Sunday, February 18, 2018

Saint Brigit's Peripatetic Disciple: Breaca (and Companions) to Cornwall!


Image of St. Breaca

Catholic Online: Saint Breaca, from whom Breage in Cornwall was named, was born in East Meath, Ireland and schooled at the Brigidine convent nearby.
Becoming a disciple of St. Brigit, she was also called Breque, Branca, and Branka. She travelled from Ireland to Cornwall around 460 C. E.. There she and her companions made a home for themselves on the bank of the River Hoyle.
Feastday: June 4
Death: 5th or 6th century
There is a wee problem here. If Breaca studied with Brigit and left in 460, Brigit herself was about four years old at the time. Though we know she was quite precocious, I think this is pushing it. It 's too bad the dates are all so hazy and estimated. It would be nice to know for sure that a disciple of Brigit's had gone on to the big isle to build a community. This would lend some support to the idea that Brigit herself may have done such travelling, too.
According to the site of The Cornwall Historic Churches Trust writes of her church in Breage, Helston:

"Breaca was patron of this church by c.1170. According to c.1540 extracts from a Life written in the 14th or 15th centuries, Breaca was born in the regions of Leinster and Ulster. Her first local settlement and church here was at Chynoweth, near Trew, but the present church where she was reputedly buried stands on a different site."
According to the National Churches Trust:
"The present church was probably built in the early 12th century. It was considerably enlarged with north and south aisles and chapels and transepts from the mid 15th to the mid 16th centuries. This church as viewed from the exterior is much as it was over 500 years ago. It is dedicated to St Breaca an Irish missionary who is thought to have first come to Cornwall in 500 AD to bring Christianity to the area."
All is now clear. You should pop over to those websites for some lovely views.
Breage Church

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"Silent Night" (Western Ireland ??Brigidian?? Version)



As far as I can piece together, this Christmas hymn, which does not mention Brigit at all, could perhaps have been written by Bishop Moel Brigid (or Brigidian O'Brolcan), who died in 1097. (Not to be confused with Bishop Moel Brigid ((also nicknamed Brigidian)) who died in 1042.)* Which would make it of interest because of the name, very similar to my own and meaning "Devotee of Brigit."** It is interesting to know there is a "nickname" for Mael Brigde.

More likely, it is simply that the hymn is written in the "Brigidian" language, or presumably dialect. I am at a loss as to what is going on here. I have found a couple of references to it online, but not much. One is a plea for information posted in 2003 and never answered:


"I have run across a language that appears to be Gaelic-English-Romance-Germanic in origin. It is called "Brigidian." Does anyone know about it? All I could find on the internet were several sites having to do with "how to say...in 2 billion languages.

"I think that this language was made up, but you never know. Supposedly, it is, or was, spoken in western Ireland."

I found one of those sites, too:

"Thank you" in more than 465 languages:

Brigidian (western Ireland)                Boche'
from 


Well, I have certainly never heard of the Brigidian language before, but it is fascinating, so I post this here to ask you if you have ever heard of such a thing.

The query above came from a Lowland Scots listserve, and there may be something to this connection, as hinted in this from Wikipedia:

Scots is the Germanic language variety spoken in Lowland Scotland and parts of Ulster (where the local dialect is known as Ulster Scots).[7] It is sometimes called Lowland Scots to distinguish it from Scottish Gaelic, the Celtic language which was historically restricted to most of the Highlands, the Hebrides and Galloway after the 16th century.[8] The Scots language developed during the Middle English period as a distinct entity.[9][10][11]

The interesting thing for me is, if there really is, or rather was, a non-Gaelic language in Western Ireland named Brigidian, whether it came over from Scotland, and why it is called this. Is there a connection to Brigit, or is it a superficial resemblance, with a different etymology?

Anyway, here is the hymn that started all of this:

Nóçhé' Nóël, Nóçhé' Cúna / Silent Night / Stille Nacht (Western Ireland Brigidian Version)***

Nóçhé' Nóël, Nóçhé' cúna, 

Gah íes án sa' la xana 
Na íes Marí äte Swíe Loddy, 
Bébé Nuäfóna, ham äte ódí, 
Dòrméz, Crístús, dòrméz! 
Dòrméz, Crístús, dòrméz!

