We continue the series of biographies of Irish saints listed on this chronological list, now looking at saints whose names begin with the letter B. Needless to say Saint Brigid has the largest entry in this category, but it also includes the two saints Brendan, Saint Benignus, plus two lesser-known female saints with Patrician associations as well as an Irish saint who gave his name to a town in France:
BENIGNUS, SAINT, BISHOP of Armagh, and first successor of St. Patrick in that see; was son of Singen, one of the chief men of Meath, and who hospitably received Saint Patrick, when on his journey to the court of King Laghaire in 433. Our future saint, then a bright boy, was baptized by Patrick, who gave him the name of Binen, or Sweet, on account of the loveliness of his person and character. The boy became so attached to Patrick that he begged his parents to allow him to follow him, but they, dearly loving him, were unwilling, but Patrick told them that it was the Divine will that the boy should dedicate himself to God, and tearfully they let him go. He quickly increased in knowledge, and every Christian virtue, and became a great assistance to his Apostolic master. His zeal and example made many converts, and he became, as it were, a substantial image of his great leader. He was perhaps the most beloved of all the disciples of Patrick, and continued with him from the first to the last, his coadjuter as if it were, and he succeeded him in the government of the See of Armagh. Benignus resigned his See after some years, for the purpose of visiting Rome, and was succeeded by St. Jarlath; another disciple of Patrick.
Benignus wrote in Latin and Irish, amongst others, "Virtue and Miracles of St. Patrick," Poems and "Munster Book of Rights." He is said by some authors to have died in Rome, and by others to have died near Glastonbury, England, in the monastery of Ferlingmere where he went to retire from the world. William, of Malsmsbury, says, "That the miracles of his former life, and those of his new translation proclaim in what high degreee he stands with God," and gives the following epitaph as being on his tomb at Ferlingmere:
"Father Beonna's bones in this tomb lie
Of old the father of the Monk's hereby
Disciple to St. Patrick so much famed,
The Irish say he was, and Beon named."
Lanigan however thinks this must refer to another saint of the same name.
BREACA and BURIAN SAINTS, two holy maidens of Ireland, who were greatly honored in Britain. The former was baptized by St. Patrick, became a religious, passed over into Britain and established a community on the bank of the river Hagle, now called the Alan in Penrith. Her life was so saintly that she was honored by the erection of a church, which became famous for miracles performed through her intercession. Her companion was also held in great veneration. King Athelstan erected a church over her remains which was privileged as a sanctuary, and which had also a noted school of learning attached. These holy women died early in 500.
BRENDAN, ST., of Clonfert, one of the most famous of the Irish saints, not only celebrated for his missionary labors but also for his voyages and discoveries, was born about 483 in Kerry, and as a child was under the care of St. Ita, who devoted herself to the care and instruction of children. He received his classical education under Bishop Ercas, and was raised to the priesthood. He was noted for his zeal and apostolic spirit, and desirous of spreading the gospel among a neglected people he made inquiry among the original inhabitants (Tuatha—Danians) of the island, who were always noted as a seafaring people, as to traditions of Western lands that had been visited at earlier periods. Among those he visited was St. Enda who had a monastery on one of the Arran Isles, and who was well versed in all the early traditions on the subject. St. Brendan returned home and prepared for his western voyage fitting out his vessel in the Bay, now known by his name, and at length set sail on the broad Atlantic, directing his course south-west. The accounts of this voyage which are numerous, state that: "After a long and rough voyage, his little bark being well provisioned; he came to summer seas, where he was carried along without the aid of sails or oars for many days (undoubtedly the gulf stream). He at length reached land, and with a portion of his companions landed and pushed into the wilderness to seek inhabitants. They traveled for fifteen days, and then came to a large river flowing from east to west, (probably the Ohio). They did not penetrate the country any further, nor does the traditions state what work was performed or conversions made. The saint returned after about seven years, and undoubtedly must have been actively employed during that time.
