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Relic of St. Brigid gifted to Kildare, where she built her abbey

Saint Brigid Relic, NOT FOR REUSE

Belfast Live | Fair Use via YouTube

J-P Mauro - published on 02/03/24

1,500 years after her death, and nearly 1,000 years after her remains were moved, a relic of the patroness of Ireland returns to St. Brigid Cathedral in Kildare.

A relic St. Brigid, patroness of Ireland, poets, and babies among others causes, has been gifted to St. Brigid’s Cathedral in Kildare. The cathedral, which stands on the spot where St. Brigid brought her nuns to erect an abbey church, is now celebrating the return of their beloved Irish saint, whose relics have not visited Kildare in almost 1,000 years. 

The Irish Times recounts the travels of St. Brigid’s remains over the last 1,500 years. After her death, her grave was adorned with gold and jewels that made it stand out for pilgrims who traveled to venerate her grave. Around the year 800, her remains were moved to avoid plunder by Vikings, finding a new resting place beside the graves of St. Patrick and St. Columba.

In 1283, however, three Irish knights who were bound for Portugal to join the Crusades exhumed her body in order to bring with them a first-class relic – a piece of a saint’s body, in this case, St. Brigid’s skull. The three knights never made it back to Ireland, falling in battle and finding their final resting place at the Church of St. John the Baptist near Lisbon. There too, the relic has been housed ever since. 

While the majority of the skull is still in Lisbon, several portions have been removed over the years to be gifted as relics to Irish churches and religious orders. In 1905, one such piece was gifted to St. Brigid’s Church in Kilcurry, and another went to St. Brigid’s Church in Killester, in 1929. The relic that recently found its way to Kildare Cathedral had previously been housed by the Order of Brigidine Sisters in Tullow since the 1930s. 

The relic, which can be seen in the video below, is housed in a specially commissioned reliquary molded to the shape of an oak tree, cast in silver.

The gift comes at the celebration of the 1,500-year anniversary of St. Brigid’s death, which is traditionally believed to have occurred around the year 524. The relic will be placed on permanent display in Kildare, where it will be available for veneration by pilgrims. 

Of the acquisition of a first-class relic of Kildare’s beloved saint, Bishop Denis Nulty, of the Diocese of of Kildare and Leighlin, commented: 

“This is a wonderful day for Kildare,” Bishop Nulty said, noting that the lives of early saints are often hard to track with accuracy. He quoted Sr. Rita Minihan, an authority on St Brigid: “The more one tries to unravel the mystery, the more the mystery deepens.”

Catholic historyIrelandRelics
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