, the water was turned into choice ale forthwith.


Brigit went to a certain church in the land of Teffia to celebrate Easter, when on Maunday-Thursday Brigit took to washing the feet of the old men and the feeble folk who were in the church. Four of the sick people there, were a consumptive man, a madman, a blind man, and a leper. Brigit washed the feet of the four, and they were straightway healed from every disease that was on them.

Once Brigit was in a house as a guest, and all went out save a stripling of fourteen years. He had never spoken, nor moved foot or hand, and Brigit knew not that he was thus. So then came guests into the house to Brigit. Said Brigit to the stripling: “Attend on the guests.” “I will do so,” saith the stripling. He got up at once and did the service to the guests, and he was quite whole thenceforward.

Then there came to pass a meeting of the men of Ireland in Tailtin, in the place where Patrick abode, with a synod of Ireland's clerics around him. Now Brigit and Bishop Mél went to the meeting, and a certain woman (also) went thither with a babe on her arm, and she said that the babe was by Bishop Brón. The Bishop, however, denied that. Brigit asked the woman by whom had she conceived the child, and told her not to utter a lie. And the woman answered: “It is by Bishop Brón.” Then a swelling straightway filled her tongue, so that she was unable to speak. Brigit made the sign of the cross over the infant's mouth and asked it: “Who is thy father?” The infant answered and said “A wretched man who is in the outskirts of the assembly, that is my father,” saith he. So in that wise Bishop Brón was saved through the grace of Brigit.

Brigit went to converse with Patrick in Mag Lemne while he was preaching the gospel. And Brigit fell asleep at the preaching. Dixit Patrick: “Wherefore hast thou slept?” Brigit bent her knees thrice and said: “I saw a vision,” quoth she. Dixit Patrick: “Tell us the vision.” “I saw,” quoth she, “four ploughs in the south-east, and they ploughed the whole island, and before the sowing was finished the harvest grew up, and clear well-springs and shining streams came out of the furrows, and white garments were round the sowers and ploughmen. I beheld four other ploughs in the north, and they ploughed the island athwart, and before the harvest came again, the oats which they had sown grew up at once and ripened, and black streams came  p.71 out of the furrows and black garments were on the sowers and on the ploughmen. And I was sorrowful thereat,” quoth Brigit.

Dixit Patrick: “Be not in sadness, for good is that which thou beheldest. The first four ploughs which thou beheldest, those are I and thou. We sow the four books of the gospel with seed of faith and confession. The harvest which appeared to thee, that is the perfect faith of those men-folk. The four other ploughs, those are the false teachers and the liars, and they will overturn the teachings that we sow, and those we shall not uplift. But we, I and thou, shall then be in the presence of the Creator.”

Then Brigit went to Dunlaing to ask him to forfeit to her father the sword which he had given to him while he was in the door-way of the fortress. Then a slave of the slaves of the King came to speak with Brigit and said to her: “If thou wouldst save me from servitude wherein I am, I would become a christian and I would serve thee thyself.” Brigit said: “I will ask that of the King.” So Brigit went into the fortress and asked her two boons of the King —the forfeiture of the sword to Dubthach, and his freedom for the slave. Said Brigit to the King: “If thou desirest excellent children and a kingdom for thy sons and Heaven for thyself, give me the two boons that I ask.” Said the King to Brigit: “The kingdom of Heaven, as I see it not, and as no one knows what thing it is, I seek not, and a kingdom for my sons I seek not, for I should not myself be extant, and let each resp="WS">work in his time. But give me length of life in my kingdom and victory always over the Huí Néill, for there is often warfare between us. And give me victory in the first battle, so that I may be trustful in the other fights.” And this was fulfilled in the battle of Lochar, (which he fought) against the Huí Néill.