Nóçhé' Nóël, Nóçhé' cúna, 

Rí'ins Sôlí def Aíah, 
Haíshner fröuçh Two bal nuäfóna 
Fwothsòneth mwos salvins hóra; 
Jäésús, a' Two Rúbins, 
Jäésús, a' Two Rúbins.

Nóçhé' Nóël, Nóçhé' cúna, 

Salvatem 'nggósèa 
Fröuçh Cqíëlós-el óró haígnèh, 
Shóveth gratzía-el lánèh; 
Jäésús, yinmöu Húmanäé! 
Jäésús, yinmöu Húmanäé!

Nóçhé' Nóël, Nóçhé' cúna, 

Waléróhs vwons essèa 
Ló Angelícque Halelúya 
Haútèa íet éerigçhaba: 
Ló Meshíach íes ní! 
Ló Meshíach íes ní!



(English literal translation)

Christmas night, Quiet night, 

All is bright in the stable. 
There is Mary and Her Boy-child, 
Holy Babe, little and lovely. 
Sleep, Christ, sleep. 
Sleep, Christ, sleep.

Christmas night, Quiet night, 

Laughing Son of God, 
Love from Thy holy mouth 
Sounds forth our saving hour. 
Jesus, at Thy Birth. 
Jesus, at Thy Birth.

Christmas night, Quiet night, 

Salvation brought 
From Heaven's golden height 
Shows grace's fullness. 
Jesus truly Human! 
Jesus truly Human!


Christmas night, Quiet night, 
Shepherds who heard 
the Angelic Alleluia 
Shouted it everywhere 
The Messiah is here! 
The Messiah is here!







*SourceJournal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. I, Fifth Series, Vol. XXI, Consecutive Series 1890-1891, (1892), pg. 518.

** To learn more about the name, go here.

*** SourceGaelic Rosary Prayers (2011). Bit of a misnomer there.

Image: "Erin makes a Christmas pudding marked 'Home Rule', while Pat brings international support as ingredients,"by John Fergus O'Hea [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Admittedly, this image has nothing to do with the post, but when I looked for an Irish Christmas image on Wikimedia, this came up, and I thought it was too cool to pass by.

Mael Brigde, the Name--Because You Asked.


I'm often asked what Mael Brigde means, and occasionally when I say it means "Servant of Brigit", which is the first definition I was informed of, I'm mischievously informed that it actually means "bald."

Allow me to expand on this truncated version of the truth. Ahem:












Now, it is clear from this that the baldness alluded to is not mere male-patterned baldness, but the deliberate tonsure of the Irish monastic (which was different from the circle-top baldspot of the Friar Tuck cut we are used to, being from ear to ear across the pate, leaving the front naked and the back clothed).

The tonsure implies the devotee. So in a way, we're both right. But in another way, it is more accurate for me to say "Devotee of Brigit" or if I'm really feeling it, "Slave of Brigit," or perhaps even "tonsured for Brigit." Gill Brigde, or Giolla Bride, if I recall correctly, has a more direct claim to the meaning "Servant of Brigit."

Heather Upfield reminds me that in Scot's Gaelic the Oystercatcher is Gillie Brihde - servant of Bride, as it is also in the west of Ireland, such as in Connaught, thought the spelling there is Giolla Bride, 




SourceJournal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. I, Fifth Series, Vol. XXI, Consecutive Series 1890-1891, (1892), pg. 518.



Wednesday, February 14, 2018

“Kindergarten Murders: Vigil Prayer” by Mael Brigde



                      “Kindergarten Murders: Vigil Prayer”

dear Brigit
your own son turned
in murderous treachery
against your people
and was killed

ragged spear
through your heart
at first you shrieked
in the end you wept

you know our grief

small children shot
mother’s son who slew them
and in his torment
died

aid us  Brigit
in our anger  sorrow  shock
peace to those who lived
to those destroyed

build us whole
sing our rebirth

that we may live open
eyes and hearts
heal in newfound understanding
this tender tragic earth








This poem was written in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which occurred on 14 December 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut, USA. It refers to the death of Brigit’s son in the Cath Maige Tuired, where he has attempted to murder one of his mother’s people in order to aid his father’s in the war between the Tuatha De Danann and the Fomorians.

