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Saint Bride, as she is usually referred to in Scotland, is also known as Saint Bridgit, Saint Brigid of Kildare, or Brigid of Ireland. She probably lived from about 451 to about 525. She was an Irish nun and abbess who became one of the patron saints of Ireland and had many Scottish churches dedicated to her. Her feast day is 1 February, or Candlemas. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Tradition has it that Brigid, as she is normally known in Ireland, was born at Faughart near Dundalk in Ireland. According to early biographies, Brigid's father was Dubhthach, a pagan chieftain of Leinster. Her mother was Brocca, a Christian slave who had been baptised by Saint Patrick: accounts differ as to whether Brocca was originally a Pict or an Eastern European.
Accounts also differ as to whether Brigid was raised as a Christian or converted later. Despite her father's opposition, Brigid became a nun under the guidance of St Mel, and went on to found a convent in Clara, County Offaly. The story continues that in abut 470 (possibly while still only 19 years old) she founded Kildare Abbey, a double monastery for nuns and monks. As an Abbess she had considerable power, and this was further increased because it is said that at her blessing by St Mel as an Abbess he accidentally read the rites of consecration of a bishop, which once read were irrevocable: giving Brigid the authority of an Abbess and a Bishop. This was a status enjoyed by succeeding Abbesses of Kildare until revoked the Synod of Kells in 1152.
Kildare Abbey became one of the most prestigious religious foundations in Ireland, and some believe it was where the illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Kells was produced. Brigid died in about 525 and was buried in front of the high altar in her Abbey Church. She is widely venerated in Ireland, and her cult was spread to Scotland, and to Europe more widely, by Irish missionaries in the following centuries. As well as many pre-Reformation or Roman Catholic Scottish churches being dedicated to St Bride, she became the patron Saint of Ireland, alongside St Patrick and St Columba. She has also become the patron saint of a long list of groups ranging from babies, blacksmiths and boatmen to poets, poultry farmers and scholars.
One controversial theory suggests that St Bride never actually lived at all. It is perhaps coincidence that Brigid was given the same name as the powerful pagan goddess Brigid, or this might simply have been a reflection of her father's pagan beliefs. Alternatively the appearance of a powerful Christian Saint called Brigid may have been no more than an invention of her early "biographers" seeking to find a way of converting pagans to Christianity.