Once upon a time the King of Leinster came unto Brigit to listen to preaching and celebration at Easter-day. After the ending of the form of celebration, the King fared forth on his way and Brigit went to refection. Lommán, Brigit's leper, said he would eat nothing until the armour of the King of Leinster were given to him —both spears and sword and shield that he might move to and fro thereunder. A messenger went from Brigit after the King. From mid-day to evening was the King astray and he attained not even a thousand paces, so the armour was given by him, and bestowed on the leper.

Once upon a time Bishop Ercc and Brigit were in the land of Leinster. She said to Bishop Ercc: “There is at present a battle between thy tribe and its neighbours.” Dixit a student of Bishop Ercc's family: “We think not,” saith he, “that that is true.” Brigit  p.73 sained the student's eyes. Said the student: “I see my brothers a-slaughtering now.” Then the student repented greatly.

Once upon a time a certain leper came to Brigit to ask for a cow. Dixit Brigit to him: “Which wouldst thou prefer, to carry off a cow or to be healed of the leprosy?” The leper said, that he would rather be healed of his leprosy than have the kingdom of all the world, for “every sound man is a king,” saith he. Then Brigit made prayer to God and the leper was healed and served Brigit afterwards.

Now, when Brigit's fame in miracles and marvels had travelled throughout all Ireland, there came unto Brigit for their healing two blind men from Britain, and a little leper boy with them, and they put trust in Bishop Mél to get them healed. Said Brigit: “Let them stay outside just now till mass is over.” Said the Britons (for those people are hasty), “Thou healedst folk of thy own race yesterday, though thou healest not us to-day.” Brigit made prayer and the three were healed at once.

Brigit went afterwards with her virgins to Ardachad of Bishop Mél. The king of Teffia was at a feast near them. There was a vessel covered with many gems in the king's hand. And a certain careless man took it out of his hand, and it fell and broke into pieces. That man was seized by the king. Bishop Mél went to ask for him, but nothing could be got from the king save his death. However, Bishop Mél asked that the broken vessel might be given to him by the king, and then he had it and took it with him to the house wherein was Brigit. And Brigit made prayer to the Lord, and the vessel was restored in a form that was better than before, and then it was taken to the king, and the captive was loosed. And Bishop Mél said: “Not for me hath God wrought this miracle, but for Brigit.”

Once upon a time Brigit went to watch over a certain virgin, namely, Brigit, the daughter of Congaile, who used to work many miracles. And when Brigit and her virgins were at dinner, Brigit paused in the middle of the meal, and she said to a certain virgin: “Make thou Christ's cross over thy face and over thine eyes that thou mayest see what I see.” So then the virgin beheld Satan beside the table with his head down and his feet up, his smoke and his flame out of his gullet and out of his nostrils. Said Brigit to the demon that he should answer her:  p.75 “I cannot, O nun, be without conversing with thee, for thou keepest God's commandments and thou art compassionate to God's poor and to His family.”

“Tell us,” saith Brigit, “why thou art hurtful in thy deeds to the human race?”

Said the demon: “That the race may not attain unto Paradise.”

Said Brigit to the demon: “Wherefore hast thou come to us among our nuns?”

“A certain pious virgin is here,” saith the demon, “and in her company am I.”

Said Brigit to the virgin: “Put Christ's cross over thine eyes.” And the virgin beheld at once the hideous monster there, and great fear seized the virgin when she beheld the demon.

“Wherefore shunnest thou,” said Brigit, “the fosterling whom thou hast been cherishing (?) for long seasons?”

Then the virgin repented, and she was healed of the devil of gluttony and lust that had dwelt in her company.

Once upon a time Brigit went over to Teffia, and there were great hosts along with her. There were two lepers behind them, who quarelled on the road. The hand of him that first raised his hand withers, and then the hand of the other leper withered. Thereafter they repented and Brigit cured them of their leprosy.

Once upon a time Brigit with her virgins, was at Armagh, and two went by her bearing a tub of water. They came to Brigit to be blessed, and the tub fell behind them and went back over back from the door of the Rath as far as Loch Lapan. And it brake not, and not a drop fell thereout. It was well known to every one that Brigit's blessing had caused this, and Patrick said: “Deal ye the water throughout Armagh and Airthir.” So it was dealt, and it cured every disease and every ailment that was in the land.