Blessings on all our children.

Mael Brigde


Image: "Children in Khorixas, Namibia" by Thomas Schoch [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Brigit Sculpture by Denisa Prochazka


I just wanted to share this photo of the ten foot Brigid wall sculpture commissioned by St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts in Ottawa, Canada. The artist is Denisa Prochazka, and the photo was taken by Laurie Foster‎ of the Thornhaven ADF. Thanks to Laurie for permission to post it here.


From an article about Denisa's art (link here):

The Czech-born artist, who currently lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada states, “The necessity to create a form in my hands out of earth resembled something divine, an unspoken element of the hidden nature of what it is to be human, and the psychological portrayal of what it means to be a female. I felt the need to portray feelings, needs and a visual conversation within the sublime. Symbolism transcends the physical into the spiritual realm.”


Friday, February 09, 2018

“Bridie and the Snowdrop: An Exploration in Flora and Stained Glass” by Heather Upfield


Heather's Snowdrops

Introduction
Some weeks ago I posted an image on Facebook of a little group of snowdrops in the garden of my house on the southwest coast of Scotland. They were in tight bud and my post hoped that they would bloom in time for the Feast Day of St Brigid (or St Bride, as she is generally known in Scotland) on 1st February. This date also coincides with the Christian celebration of Candlemas (on 2nd February) in which, according to the mythology, St Bride played a leading role, and the Midwinter Festival of Imbolc or Oimelc, with its links to the Goddess Brighid. It is a time of enormous energy, whatever your perspective and at the heart of this glorious time are snowdrops!

Thus, it’s entirely natural that contemporary artists like Wendy Andrew (Painting Dreams) and Karen Cater (Hedingham Fair) would feature snowdrops in their beautiful images of Bridie and Imbolc; and that the icon of St Bridget of Kildare in St Gregory Orthodox Church, Silver Spring, Maryland (twentieth century) features snowdrops at Bridie’s feet. Whether Brigid, Bride, Brighid or Ffraed (in Wales), they and the snowdrop seem to be inextricably linked.

It was, therefore, with interest that I read a comment from Mael Brigde herself, asking me if I knew that the snowdrop was not native to Britain and Ireland but had been imported several centuries ago, by Crusaders returning from the Middle East in the 10th century - at least 500 years after St Bride! This was news to me - I had assumed they’d been here for ever - and it set me thinking about snowdrops in general and the iconography of Bridie. It took me on a little journey, firstly into the history of the snowdrop and then into images of St Bridget/St Bride in stained glass windows and I am delighted to share what I found with you here.

Snowdrops
I went online to search, firstly, for the history of the common snowdrop in Britain (Galanthus nivalis). From Google searches, it showed there are currently around thirty-two varieties of snowdrop available and it appeared that snowdrops were not native to Britain. However, I could find no mention whatsoever of a link with the Crusades, although I found evidence that Crusaders were responsible for importing spices and hollyhocks! Mael Brigde’s information had come from BBC4 Gardener’s Question Time - a popular radio programme - and although she gave me the names of the presenters to follow up, I did not receive an answer.  Trawling through various sites, I discovered from Kew Gardens that they had first been recorded in Britain in the mid-15th century in a garden, and it is supposed that they were originally planted in gardens, eventually escaping to the wild, where they became naturalized in woodlands and glens.

By the nineteenth century they were well established and appear in Circle of the Seasons and perpetual key to the Calendar and Almanack by Thomas Ignatius M Forster (1828). In his text, he reports that the snowdrop was known as “Our Lady of February”, “Fair Maid of February” and “Purification Flower”. This clearly shows it was at one time linked to St Mary, Mother of God. Candlemas celebrated the Purification of Mary in the Temple under Jewish law. Also, a local folk name for snowdrops is “Mary’s Tapers”. I have always believed that there is a very close bond between St Mary and St Bride (which is supported in Hebridean mythology of St Bride) and I don’t find it problematic in any way, that the snowdrop flowers between the two.

