St. Brigid and the Boar

4 February 08 | Posted in Animals, Global Catholic, Saints

Saint Brigid was born in 450 A.D. in Faughart in County Louth as a daughter of a Christian slave and Dubhtach, a pagan chieftain who owned her. Brigid was raised by a female Druid. She grew up to embody the Celtic ideal – one who was generous, handsome and brave.

Saint Brigid became a powerful and beloved Irish religious figure, second only to Saint Patrick. She has been described as “a saint who was at least as interested in farming and domestic matters as she was effective in prayer in leadership.”

Known for her humility and concern for the poor, it has been written that “oftentimes when the very greatest sought her, they found her not in the hall nor the church, but, though it might be blowing or snowing, off in the fields herding the cattle that gave milk to the monastery, or the sheep that gave them wool.”

One delightful legend describes a time when Brigid was caught in a sudden rain shower while tending sheep. Taking off her wet cloak, she hung it on a sunbeam to dry…

Another legend describes the encounter of Saint Brigid and the boar.

“In olden times the ground around a monastery was enclosed and was regarded as holy ground; it was a sacred place and no one had any right to destroy or damage it. A criminal running from the law could seek sanctuary in the monastery and no one could do anything to him until he himself agreed to leave.

In St. Brigid’s time the animals of the woods seemed to know about this law also. One day a wild boar was being chased by hunters and was nearing capture when he managed to reach Saint Brigid’s convent at Cill Dara. The huntsmen were forced to halt outside the gates and wait. They expected the nuns to chase the boar out so that they could easily pounce and kill it.

Brigid was saddened to see the poor board stagger in, so she called to it and then sent a message to the hunters, saying the animal had the right of sanctuary just as human beings had. They sent back a message saying that animals are only animals and didn’t have the same rights as men. Could they please have their boar back? Brigid sent back another message saying that as far as she was concerned the animal had the same right of sanctuary and there the matter ended.

The disappointed hunters rode away. Then Brigid tended the wild boar; it was lying down, exhausted and bleeding from its long run and nearly frightened to death. She gave it a drink and then led it to her own herd of pigs on the monastery farm. At once the boar became quite tame and settled down with the other pigs and lived happily there for the rest of its life.stbrigid1.jpg

Perhaps the best known story of the saint is her visit to a dying pagan chieftain. While she stayed with him and prayed, she plaited rushes into a cross. The chieftain heard her account of the cross as a Christian symbol, and was converted and baptised before he died.

Saint Brigid’s crosses make of rushes are hung up in Irish homes on Saint Brigid’s Day (the old Celtic festival of Imbolc) on February 1. In Irish folk tradition, the cross is believed to protect the building and its inhabitants from fire.

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