Brigit went into the province of Fir Ross to loosen a captive who was in manu with the King of Ross. Said Brigit: “Wilt thou set that captive free for me?” The King replied: “Though thou shouldst give me the realm of the men of Breg, I would not give him to thee. But go not with a refusal,” saith the King. “For one night thou shalt have the right to guard his life for him.” Then Brigit appeared at the close of day to the captive  p.77 and said to him: “When the chain shall be opened for thee repeat this hymn, Nunc populus, and turn to thy right hand and flee.” Thus it is done, and the captive flees at the word of Brigit.

Brigit one day came over Sliab Breg. There was a madman on the mountain who used to be harrying the companies. Great fear seized the virgins who were near Brigit, when they saw the madman. Said Brigit to the demoniac: “Since thou hast gone there, preach the word of God to us.” “I cannot,” he saith, “be ungentle to thee, for thou are merciful to the Lord's family, to wit, to the poor and to the wretched.” So then said the madman: “Reverence the Lord, O nun, and every one will reverence thee, love the Lord, and every one will love thee, fear the Lord and every one will fear thee!” Then the madman went from them and did no hurt to them.

Brigit was one journeying in Mag Laigen, and she saw running past her a student, namely Ninnid the scholar.

“What art thou doing, O Sage!” saith Brigit, “and whither art thou wending (so) quickly?”

“To heaven,” saith the scholar.

“The son of the Virgin knoweth,” said Brigit, “that I would fain fare with thee!”

Dixit the scholar: “O nun,” saith he, “hinder me not from my road, or, if thou hinderest, beseech the Lord with me that the journey to heaven may be happy, and I will beseech God with thee that it may be easy for thee and that thou mayst bring many thousands with thee to heaven.”

Brigit repeated a Paternoster with him, and he was pious thenceforward; and Brigit said that neither gallows nor punishment would be for him, and he it is that afterwards administered communion and sacrifice to Brigit.

Brigit went to Bishop Ibair that he may mark out her city for her. So they came thereafter to the place where Kildare is to-day. That was the season and the time that Ailill son of Dunlaing, with a hundred horse-loads of peeled rods, chanced to be going through the ground of Kildare. Two girls came from Brigit to ask for some of the rods, and they got a refusal. Forthwith all the horses were struck down under their loads against  p.79 the ground. Stakes and wattles were taken from them, and they arose not until Ailill son of Dunlaing had offered unto Brigit those hundred horse-loads; and thereout was built Saint Brigit's house in Kildare.

Then said Brigit—

  1. ... my house
    Let the kingship of Leinster for ever be
    From Ailill son of Dunlaing.

On a time came two lepers unto Brigit to ask for an alms. Nought else was in the kitchen save a single cow. So Brigit gave the single cow to the lepers. One of the two lepers gave thanks unto God for the cow. But the other leper was unthankful, for he was haughty.

“I alone,” saith he, “have been sat at nought with a cow! Till to-day,” saith he, “O ye nuns, I have never been counted among Culdees and amongst the poor and feeble, and I should not be (treated) like them with a single cow.”

Said Brigit to the lowly leper: “Stay thou here to see whether God will put anything into the kitchen, and let that haughty leper fare forth with his cow.” Then came a certain heathen having a cow for Brigit. So Brigit gave that cow to the lowly leper. And when the haughty leper went on his way he was unable to drive his cow alone, so came back again to Brigit and to his comrade, and was reviling and blaming Brigit. “Not for God's sake,” saith he, “bestowedst thou thine offering, but for mischief and oppressiveness thou gavest to me.”

Thereafter the two lepers come to the Barrow. The river riseth against them. Through Brigit's blessing the lowly leper escapes with his cow. But the haughty leper fell in the stream, and his cow after him, and was drowned.

