Monday, February 01, 2010

St. Brigid loved her female soulmate Darlughdach

Saints Brigid and Darlughdach of Kildare
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1999
Courtesy of www.trinitystores.com (800.699.4482)
Collection of the Living Circle, Chicago, IL

St. Brigid and her soulmate St. Darlughdach were sixth-century Irish nuns who brought art, education and spirituality to early medieval Ireland. Brigid (c.451-525) shares her name and feast day (Feb. 1) with a Celtic goddess -- and she may have been the last high priestess of the goddess Brigid.

Raised by Druids, Brigid seems to have made a smooth transition from being a pagan priestess to a Christian abbess. Today she is Ireland’s most famous female saint. Legend says that when she made her final vows as a nun, the bishop in charge was so overcome by the Holy Spirit that he administered the rite for ordaining a (male) bishop instead.

A younger nun named Darlughdach served as Brigid’s ambassador and her “anam cara” or soul friend. The two women were so close that they slept in the same bed. Like many Celtic saints, Brigid believed that each person needs a soul friend to discover together that God speaks most powerfully in the seemingly mundane details of shared daily life. The love between these two women speaks to today’s lesbians and their allies. Some say that Brigid and Darlughdach are lesbian saints.

Brigid started convents all over Ireland and became the abbess of the “double monastery” (housing both men and women) at Kildare. Built on land that was previously sacred to her divine namesake, the monastery included an art school for creating illuminated manuscripts.

After turning 70, Brigid warned Darlughdach that she expected to die soon. Her younger soulmate begged to die at the same time. Brigid wanted her to live another year so she could succeed her as abbess. Brigid died of natural causes on Feb. 1, 525. The bond between the women was so close that Darlughdach followed her soulmate in death exactly one year later on Feb. 1, 526.

Both Christians and pagans celebrate St. Brigid’s Day on Feb. 1. It is also known as Imbolc, a spring festival when the goddess Brigid returns as the bride of spring in a role similar to the Greek Persephone.

Brigid’s main symbol was fire, representing wisdom, poetry, healing and metallurgy. The nuns at the Kildare monastery kept a perpetual fire burning in Brigid’s memory for more than a thousand years -- until 1540 when it was extinguished in Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The Order of St. Brigid was reestablished in 1807. Two Brigidine sisters returned to Kildare and relit the fire in the market square for the first time in more than 400 years on Feb. 1, 1993. The perpetual flame is now kept at the Solas Bhride (Brigid’s Light) Celtic Spirituality Center that they founded there.

Brigid and Darlughdach are shown with their arms around each other in the above icon by Brother Robert Lentz. He is a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his progressive icons. The two women are dressed in the white gowns worn by Druid priestesses and Celtic nuns. Flames burn above them and on the mandala of Christ that they carry. It is one of 40 icons featured in his book “Christ in the Margins.”

The icon was commissioned by the Living Circle, a Chicago-based interfaith spirituality center for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community and their friends. Four Living Circle members took the original icon to Kildare with them in 2000 for the flame-lighting ceremony at the recently excavated site of Brigid’s ancient fire temple.

Dennis O’Neill, the priest who founded the Living Circle, includes the icon and an excellent biography of Brigid and Darlughdach in his book “Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People.”
_________
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.
___

Icons of Brigid and Darlughdach and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores

Bookmark and Share

20 comments:

Yewtree said...

A very happy Imbolc & St Brighid's Day to you, Kitt.

This blog-post made me very happy.

KittKatt said...

Yewtree, I thought of you while I was writing about Brigid :)

Turtle Woman said...

This made me want to go on a pilgrimage to Ireland to visit the flame of Brigid!!

KittKatt said...

I'm with Turtle Woman -- dreaming of a trip to Kildare to visit Brigid’s Light Celtic Spirituality Center. Their website is well worth visiting, too:

www.solasbhride.ie

Trudie said...

Thanks for the link. I'll add it to my bookmarks. Has anyone else out there been as enthralled as I have by Marion Zimmer Bradley's Avalon series? Somehow, it fits right in.

Turtle Woman said...

Well I'll always love Bradley's "The Ruins of Isis."
It had such a huge impact on my life!

eric said...

I've been meaning to run over here to comment ever since reading this post yesterday morning. Somehow, though, I kept getting sidetracked.

I really loved this post. Reading it, I could really get in to the value of St. Brigid and her soulmate to LGBT spirituality. I especially found a great deal of inspiration in the idea of "anam cara", a soul friend to discover together that God speaks most powerfully in the seemingly mundane details of shared daily life. This seems so true, and experientially so.