Scandinavian accounts of voyages and attempted settlements in America by princes of that race from Greenland about the year 1000 are very definite, and of undoubted authority. One of their accounts translated and published by Rafn, the Danish historian, admits that the Irish had already settled on the coast of America at more southerly parts, before their time, and they called the place "Ireland it Mekla" or Great Ireland,'and that some of the Norse voyagers visited them, "a white people different from the Esquimaux of the north, having long robes or cloaks and frequently bearing crosses in religious processions and their speech was Irish." Those undoubtedly were the remains of colonies who settled in the days of St. Brendan and prior to that time… St. Brendan after his return settled at Clonfert where he founded one of the most eminent of the early Irish schools, and which gave to Ireland and Europe many great saints and scholars. Its schools were of vast extent and contained at times thousands of students, not only from all parts of Ireland, but from Britain and the continent. He himself became famous for his wisdom and sanctity, and was constantly consulted by the most eminent bishops and scholars. He was the author of several works, among them, "Life and Miracles of St. Bridget." He died about the year 577 at a great age (94 years,) and was buried in his Monastery at Clonfert. In confirmation of his voyage there are still many old MSS. In the "Bibliotheque Imperiale" at Paris there are eleven Latin MSS., dating from the eleventh century, besides many other scattered over the continent in Latin and Irish, besides the confirmation of the fact by the Scandanavian MSS. according to the testimony of Prof. Rafn, the Danish Historian.
BRENDAN, SAINT, of Birr, a man eminent for his learning and sanctity, was the son of Loralgine, a member of a distinguished family of Munster. He became a disciple of St. Finian, of Clonard, by whom he was held in the highest honor for his virtues, learning and supernatural gifts. He was intimate with the great Columbkill; and foretold him on his leaving Ireland, what some of his future labors would be. He wrote some of his works in verse, and founded a monastery and school at Birr. He died in November, 571. A fact known to St. Columbkill at the time, although then in Iona.
BRIDGET, SAINT, one of the most eminent of the Irish saints, was born about 453. Her father's name was Dubtach and her mother's Brochessa, and were said to have been Christians at the time of our saint's birth; this is opened to doubt as according to the most ancient authorities, Brochessa was but a handmaid and slave, and it appears under the Druidical religion, so among the Hebrews, it was permissible for rich men to take a handmaid to wife. It is stated that the wife of Dubtach compelled him to dispose of Brochessa, and that he sold her to a Druid, but conditioned that he should return the child which she was then bearing in her womb. While the Druid was on his way home with Brochessa, he stopped at the house of a pious Christian, who, while praying, is said to have received a divine intimation, that the child of the slave was destined for great things; and told the Druid that he must treat her kindly, and that innumerable blessings would come to his house. Our saint was born at Faugher, a village near Dundalk, but the native place of the Druid was Connaught, where St. Bridget spent her early years and was reared by a Christian nurse. Many wonderful things are told of her infancy, which foreshadowed her wonderful gifts and graces. She grew up full of every grace and virtue, meek, kind and sweet in manner, and so entirely unselfish, that she gained the love and admiration of all, under the careful training of her mother. She developed a wonderful spirit of prayer from her tenderest years. Her spirit of charity was not less marked, while her spirit of obedience was not satisfied with carefully doing all she was desired to, but in anticipating every wish of her superiors. After some years Dubtach demanded her from the Druid according to agreement. Her parting from her mother and from her kind protector the Druid was her first great grief, but though most heartbroken, she submitted with that meekness and patience which never forsook her during life. The Druid kindly allowed her mother to accompany her which was her only consolation. Her father received her very kindly, but her step-mother with coldness and contempt, which she did not seek to conceal. She subjected her to ill-treatment, and tried to humiliate her by requiring her to do the most menial offices of the household. As her virtue and the admirable beauty of her character shone out more from the attempted degradation, winning the love and admiration of all, so did the malice of this wicked step-mother multiply and increase, and she tried to poison the mind of her father against her, by putting wrong constructions on all her actions. It is said that about this