Later, Florigraphia Britannica, by Richard Deakin MD (1845), which was the seminal text on British Flora at the time, lists snowdrops, and Deakin quotes a lovely poem by Anna Laetitia Barbauld, poet, (1743-1825):

“Already the Snowdrop dares appear,
The first pale blossom of the unripened year;
As Flora’s breath, by some transforming power,
Had changed an icicle into a flower:
Its name and hue the scentless plant retains
And Winter lingers in its icy veins.”

My next discovery about the snowdrop, moves forward to the Crimean War (1853-1856), which (simplistically) was fought by Britain, France, Austria and Turkey against Russia, over disputed lands at the west of the Mediterranean. According to British History in Bloom 25/5/2016, native snowdrops (Galanthus niger) grew in Crimea, as widely and commonly as poppies grew in Flanders fields in WW1, and soldiers returning from war brought them home with them. It was also common for soldiers’ graves to have the bulbs planted on them. Thus, we have an influx of one of the many different varieties of snowdrop at that point.

Still searching for the definitive answer to whether snowdrops were native to Britain, or naturalized, or where they might have come from, and not finding the answer no matter how many Google searches I did, I decided to go the Highest Authority in the Land: The Royal Horticultural Society of Great Britain! I was delighted when I received an email from Neil Lancaster, Senior Botanist, within the week. This is the substance of his response, where I have added additional text in square brackets:

“It is not quite certain whether Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, is an introduced or native plant in the UK.

“Clapham, Tutin and Warburg, in the second edition of their Flora of the British Isles (1962) - for long the standard flora - say ‘probably native in some places in Wales and Western England but very commonly planted and usually only naturalized’. In the third edition (paperback 1989) they modify this to ‘probably introduced [..] possibly native in some places in Wales and Western England but very commonly planted and usually only naturalized.’

Galanthus nivalis is native in Northern France according to Flora Europaea. [Tutin, Heywood et al, published in 5 volumes between 1964 and 1980]. However, Bishop, David and Grimshaw’s Snowdrops monograph (reprinted 2006) states flatly that Galanthus nivalis is not native in northern Europe.

“Stace, in the third edition of his New Flora of the British Isles (2010) - which has arguably become the new standard flora - gives it simply as introduced/naturalized, which appears to be the view most commonly held today.

“Clearly it was not known to have been first introduced by returning Crusaders [in publications since 1989] (although even if native here they still might have brought some back from Palestine) and one would think that if this story had been discovered since then, it would be easy enough to find convincing references on line. I would suggest therefore that the answer to your question about the Crusaders is ‘might have done’.”

And that is where we have to leave it, a great unknown, until new evidence turns up!


Bridie in Stained Glass
I have always loved stained glass, and it is the first thing I am drawn to when visiting a church or cathedral. It has a wonderful mysterious quality, for like Schrödinger’s Cat, stained glass is both alive and dead at the same time! From outside the building, the glass appears lifeless, opaque and black. It is only when you step inside, that you find that light pouring through the glass has brought it all to glorious and colourful life.

The subjects of the windows are interesting, in that they very often contain recognisable symbolism connected to the person they are depicting. For example, St Columba of Iona is invariably depicted with his symbol the dove; St Fiacre, Patron Saint of Gardeners, is depicted with a garden spade; and St Cecilia, Patron Saint of Music, is depicted with a primitive hand-held keyboard.

With this in mind, I decided to look at St Bridget/St Bride windows to see what was revealed about the iconography, and also whether the snowdrop was included in any of them. Because this had all the makings of being a life-time’s study (which would be marvellous!), I decided to keep it simple and selected twenty Bridie windows from Pinterest to investigate. Where identified, they are from churches in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England, Canada and the USA. What follows is very much a snap-shot and possibly the beginnings of something huge, but I hope you enjoy the findings so far.

I was disappointed to find no Bridie windows prior to the nineteenth century, though this does not mean that there aren’t any. However, if it is the case that Bridie windows came into churches from the 1800s, it could be the result of relaxation in laws concerning faith in Britain and Ireland, which resulted in the huge surge in church building in the nineteenth century. Not all the windows were dated or dateable, or gave details of their whereabouts, but my selection showed them to be redolent of nineteenth century Arts and Crafts and Victorian Gothic, through to twentieth century Modernism and then beyond, to a more soft and romantic style in those from the twenty-first century.

