As a figure of significant spiritual import, Brigit is honored each year with a holiday known in Gaelic as Lá Fhéile Bríde (the Festival of Brigit). This event is associated with the ancient Celtic festival of Imbolc (or Oímealg), which marked the beginning of spring. Etymologically, the word "Oímealg" is related to "lactation," and indeed the festival occurred when pregnant ewes began lactating: a sign not only of impending lambs, but also of the coming of spring (and an honoring of the milky nature of Brigit). Lá Fhéile Bríde has been Christianised as the feast of St. Brigit on February 1, the eve of the feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple, or Candlemas.

Just as the lines separating the goddess and the saint are fuzzy and indistinct, so too the line between the ancient pagan agricultural festival and the Christian holy day is both blurry and thin. Many folk customs survive in traditional Gaelic regions of Ireland and Scotland associated with the Festival of Brigit; while such traditions have for centuries been practiced within a clearly Christian framework, they appear to have ancient Celtic roots, thus linking the observance with the goddess of old.

Brigit in Ireland Today

Whether you consider her a saint or a goddess (or both), if you are interested in Brigit you will find her energies very much a part of Ireland today. Two locations particularly connected with her are Kildare (obviously enough) located southwest of Dublin, and a holy well in the small village of Liscannor, located on the west coast just south of the Cliffs of Moher.

Kildare features a statue of Saint Brigit in the town square, which in turn is located in the shadow of a small but lovely cathedral. On the cathedral close is a magnificently preserved medieval round tower and the restored foundations of the site believed to be where Brigit's fire was tended for over a thousand years. Several blocks from the cathedral is the Solas Bhríde Community, where Brighidine sisters continue to tend a sacred flame in honor of Brigit, and minister according to her example, offering hospitality and witnessing for peace.

Many holy wells in Ireland are dedicated to Brigit (including two beautiful ones in Kildare), but perhaps the most famous is the lovely well of Liscannor in County Clare. The grounds of the well feature a cemetery on a hilltop, a garden with a statue of the saint, and a small building that houses the well itself. In this building pilgrims and supplicants leave various statues, rosaries, and other "offerings" to Brigit and the healing powers of her holy waters. At certain times of the year, devotees to Brigit gather at this and other holy wells for "patterns," rituals dedicated to honoring the sacred energies of the well. Although such patterns usually involve the rosary and other Catholic devotions, they undoubtedly have their roots in similar rites performed by the pagans of ancient times.

Brigit for tomorrow

From the sacred fire of Kildare, to the folk customs of Imbolc, to the promise of healing associated with holy wells, many aspects of Brigit's traditions cross the line separating pagan from Christian. Is the saint just the goddess having undergone a Christian "makeover"? Or does she represent a pious historical figure who drew inspiration from both her pagan heritage and the Christian gospel? We'll never know for sure, and perhaps the true value of Brigit lies not in trying to determine how "Christian" or "pagan" she is, but rather to honor her for the way in which she bridges both worlds (pardon the pun).

From the sacred fire of Kildare, to the folk customs of Imbolc, to the promise of healing associated with holy wells, many aspects of Brigit's traditions cross the line separating pagan from Christian. Is the saint just the goddess having undergone a Christian "makeover"? Or does she represent a pious historical figure who drew inspiration from both her pagan heritage and the Christian gospel? We'll never know for sure, and perhaps the true value of Brigit lies not in trying to determine how "Christian" or "pagan" she is, but rather to honor her for the way in which she bridges both worlds (pardon the pun).

When I visited Kildare in 2002, I met Sister Mary Minehan, one of the Brighidine nuns who tend the current flame. She showed me where the fire is kept, in a humble shrine at the corner of a meditation room. Above it is a beautiful painting of a balance set of scales. I brazenly asked the Sister point blank, "So do you believe Brigit is a goddess or a saint, or both?" She smiled and directed me to look at the picture of the scales. "I think it's all a matter of balance, now, don't you?" Humbled by her eloquent refusal to take sides on an old spiritual squabble, I silently nodded my agreement.