time she accompanied a pious woman to a synod held in the plains of Liffey, and that St. Iber saw in a vision, one whom he supposed was the Blessed Virgin, standing in the midst of the Bishops, but on beholding this child of grace, he recognized in her the Virgin of his vision. She was treated with great honor by the assembled Bishops, and it is said that miracles attested her great virtues and the singular favor in which she was held by "her Divine Master. After this she was allowed to visit her mother, and while there, she had charge under her mother of the Druid's dairy. Her ever burning charity could not see want go unrelieved, and when she was asked to make a return of all the proceeds, she became alarmed lest trouble might come from her generosity, and she fervently implored God to aid her. Her prayers seemed heard, for her gifts to the poor did not reduce the property of the Druid. The Druid, seeing the tender attachment of the mother and child, and the pain that separation gave, was moved with compassion and gave the mother her freeedom, and told her to go with her beloved daughter. Their gratitude knew no bounds, and weeping with joy they blessed him, and he, it is said, soon afterwards became a Christian. It is recorded also, that after returning to her father's house, she took the jewels out of the hilt of a sword which had been presented to him by the King of Leinster, and sold them to relieve the wants of the needy. This came to the ears of the King, and being present at a banquet at her father's house, he called the little maid and asked her how she dared to deface the gift of a King. She answered that she did it to honor a better King, and that rather than see Christ and his children, the poor, suffer for want, she would if she could give all that her father and the king possessed, yea, "yourself too," if necessary. The King was struck with the answer of one so young, and said to her father, she is priceless, let God work out in His own way His holy will, and do not restrain the extraordinary graces conferred on her.
About this time, according to Jocylin, Bridget assisted at an instruction given by St. Patrick and had a vision. Patrick, knowing that she had a revelation, asked her to relate what she had seen. She answered, “I beheld an assembly of persons clothed in white raiment; and I beheld ploughs and oxen, and standing corn all white, and immediately they became all spotted; and afterwards they became all black; and in the end I beheld sheep and swine, dogs and wolves, all fighting and contending together," and St. Patrick said: The whiteness represented the church of Ireland as it was then, for all the prelates and servants of the church were pure and faithful and diligent in all things. The things which were spotted belonged to the succeeding generation, which would be stained by evil works. The blackness represented the following and more remote times, when the world would be profaned by evil and the renouncement of faith. The contest of the sheep and swine, the dogs and wolves, represented the contest of the pure and unpure prelates, and good and bad men, which in the lapse of time would come to pass. Bridget's step-mother having failed in all her evil designs, urged her father to get her married. As she was very beautiful, a most desirable match could be easily arranged but Bridget firmly refused and told her father that she had long since resolved to devote herself to God. It is said her step-brother lifted his arm to strike her for disappointing their wishes, when it became paralyzed. Having communicated her intentions of consecrating herself to God to some of her pious companions, they resolved to accompany her. Having arranged all their matters, the band of pious maidens directed their steps to Ussna Hill, in the County of Westmeath, where the holy Bishop Maccaile was. He graciously received them, and the next day they made their vows before him, he placed white veils on their heads and a white mantel or habit to wear. This took place in her sixteenth year, about 469. Some authors say it was St. Mell from whom she received the veil, but they admit the presence of Bishop Maccaile. Bridget's first community was established at Bridget's Town near Ussna Hill, under the spiritual directions of Bishop Maccaile. She governed her house with great prudence, sweetness and firmness, and here her charities knew no bounds; the needy never went empty away, and her charity and miracles soon drew crowds to receive benefits from her hands. Her work partook of the nature of the apostolic, for she is credited with the power of casting out devils, which she often used. She did not confine her labors or good works to her convent, but went about serving and instructing the poor, and reproving and converting the pagans, many of whom she brought within the fold. The fame of her works spread all over Ireland, and she was invited by many pious Bishops to establish branches of her community in their diocese.