Once upon a time the Queen of Cremthan, son of Ennae Cennselach, that is, the queen of Leinster, came and brought a chain of silver to Brigit as an offering. The semblance of a human shape was at one of its ends, and an apple of silver on the other end. Brigit gave it to her virgins, they stored it up without her knowledge, for greatly used Brigit to take her wealth and give it to the poor. Nevertheless, a leper came to Brigit, and without her virgins' knowledge, she went to the chain and gave it to him. When the virgins knew this, they said, with much angry bitterness and wrath, “Little good have we from thy compassion to every one,” say they, “and we ourselves in need of food and raiment.” “Ye are sinning,” saith  p.81 Brigit: “Go ye into the church : the place wherein I make prayer, there will ye find your chain.” They went at Brigit's word. But, though it had been given to the poor man, the virgins found their chain therein.

Once upon a time Brigit beheld a man with salt on his back. “What is that on thy back?” saith Brigit: “Stones,” saith the man. “They shall be stones then,” saith Brigit, and of the salt stones were made. The same man again cometh to (or past) Brigit. “What is that on thy back?” saith Brigit: “Salt,” saith the man. “It shall be salt then,” saith Brigit. Salt was made again thereof through Brigit's word.

On a time came two lepers unto Brigit to be healed. Said Brigit to one of the lepers: “Wash thou the other.” Thus was it done, and he was quite sound forthwith. Said Brigit to the sound leper: “Bathe and wash thy comrade even as he did service unto thee.” “Besides the time we have [already] come together,” says he, “we will never come together, for it is not fair for thee, O nun, (to expect) me, a sound man with fresh limbs and fresh clean raiment, to wash that loathsome leper there, with his livid limbs falling out of him.” However, Brigit herself washed the poor, lowly leper. The haughty leper who had been washen first, then spake, “Meseems,” saith he, “that sparks of fire are breaking through my skin.” Swifter than speech he was straightway smitten with leprosy from the crown of his head to his soles, because of his disobedience to Brigit.

Another time as Brigit was going to receive the sacrament from the bishop there was shewn to her a he-goat's head in the mass-chalice. Brigit refused the chalice. “Why,” saith the ecclesiatic, “dost thou refuse it?” “Not hard to say,” saith Brigit, “this is why I refuse: the head of a he-goat is shewn unto me in the chalice.”. The bishop called the gillie who brought the portable altar “Make thy confessions, O gillie,” saith the bishop. “This very morning,” saith the gillie, “I went to the goat-house, and took thereout a fat he-goat, and his flesh I ate.” The gillie did penance and repented. Brigit thereafter went to the sacrament, and saw not the semblance.

Once upon a time came seven bishops to Brigit, and she had nought to give them after milking the cows thrice. So the cows were milked again the third time, and it was greater than any milking.

Once upon a time a certain nun of Brigit's family took a longing for salt. Brigit made prayer, and the stone before her she turned into salt, and then the nun was cured.


Once upon a time a shepherd of Brigit's family was cutting firewood. It came to pass that he killed a pet fox of the King of Leinster's. The shepherd was seized by the King. Brigit ordered a wild fox to come out of the wood. So he came and was playing and sporting for the hosts and the King at Brigit's order. But when the fox had finished his feats he went safe back through the wood, with the hosts of Leinster behind him, both foot and horse and hound.

(This) was (one) of Brigit's miracles. She had a great band of reapers a-reaping. A rain-storm poured on the plain of Liffey, but, through Brigit's prayer, not a drop fell on her field.

(This) was (one) of Brigit's miracles. She blessed the table-faced man, so that his two eyes were whole.

(This) was (one) of Brigit's miracles. Robbers stole her oxen. The river Liffey rose against them. The oxen came home on the morrow with the robbers' clothes on their horns.