Interestingly, in all twenty windows, St Bridget/St Bride is depicted as a nun and in ten of these, she is in the habit of a conventional nun. It is not certain exactly when the nun’s habit first came into use, but it was likely to have been in the period of great abbey and monastery building from the eleventh century. Chaucer, writing in the fourteenth century, suggests the Prioresse in his Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, is dressed in the habit of Benedictine nuns, as “Ful semyly hir wympul pynchėd was”, so it was clearly established by then. However, it is highly unlikely, that Bridie would have been dressed in a formal habit such as this, but, (as she is depicted in the other ten windows), in the simple clothing of the country girl she was.

In ten windows she is carrying a pastoral staff, whether a traditional crozier, or more simple rod, and in five she is carrying a Mediaeval abbey in her hands or is adjacent to one. In seven she is carrying a lit candle or burner, or her staff has a flame from its tip. Crosses feature in five windows, either on her clothes, in the background or in her hands; in three windows these are St Bride crosses. Across seven windows, she is shown holding a rosary, sheaf of corn, quill (in two), bell, milk pail, bible and bowl.

Animals feature in a total of nine windows: cows in two, and sheep in three. In the background of one, six birds flutter around St Bride, while an oystercatcher appears in a small light in another. The goose, which symbolises the start and end of winter appears in a third. In two she is depicted with her guardian wolf, and in another with her boar.

What interested me most was the vegetation and flora which appeared in fifteen out of twenty windows. In one there is unspecified vegetation surrounding St Bride, another had some little unidentifiable pink flowers, and in another blue bells! Of the remaining twelve, by far the most common symbols were oak leaves and acorns which appear in ten. They are either being held by the saint, or on her vestments, or appearing in the background, anchoring the window strongly to St Bridget of Kildare. In one, a text banner proclaims “Cill Dara”.

And finally, what I had been looking for: two windows which feature snowdrops, the only ones I found!


Window One: “St Bridget” in St Bridget’s Roman Catholic Church, Baillieston, Scotland
The first window, titled St Bridget, dates to the late twentieth century and is to be found in St Bridget’s Roman Catholic Church, Baillieston, Scotland, beside St Columba of Iona (note the dove). Here we see a thoroughly modern interpretation of Bridie, full of vitality and energy.

The window is a single panel, with a small light at the top, where an oystercatcher (the symbol of St Bride in Scotland) is to be seen. St Bridget is depicted as a nun, but in a fluid, stylised fashion, with Bridie crosses on her vestments. A brilliant sun (replicating a halo) and shining star are in the top of this light, with a abbey in the background. She is holding a quill and at her feet are two sheep beside a pail of milk. Circling the pail at her feet are six snowdrops.

As a footnote, Giles Davies, Bridie specialist and historian from Wales, informed me that in his research, an image of the sun around the head, was used to denote Saints, from the Mediaeval period till about 1830-1840, after which the halo became standard.




Window Two: “St Bride” in Church of St John the Baptist, Church of England, Glastonbury, England
The second window, titled St Bride, dates to 1925 and is to be found in the Church of St John the Baptist, Glastonbury, England.

It comprises two panels, that on the left depicting three sheep, with, in the background, a crowd of followers standing at the foot of the famous Glastonbury Tor.

The right hand panel depicts St Bride herself, dressed as a conventional nun, carrying a bell, with her guardian wolf at her side. At her feet is a cluster of snowdrops.

I visited Glastonbury in 2010 for a ceremony on St Bride’s Mound, just outside the centre of town, and fell in love with this window when I paid a visit to the church. I have kept a postcard of this window close-by ever since. However, it was difficult to see what was at Bridie’s feet, and my own memory was hazy. Thus, I am immensely grateful to the delightful Nigelle de Visme, who lives in Glastonbury, for very kindly going to St John’s (twice!) and checking this out for me! Bridie Blessings Nigelle!