It is said that once while at Ardagh the See of St. Mell, a great banquet was given by the Prince of Longford, at which a servant let fall a, vase of great value and it broke in pieces. The Prince, in a rage, ordered the man executed, and St. Mell was called upon to intercede without avail. When he ordered the fragments of the vase to be sent to Bridget, when she immediately restored it to its original perfection, at which the man was pardoned and many conversions followed. Stopping once at the house of a pious family who had a deaf and dumb child, and being alone with the child when a beggar called, she asked the child where the provisions were kept, who immediately answered, and the parents were filled with joy on their return to find their deaf and dumb one perfect. It is also related that she confounded a wicked woman who made a false charge against one of Patrick's disciples named Bronus, by making the sign of the cross on her lips, compelling her to speak the truth. On this occasion St. Patrick appointed the holy priest Natfroich to be her chaplain and to accompany her on all her journeys. She visited the eastern part of Ulster and also Munster establishing convents and performing wonderful works of mercy, curing the sick, giving sight to the blind and even abating a pestilence. It is said while in Limerick a female slave fled to her for protection from her mistress; Bridget pleaded for her liberation, but the woman seized the slave, who clung to the saint for protection, and commenced to drag her away when her arm became paralized. She became frightened and begged the saint to restore her arm which she did on release of the slave. Bridget established her communities all over Ireland, founding convents, and placing over them the most worthy of her disciples. She spent much time in Connaught particular in Roscommon, and established many convents throughout the province, besides gaining many souls to the faith by her miracles. Her fame was now second only to St. Patrick's. He sowed the good seed and she was cultivating it to rich blossoms and an abundant harvest. While she was thus engaged, the people of her own province Leinster became uneasy lest they should not be blessed with her presence again, so a deputation of prominent men were sent to invite her back to her native home. She consented, and returned with them. When they arrived at the Shannon which they were to cross, no boats were there, and some pagans who were present taunted Bridget saying, "Why don't you walk over, if your God is so powerful? "Some of the men asking the prayer of Bridget and God's assistance immediately proceeded to walk across, which they did safely to the great discomfiture of some pagans and the conversion of others. Her tour through Ireland, establishing houses occupied about seventeen years, and they rivalled the monasteries in numbers, the sanctity of their inmates and the abundance of their charity. St. Bridget was received by the people of Kildare with great affection and joy, and a large convent soon rose which proved of inestimable benefit to its people; a source of joy to the rich and benediction to the poor. The convent of Kildare was erected about the year 487. Near it stood a great oak, which Bridget blessed, and which stood for centuries afterwards, giving the name to the place which it retains to this day Kil-dara, Church of the oak. It finally yielded to time and relic hunters. Here our saint was visited by pious souls from all parts of Ireland, and even Britain and Scotland, to seek advice, to ask her prayers and blessing. Saints, bishops and nobles came; mothers brought their children to be blessed, the poor to be fed and the sick to be healed. So great was the crowds that came that the place soon grew up into a large town, the chief one in Leinster. Kings and nobles vied with each other in favoring it, and it was made a city of refuge. Bridget desired that it might be made a see and at her request, Conlaith, who was an humble hermit, was made its first Bishop. It has preserved an unbroken line ever since, and is one of the most ancient sees in Europe. Bishop Conlaith aided by Bridget built a Cathedral which in the course of time became large and imposing. Cogitosus, who wrote about 200 years after Bridget, describes it as extending over a large surface of ground and of an imposing elevation. It was adorned with paintings and contained under one roof three spacious oratories separated by wooden screens, while the wall at the eastern end of the church ran across the whole breath of the structure from side to side, frescoed with holy figures and ornamented with rich tapestry. This had two entrances, one at each end. The one on the right was for the Bishop and his regular college, and through the other no one entered but the abbess and her community. This church contained many windows and one ornamented door on the right, through which the men entered, and another on the left through which women entered.