(This) was (one) of Brigit's miracles. When she came to the widow Lassair on Mag Coel, and Lassair killed her cow's calf for Brigit and burnt the beam of her loom thereunder, God so wrought for Brigit that the beam was whole on the morrow and the calf was biding along with its mother.

Once upon a time Brenainn came from the west of Ireland to Brigit, to the plain of Liffey. For he wondered at the fame that Brigit had in miracles and marvels. Brigit came from her sheep to welcome Brenainn. As Brigit entered the house she put her wet cloak on the rays of the sun, and they supported it like pot-hooks. Brenainn told his gillie to put his cloak on the same rays, and the gillie put it on them, but it fell from them twice. Brenainn himself put it, the third time, with anger and wrath, and the cloak staid upon them.

Each of them confessed to the other. Said Brenainn: “Not usual is it for me to go over seven ridges without (giving) my mind to God.” Said Brigit: “Since I first gave my mind to God, I never took it from Him at all.”

While Brigit was herding sheep, there came a thief unto her and stole seven wethers from her, after having first besought her (for them). Nevertheless, when the flock was counted the wethers were found again (therein) through Brigit's prayer.


A certain man of Brigit's family once made (some) mead for the King of Leinster. When the King came to consume it, not a drop thereof was found, for Brigit had given all the mead to the poor. Brigit at once rose up to protect the host, and blessed the vessels, and they were at once full of choice mead. For every thing which Brigit used to ask of the Lord used to given to her at once. For this was her desire: to feed the poor, to repel every hardship, to be gentle to every misery.

Many miracles and marvels in that wise the Lord wrought for Saint Brigit. Such is their number that no one could relate them unless her own spirit, or an angel of God, should come from heaven to relate them.

Now there never hath been any one more bashful or more modest than that holy virgin. She never washed her hands, or her feet, or her head, amongst men. She never looked into a male person's face. She never spoke without blushing. She was abstinent, innocent, liberal, patient. She was joyous in God's commandments, steadfast, lowly, forgiving, charitable. She was a conscrated vessel for keeping Christ's body. She was a temple of God. Her heart and her mind were a throne of rest for the Holy Ghost. Towards God she was simple : towards the wretched she was compassionate : in miracles she was splendid. Therefore her type among created things is the Dove among birds, the Vine among trees, the Sun above stars.

This is the father of this holy virgin —the Heavenly Father. This is her son —Jesus Christ. This is her fosterer —the Holy Ghost : and thence it is that this holy virgin wrought these great innumerable marvels.

She is that helpeth every one who is in straits and in danger. She it is that abateth the pestilences. She it is that quelleth the wave-voice and the wrath of the great sea. This is the prophesied woman of Christ. She is the Queen of the South. She is the Mary of the Gael.

Now when Brigit came to the ending-days, after founding churches and churchbuildings in plenty, after miracles and wondrous deeds in number (like) sand of sea or stars of heaven, after charity and mercy, she received communion and sacrifice from Ninnid the Pure-handed, when he had returned from Rome of  p.87 Latium, and sent her spirit thereafter to heaven. But her remains and her relics are on earth with great honour and with primacy and pre-eminence with miracles and marvels. Her soul is like the sun in the heavenly City among quires of angels and archangels, in union with cherubim and seraphim, in union with Mary's Son, to wit, in the union with all the Holy Trinity, Father and Son and Holy Ghost.

I beseech the Lord's mercy, through Saint Brigit's intercession. May we all attain that union in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.

