Today is the feast day of St. Brigid, one of the patron saints of Ireland. She is one of the early Christians who stood at the intersection of Christianity, Druidism, and the other pagan religions of Ireland. She is also one of those extraordinary women who did amazing things, despite the patriarchal culture in which she lived.
She founded founded some of the first Christian monasteries in Ireland, most famously the legendary one in Kildare. She also founded a school of art that focuses on metal working and illumination. The illustrated manuscript, the Book of Kildare, was created under her auspices. Unfortunately, it's been lost since the Reformation, so we know it by its reputation only.
Monastic, administrator, artist--it's no wonder that her story calls to me from across the centuries.
I didn't really know much about Brigid until about 2011 or 2012, when I read several blog posts about her. In 2013, I drove all the way to Mepkin Abbey on her feast day. I thought about her life as I drove across cold landscapes. I finally wrote a draft of the poem that appears below.
Four years ago, I wrote this: "I will try to imagine Saint Brigid through a more realistic lens. I will write a poem where she tells me that she accomplished all sorts of things along the way, while all the time struggling to create her great illuminated work. I will imagine something that she did that we know nothing of. I will imagine that she will feel sad when she realizes that modern people don't even know of her great work, but instead of her institutions at Kildare and beyond.
I will think about a woman at midlife 1500 years from now, a woman who reads about my life. What will amaze her? How will she see the ways that I did, indeed, live an authentic life, even as I lost sight of that fact in the daily minutiae? If she blogged about me, what would seem important enough to include? How would she finish this sentence: In the last half of her life, Berkey-Abbott accomplished ______________ ?"
I have yet to write about Brigid's lost work, but I did write the poem that imagines Brigid through a more realistic lens. In August, it was published in Adanna, and I'm happy to repost it here. If you want additional background on Brigid, see this blog post.
The True Miracle of Saint Brigid
You know about the baskets
of butter, the buckets of beer,
the milk that flowed
to fill a lake.
You don’t know about the weeks
we prayed for the miracle
of multiplication but instead received
the discipline of division.
I managed the finances to keep us all fed.
By day, I rationed the food.
At night, I dreamed of a sculpture
manufactured of metal.
I didn’t have the metal
or the time, but in the minutes
had, I illuminated
any scrap of paper I could find.
Lost to the ashes:
The Book of Kildare, but also
my budget ledgers, flowers
and birds drawn around the numbers.
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