The love between these two may speak to today's lesbians... but it spoke to me as well!

Kitt, don't ever stop! These posts are so valuable!

KittKatt said...

Eric, Your enthusiasm is really inspiring me! I do need to hear words like this sometimes: “Kitt, don't ever stop! These posts are so valuable!”

Recently I made a hard decision to turn down a speaking engagement… because I felt that blogging is a better use of my limited energy. Blogging makes a bigger impact and feels more in line with what God is “calling” me to do. Thanks for the much-needed affirmation.

I also identified strongly with the part about Brigid and Darlughdach as “anam cara” or “soul friends” who find God by sharing life’s seemingly ordinary details. I looked at various definitions, and tried to sum it up in the way that is most meaningful to me.

Trudie and Turtle Woman, I’m glad that you are connecting over The Mists of Avalon. I remember lots of women were reading it when I lead women’s programming at MCC San Francisco. Retelling the Arthurian legends from a woman’s point of view is sort of like what I did in my “Jesus in Love” novels, retelling the gospels from an LGBT viewpoint.

Trudie said...

I have been involved with MCC for over 30 years now. In the early days, I was aware that the "L" part of the LGBT community was VERY disinterested in Christianity, and in looking for "connections" in my local feminist bookstore (Charis here in Atlanta), I encountered three authors who were really important in helping me broaden my understanding. These were Bradley, Starhawk (her "Fifth Sacred Thing" is an incredibly valuable book!) and Patricia Nell Warren (besides the "Front Runner" books, Warren wrote "One Is The Sun" which weaves together neopaganism and Native American spirituality in a magnificent novel).

Anyway, my point is that my own pilgrimage, while remaining focused on discovering the "real Jesus", an endeavor to which of course Jesus In Love has given a magnificent boost, I've been blessed by the connections with various threads of Goddess spirituality. And I've found that all these streams simply add to the deep river of "Wisdom". Thanks again, Kitt, for keeping on adding to those blessings.

Terence Weldon said...

Thanks for this, Kitt. I've been interested in Brigid for a long time, but have not had a chance recently to investigate too deeply - your post has come just in time for me. (Even with my deep interest in queer saints,I was not aware that she had a female partner, so that was valuable.)

My interest comes from a different line - the repeated claims I have been coming up against that she was the church's first (and only?) female bishop. Your post refers to the "legend" of the wrong rite being used; other sources say she was never a bishop, but a powerful abbess. I am still investigating.

Whatever the truth, it is clear that she was at the very least, a woman of power and authority in the church. That alone should put the lie to the idea that women have "always" taken a back seat to men in church governance.

KittKatt said...

Trudie, I remember how important “Goddess spirituality” was to me and the other women at MCC San Francisco in the 1980s. The local feminist bookstore (Old Wives Tales) was also a kind of mecca for us.

Some of the women’s spirituality authors who had an impact on me then included Sally Gearhart, author of a beautiful novel about a women’s utopia called “The Wanderground,” and Z Budapest, author of “The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries.” Both of these amazing women spoke at our church in the 1980s -- even though some men tried to prevent a “witch” (Z Budapest) from speaking there.

Now there seems to be much less interest in Goddess spirituality -- and even in reading books of any type. It must be hard for young people to imagine the way it was, and how empowered we felt by the idea of the Goddess.

Terence, I’m not surprised that Brigid fascinates you, too. It’s hard to separate the facts from the legends since she lived 1,500 years ago -- much closer to the time of Jesus than to our time.

Her ordination as a bishop may well have been historically accurate. “Passionate Holiness” by Dennis O’Neill (one of my favorite sources) quotes a 9th-century Life of Brigid as saying that Bishop Mel stated after her consecration, “This virgin alone in Ireland will hold the episcopal ordination.”

Trudie said...

For me, appreciation of the earlier streams of feminist theology was a vital stepping stone to revisiting the Christian scriptures with the blinders of patriarchy removed, and I think this is true for many others as well. Again, I keep saying it, but it can't be repeated enough. "Jesus in Love" helped me complete the evolution that I'd already begun towards understanding that if one truly understands WHO God Made Flesh really is, and what the Divine really intends for us with the repeated emphasis on LOVE, we do not need to cling to ancient traditions of gender-based belief.

I used the term WISDOM in my former post, and indeed I believe Holy Wisdom, Sophia, Chochma, is the nurturing principle of the Divine, and has truly come into her own at this point in history.

Turtle Woman said...