Document details

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File description

Title statement

Title (uniform): On the Life of St. Brigit

Title (extended): [Leabhar Breac]

Title (supplementary): English Translation

Editor: Whitley Stokes

Responsibility statement

translated by: Whitley Stokes

Electronic edition compiled by: Ruth Murphy

Funded by: University College, Cork and Professor Marianne McDonald via the CELT Project

Edition statement

1. First draft, revised and corrected.

Extent: 9425 words

Publication statement

Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2001

Date: 2008

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: T201010

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

Source description

Editions, Translations and Secondary Literature

  1. Whitley Stokes, A Parallel. RC III (1878) 443f. [The story of Brigit and Breccán from Lebar Brecc (63b), with translation.]
  2. Whitley Stokes, Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore. Ed. with a transl. and notes, 1890 (Brigit).
  3. Kuno Meyer, Mitteilungen aus irischen Handschriften. Sancta Brigita. Aus dem Buch von Lecan, fol. 166c. (Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie XII (1918) 293f.
  4. C. Plummer, J. Fraser and P. Grosjean, Vita Brigitae. MS Rawl. B 512, f. 31 (Irish Texts I 2–18, 1931).
  5. M. A. O'Brien, The Old Irish Life of St. Brigit. Part I. Translation [from Rawl. B 512]. Part II Introduction and notes (Irish Hist. Studies I. 123–34, 343–53, 1938–39.
  6. Seán Connolly, 'Some Palaeographical and Linguistic Features in Early Lives of Brigit.' In: P. Ní Chatháin and M. Richter (eds.), Irland und Europa: Die Kirche im Frühmittelalter. Irland und Europe: The Early Church, 272–279. Stuttgart 1984.
  7. Kim McCone, 'An Introduction to Early Irish Saints' Lives.' Maynooth Review 11 (1984) 26–59.
  8. James Doan, 'A Structural Approach to Celtic Saints' Lives.' In: Patrick K. Ford (ed.) Celtic Folklore and Christianity: Studies in Memory of William W. Heist, 16–28. Santa Barbara/Los Angeles 1983.
  9. Seán Connolly, 'Vita Prima Sanctae Brigitae: Background and Historical Value.' Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 119 (1989) 5–49.
  10. Dorothy Ann Bray, 'Saint Brigit and the Fire from Heaven.' Actes du IXe Congrès international d'études celtiques, Paris, 7–12 juillet 1991. Deuxième partie: Linguistique, Littératures. Études Celtiques 29 (1992) 105–113.
  11. Dorothy Ann Bray, 'Secunda Brigida: Saint Ita of Killeedy and Brigidine Tradition.' In: Cyril J. Byrne, Margaret Harry, and Pádraig Ó Siadhail (eds.), Celtic Languages and Celtic Peoples: Proceedings of the Second North American Congress of Celtic Studies held in Halifax August 16–19, 1989, 27–38. Halifax 1992.
  12. Séamas Ó Catháin, 'Hearth-Prayers and other Traditions of Brigit: Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman.' Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 122 (1992), 12–34.
  13. Richard Sharpe. Medieval Irish Saints' Lives: An Introduction to Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.
  14. Review of Richard Sharpe [1] Alfred P. Smyth. English Historical Review 107, no. 424 (July 1992) 676–678.
  15. Review of Richard Sharpe [2] Giovanni Orlandi. Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 25 (Summer 1993) 99–102.
  16. Review of Richard Sharpe [3] Karl Horst Schmidt. Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 46 (1994) 306–308.
  17. Laurance J. Maney, 'When Brigit met Patrick.' Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium 14 (1994) 175–194.
  18. Séamas Ó Catháin, The Festival of Brigit. Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman. Dublin/Blackrock 1995.
  19. Review of Séamas Ó Catháin [1] Mary-Ann Constantine. Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 32 (Winter 1996), 125–126.
  20. Review of Séamas Ó Catháin [2] Raymond Howell. Studia Celtica 31 (1997) 322.
  21. Review of Séamas Ó Catháin [3] Jacqueline Simpson. Béaloideas: The Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society 66 (1998) 282–284.
  22. Simon Young, 'Donatus, Bishop of Fiesole 829–76, and the Cult of St Brigit in Italy.' Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 35 (Summer 1998), 13–26.
  23. David Howlett, 'Vita I Sactae Brigitae.' Peritia 12 (1998) 1–23.
  24. Daniel F. Melia, 'Abstract: Irish Saints' Lives as Historical Sources.' In: Glanmor Williams and Robert Owen Jones (eds.) The Celts and the Renaissance: Tradition and Innovation. Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Celtic Studies, held at Swansea, 19–24 July, 1987, 165. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1990.
  25. Clare Stancliffe, 'The Miracle Stories in seventh-century Irish Saints' Lives (and Discussion).' In: Jacques Fontaine and J.N. Hillgarth (eds.), Le septième siècle: changement et continuité. The seventh century: change and continuity, 87–115. London 1992.
  26. Catherine McKenna, 'Apotheosis and Evanescence: The Fortunes of Saint Brigit in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.' In: Joseph Falaky Nagy (ed.), CSANA Yearbook 1: The Individual in Celtic Literatures, 74–108. Dublin 2001.