St. Bridget was probably first amongst the saints of Europe who gathered into communities holy women under certain rules of obedience. The Abbess of Kildare exercised control over all the convents of the Bridgetatine Order in Ireland, as is now the general custom with religious communities, being all subject to a mother house; but in those days it was not so, as the Augustinian nuns were subject only the superioress of the house in which they lived. The church of Kildare and its plate and property belonged to the nuns, and this mother house became in the course of time very wealthy from the gifts and largesses it continually received from the rich and noble. St. Bridget was held in high esteem by the holy men of her day, as well as by the kings and princes of the land, who often came to profit by her advice and instruction. She stood sponsor for the nephew of King Echodius and prophesied that he would be raised to the episcopacy. He afterwards became bishop of Clogher, succeeding St. Maccartin. She also foretold of the birth and greatness of St. Columbkill.
Bridget practiced the most severe austerities, spending her nights in prayer and contemplation, and as her body was not vigorous she suffered severely. St. Patrick highly extolled her virtues and mission, and looked upon her as one raised up by God to perfect the good work he had commenced. She frequently visited him for his blessing, advice and encouragement. She was warned of his approaching end, and set out with four of her nuns to receive his dying benediction and to attend his obsequies. Her life was filled with acts of mercy and charity. She labored in every way to promote the glory of God, and the good of souls. The consolations of a life overflowing with good works, was hers, as she calmly and serenely awaited the inevitable call, a call to her full of sweetness and hope, as coming from her Divine Spouse for whom she so ardently sighed. She was forewarned of her approaching death, and told a favorite nun named Derlugdacha of the event, who was distressed at the prospect of losing her beloved mother; but the saint told her to be consoled for one year from the day of her death she would be united with her in heaven. The prediction was fulfilled and St. Bridget having received the Blessed Sacrament from the hands of St. Neunnidh, she soon after passed away in the odor of sanctity on the 1st of February, 525, in the 72d year of her age. The venerable St. Conlath had died some time before, and was interred on one side of the high altar. On the other, the holy remains of St. Bridget found a resting place. Her tomb was the resort of pious pilgrims for centuries, and innumerable cures were attributed to her intercession. During the invasion of the Danes, her remains which had been enshrined were removed to a place of safety. This church was plundered by them in 831. The remains were subsequently deposited with those of St. Patrick in the Cathedral of Down where they remained for nearly 400 years, or until the more barbarous reformers plundered and destroyed the shrine. The relics or portions appears to have been preserved, for we find by Cardosus, that the head of St. Bridget was in a church of the Cistercian nuns near Lisbon, where her festival and an office is yearly held on the 1st of February, and that outside church door was a slab with this inscription, "In these three graves are interred the three Irish Knights who brought the head of the glorious St. Bridget who was born in Ireland, and whose relics are preserved in this chapel. Erected in the month of January, 1283."
Few saints were perhaps ever honored during their lifetime as was Saint Bridget. She was not alone regarded as a model of all sanctity, but also as a special friend of God, who could obtain any favor asked. She was consulted by holy Bishops, and it is said that her opinion was asked for by an Irish Synod and taken as authoritative and 'the people called her, "Altera Maria,“ another “Mary and Mary of the Irish." Churches in her honor were founded all over Europe. In Ireland, her name is justly held in the highest veneration, and the praises bestowed on her by the saintly writers who were her cotemporaries, show that she was indeed preeminent for saintly qualities, when so marked in days in which the Isle was filled with saints. The ruins of the ancient church of Kildare still exist.
BRIEUC, SAINT, was born in Ireland and flourished in the 5th century. He went to the continent to preach the gospel, and founded a monastery which was the origin of the present town of that name in the department of Cote du-Nord-France. He converted large numbers of the Franks and other barbarians to Christianity, and established schools where all the learning of the age was taught.
James O'Brien, Irish Celts: a cyclopedia of race history, containing biographical sketches of more than fifteen hundred distinguished Irish Celts, with a chronological index, (Detroit, 1884).
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- Mass of All Saints of Ireland (1962 Missal)
- Litany of All Saints of Ireland (1921)
- Lent with the Irish Saints
- Notes on Homonymous Saints
- Notes on the Life of Saint Brendan