Conclusion
In conclusion, my journey has taken me through swathes of snowdrops (whether native or naturalized!) and I encountered some superb stained glass designers along the way: Harry Clarke in Dublin in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century; Sarah Pursers, who founded An Túr Gloine (Tower of Glass) stained glass workshop in Dublin around 1905 (wonderful to see a woman at the forefront of stained glass design in that period!); and in the twenty-first century, Plamen Petrov in the USA; and Laura and John Gilroy in Canada.

As I indicated at the beginning, this article is very much an initial exploration based on a small sample of windows and the symbolism is what we might expect: cows and sheep, the nun, the abbey, fire etc but I was not expecting as many windows to have featured oak leaves and acorns. And there are so many more windows to find! I am an associate of the Scottish Stained Glass Trust, which recently gained funding to record every stained glass window in Scotland. The same has been done in Wales in a project run by Aberystwyth University and I feel sure that there are similar projects in England and Ireland and elsewhere. In time, it will be much easier to find Bridie windows online!

It might be that this exploration will encourage you to grow your own snowdrops (they do wonderfully well in tubs) or has altered, or complemented, your way of looking at stained glass. You might want to look at windows on Pinterest yourself, and make your own comparisons.  Please let me know if you have St Bride, St Bridget or St Ffraed windows in buildings in your area. It would be marvellous to have a Bridie in Stained Glass Catalogue!

Meanwhile, at this sacred time of St Bride’s Day, Imbolc and Candlemas, may the fire of St Bride and the sweet snowdrop of Midwinter Spring bring light to guide you on your own path.

Bridie Blessings
Heather Upfield
3 February 2018

"Wendy Andrew, Painting Dreams"



Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Féile Bríde 2018: Light out of Darkness




Féile Bríde 2018: Light out of DarknessSaturday 3rd February 2018
Solas Bhríde, Kildare Town
Registration at 10.20am

"Life has given me many challenges, which I choose to take as opportunities to learn and grow. This is my choice. I learned this on death row. I chose life, health, forgiveness, and love. That choice saved me from bitterness and hatred that would have destroyed me from within. I have dedicated myself to an end to violence – in all its forms. This is the way I honour the lives that were sacrificed along the way. This is the way I give back to the universe. Love is the answer. Fear is the enemy. We must choose the world we want and work towards making it happen every day in our own lives."

These are the inspiring words of death row survivor, Sunny Jacobs, whose life reads like a Shakespearean tragedy, with injustice heaped upon further injustice, creating circumstances that would have crushed many people. An innocent woman wrongfully convicted of murder, her husband was executed, she lost other family members and she spent many years awaiting her own execution. But Sunny came shining through it all with dignity, strength, courage, compassion and hope. She is the perfectly encapsulation of this year’s Féile Bríde’s theme: ‘light out of darkness’.

Sunny and Peter Pringle, the last person to have been on death row in Ireland, have devoted themselves to promoting healing, peace and reconciliation. Together they have established The Sunny Centre – a sanctuary for others who suffer injustice, especially people who are wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit and have spent time under sentence of death. We will hear their extraordinary stories at Féile Bríde this year.

Other speakers include the distinguished academic and activist Peadar Kirby, who plays a leading role in the Cloughjordan Eco-Village; UCC Professor Emeritus and life-long peace activist John Maguire; Hanny Van Geel of La Via Campesina, which promotes the rights of peasant communities around the world, and who describes herself as ‘rooted in farming’; and Rose Hogan who has a life-long commitment to agro-ecology and sustainable agriculture.

In a world marred by war and the woeful destruction of our exquisite planet, Féile Bríde is but one example of the many, many people and groups throughout our world who hope for and work towards a better future, a more just world and for the light to overcome the darkness.

And as the Spring birdsong heralds the end of another winter, we will also have music because, as Hans Christian Anderson said, “where words fail, music speaks”.

For more information, including the programme, go here: http://www.afri.ie/news-and-events/date-for-your-diary-feile-bride-2018/



Monday, January 29, 2018

Conference review for Brighid: Her Flame Burns Brightly 27 Jan 2018


Potia Pitchford gives a generous and pithy review of Land, Sea, Sky's Brighid conference in her blog, Musings of a Scottish Hearth Druid (Thoughts about living, loving and worshiping as a Hearth Druid. One woman's journey.)
To read it, follow this link.


Image: Header from Potia's blog.