The edition used in the digital edition

Stokes, Whitley (1877). Three Middle-Irish Homilies on the Lives of Saints Patrick, Brigit and Columba‍. 1st ed. Calcutta: [One hundred copies privately printed.], 36 pp.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  title 	 = {Three Middle-Irish Homilies on the Lives of Saints Patrick, Brigit and Columba},
  author 	 = {Whitley Stokes},
  edition 	 = {1},
  pages 	 = {36 pp.},
  publisher 	 = {[One hundred copies privately printed.]},
  address 	 = {Calcutta},
  date 	 = {1877}


Encoding description

Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

Sampling declarations

The present text represents pages 51–87 of the volume. All editorial introduction, translation, notes and indexes have been omitted. Editorial corrections and additions on pp. 138–140 of the printed edition are integrated in the electronic edition and tagged corr sic="" resp="WS".

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Correction: Text proofread twice.

Normalization: The electronic texts represents the edited text. Editorial additions and corrections have been integrated in the electronic edition; tagged corr sic="" resp="WS". Irish names, which in the printed edition may or may not carry an acute accent, have been normalized.

Quotation: Quotation marks representing direct speech are rendered q.

Hyphenation: Soft hyphens are silently removed. When a hyphenated word (hard or soft) crosses a page-break, the break is marked after the completion of the hyphenated word.

Segmentation: div0=the saint's life; div1=the section; page-breaks are marked pb n="nn". Paragraphs are marked. Passages in verse are marked by poem, stanza and line.

Standard values: Dates are standardized in the ISO form yyyy-mm-dd.

Interpretation: Names of persons and place names are not tagged. Numbers and dates are not marked.

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The b attribute of each text in this corpus carries a unique identifying number for the whole text. The title of the text is held as the first Head element within each text. Div0 is reserved for the volume.

Profile description

Creation: Translation by Whitley Stokes.

Date: 1876

Language usage

  • The translation is in English. (en)
  • Some words and phrases are in Latin. (la)

Keywords: religious; prose; medieval; Saint's Life; translation

Revision description

(Most recent first)

  1. 2013-06-14: Corrections added; file validated; new SGML and HTML versions created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2013-05-22: Two corrections to text submitted. (ed. Janet Crawford)
  3. 2008-10-23: Keywords added; file validated. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2008-07-18: Value of div0 "type" attribute modified, 'creation' tags inserted, content of 'langUsage' revised. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  5. 2005-08-25: Normalised language codes and edited langUsage for XML conversion (ed. Julianne Nyhan)
  6. 2005-08-04T16:39:16+0100: Converted to XML (conversion Peter Flynn)
  7. 2001-11-26: Second proofing of file. (ed. Benjamin Hazard)
  8. 2001-11-22: File parsed using NSGMLS. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  9. 2001-11-21: First proofing of file. (ed. Ruth Murphy)
  10. 2001-11-19: Text typed into SGML file. (ed. Ruth Murphy)

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Standardisation of values

  • Dates are standardized in the ISO form yyyy-mm-dd.

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underlining: text supplied, added, or expanded editorially

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bold: lemmata (hover for readings)

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G201010: Betha Brigte (in Irish)

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