Trudie,
I could really relate to what you said about lesbians and a spiritual search. I loved Starhawk, Z. Budapest, MZB, Sally Gearhart, and lesbian utopian fiction as a spiritual path. Although this blog is devoted to a queer connection to the bible and Jesus, as a lesbian, I still feel rather distant from male centric religions. So the discovery of pre-christian goddess worshipping societies, and lesbian visionary feminism was and still is the big thing in my life. I also really love Mary Daly's concept of gynergy, Jan Raymond's idea that women have a passion for friendship and so much more from the lesbian feminist canon. I often wish that contemporary churches like MCC do lesbian authored readings from our sacred texts in addition to the overly male dominated bible. Sometimes, I just can't listen to those apostles, Paul in particular. As Mary Daly said, this stuff can be dulled and dulling to female passion and consciousness.

Turtle Woman said...

P.S. I really loved Patricia Nell Warren, but never heard of "One is the Sun." I heard her give a lecture in town, she's great!
Mary Daly writes incredible stories of Irish women's spirituality, St. Brigid and the triple goddess of old. Lot to say on this subject.

KittKatt said...

I’m happy to connect with Trudie and Turtle Woman over women’s spirituality authors, the Goddess, lesbian utopian fiction, etc.

A special thanks to Turtle Woman for mentioning Mary Daly, radical feminist theologian and foremother who died last month on Jan. 3. Her book “Beyond God the Father” was especially important in my life. I love her famous quote, “If God is man, then man is God.”

This blog is devoted to spirituality for GLBT people and our allies, NOT just Christianity. Christ is my personal guide, but I want to present other spiritual traditions as well. Since I am a lesbian, I especially aim to include what Turtle Woman might call “female centric” spirituality. I don’t see Christ as a man necessarily. The female Christ goes by many names, including Holy Wisdom or Sophia.

In my own path, I grew up mostly secular and was a lesbian feminist before being baptized into Christianity as an adult. God became real to me in the context of my father’s funeral at a Christian church. I knew God wouldn’t reach out to me if lesbians weren’t welcome, so I went ahead and joined the church, bringing my feminist perspective with me. It’s been what Mary Daly would call an “a-mazing” journey!

Trudie, you always say such wonderful things about my “Jesus in Love” books. Thank you again. I rejoice in knowing that they helped you reach a new state in your spiritual evolution. May our connection with the divine continue to grow and evolve!

Anonymous said...

An incredible icon. Beautiful.

Are you familiar with Ord Brighideach International? It is open to everyone.

http://www.ordbrighideach.org/raven/

"The female Christ goes by many names, including Holy Wisdom or Sophia."

Julian of Norwich characterized Jesus as Mother. The early Baha'i Faith characterized one of its female prophets as the embodiment of the Holy Spiritess/Holy Maiden:

http://samandal.wordpress.com/2009/08/17/tahirih-i/

http://samandal.wordpress.com/2009/08/20/tahirih-ii/

I helped write the articles listed above.

You have a wonderful site. I'll check back often.

Brightest blessings!

Samandal

KittKatt said...

Welcome, Anonymous! And thank you for introducing me to the Ord Brighideach Order of Flame Keepers. People can sign up to tend St. Brigid’s flame in their own homes! This looks like a powerful spiritual practice. I hope lots of people will check it out, so I converted your link into a clickable link:

Ord Brighideach, an order of flame keepers

Yes, I love Julian of Norwich’s writings about Jesus as Mother. I appreciate knowing about the female Baha'i prophets.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from Julian: “All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” We sometimes used this as a benediction to end worship services at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco.

Trudie said...

What an incredibly rich dialog this post has generated! Kitt, I hope you'll be able to share more about feminist spirituality in the future. THIS spiral definitely needs to keep turning.

Turtle Woman said...

Yes, this has turned into a very good little talk. I'd say my most passionate faith tradition is the radical lesbian feminists, and utopian lesbian novels. Somehow, I'm always longing for a movement where all the lesbians and straight women allies just start churches or temples or goddess centers for ourselves, and where the power of women can be truly elevated to the highest level, intellectually and spiritually.

When I meet the old lesbian feminists, those women with double PhD partners, the graduate students, the women who studied with Mary Daly, I think lesbian nation could go even further. There is something in my vision and connection to lesbians and radical women past, present or in a kind of metapatriarchal consciousness that drives me on. That or just the plain laughter of women gathering together to discuss all kinds of topics.

KittKatt said...

Thanks, Trudie and Turtle Woman, for keeping the flame of this dialogue on St. Brigid going. I will keep in mind your passion for feminist spirituality as I plan future posts here.

I think that this post has now gotten the most comments EVER here at the Jesus in Love Blog.