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A Tale of Two Brigids: a Celtic Goddess and a Christian Saint

A Tale of Two Brigids: A Celtic Goddess and a Christian Saint


St Brigid is one of the patron saints of Ireland. But the virgin nun has roots that go back to the days when the land’s pagan deities received prayers instead. It seems the Celtic goddess Brigid shares more than just a name with the saint.

There are churches dedicated to Saint Brigid in many parts of the world. With time, she became an important icon for the Catholic Church. However, it is still uncertain if she was a real person. An analysis of various resources suggests that her legend actually grew from a myth about a Celtic goddess.

During the first centuries of its existence, the Christian religion adopted and modified many pagan sites and stories. Several churches replaced ancient altars and sacred pagan locations. Moreover, stories about the great people of the past and myths about their deities became the foundation for legends which describe the lives of Christian saints. When the early Christians discovered a powerful story in the land of a recently converted community they tried to replace it with one of their own.

Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Spring

Her name is often said to be Brigid, but she has also been called Brigit, Brig, Brighid, Bride, etc. She was an ancient Irish goddess who was associated with spring, poetry, medicine, cattle, and arts and crafts. Brigid’s feast day was celebrated around February 1 and was called Oimlec (Imbolc). The original Irish text says the following about her:

''Feast of the Bride, feast of the maiden.
Melodious Bride of the fair palms.
Thou Bride fair charming,
Pleasant to me the breath of thy mouth,
When I would go among strangers
'Thou thyself wert the hearer of my tale.''

The name Brigid may come from the word ''Brigani'' meaning ''sublime one''. It was Romanized as Brigantia when that empire was powerful. This form of the name was used to name the river Braint (now Anglesey), Brent (Middlesex), and also Brechin in Scotland. Brigid appears to be related to the Roman goddess Victoria, but sometimes she was presented as similar to Caelstis or Minerva instead.

According to Cormac's Glossary (written by 10th century monks) she was a daughter of the god Dagda, a protector of a tribe. She was worshiped as a goddess of poetry, fertility, and smiths. Her identification with Minerva comes from the interest of both goddesses in bards and artists.

In ancient times, smiths were not only recognized for their craft, but their work was also connected with magic. Brigid was strongly associated with the symbol of fire as well. She was a part of the Tuatha Dé Danann, an Irish supernatural race known from mythology. She may have also been one of the triple deities of the Celts.

Plate of god Dagda of the Gundestrup cauldron.

Plate of god Dagda of the Gundestrup cauldron. (Public Domain)

St Brigid of Ireland appears

When Ireland was Christianized, the monks and priests needed good examples to inspire people to follow the new faith. They used the same method as in the other parts of the world and started to create stories which sounded familiar to the inhabitants of the converted areas. In one of these stories they described a woman who connected the two cultures.

According to Catholic resources, St Brigid was born in 451 or 452 AD in Faughart, near Dundalk, County Louth. She was said to be a daughter of a druid man and a slave woman. Brigid reportedly refused many marriage offers and decided to become a nun. She settled for some time near the foot of Croghan Hill with seven other virgin nuns. They are said to have changed their home a few times, but finally the nuns lived in Kildare, where Brigid died as an old woman on February 1, 525 AD. The Catholic Church argues that the date of her death and the pagan goddess’ day is a coincidence; however it also provides a meaningful link between the Celtic goddess and Christian Saint.

Saint Brigit as depicted in Saint Non's chapel, St Davids, Wales.

Saint Brigit as depicted in Saint Non's chapel, St Davids, Wales. (CC BY SA 3.0)

In legends, St Brigid was a daughter of Dubtach. She was perhaps prepared to be a druid, though in the end she became a nun. This was quite a popular solution for wise people of pre-Christian religions: To avoid problems, many of them preferred to become a part of monasteries and continue their practice connected with the ancient ways while under the guise of “Christians.”

Like the goddess, St Brigid is associated with fire too. The first biography written about her was made in 650 AD by St Broccan Cloen. However, in the 20th century many researchers began to doubt the historical evidence for her life. The saint wrote:

''Saint Brigid was not given to sleep,
Nor was she intermittent about God's love;
Not merely that she did not buy, she did not seek for
The wealth of this world below, the holy one.''

The stories of St Brigid have some unusual details that differ from typical early medieval legends of Christian saints. One of the strangest examples is a story of her life with a woman named Dar Lugdach. According to the descriptions, these two women used to sleep together, but not for a lack of the space or beds. The name of the potential lover of St Brigid means "daughter of the god Lugh.” Moreover, St Brigid’s miracles are often strongly related to druid knowledge about alchemy, magic, and other disciplines.

Saint Brigid of Kildare.

Saint Brigid of Kildare. (Public Domain)

A Double Symbol in Ireland

The history of both of the women is connected with the Brigantines tribe. They were both associated with Leinster, which was the tribe’s center. The monks who described the legend of the goddess in the 10th century would have already known the story of St Brigid as well. Thus, both of the women are icons supported by different groups. Many people agree that there is no reason to separate the two stories and today the followers of pagan religions worship both of them as one – the goddess Brigid.

The goddess of spring.

The goddess of spring. (SPIRITBLOGGER'S BLOG)

St Brigid is still one of the most important Irish saints and for the pagans she's seen as a continuation of old Irish traditions. The stories of both Brigids have inspired many writers, artists, etc. Both of the legendary females have become important symbols in Ireland and nowadays it is hard to decide which one means more. While the researchers argue about the evidence of their existence and connections, many people enjoy the celebration of both female icons on February 1 when they hold traditional feasts in their name.

Top image: Saint Brigit (CC BY SA 3.0), Saint Brigid of Ireland's cross Made by Theresa Knott. (CC BY 2.5), Goddess Bridged (Talk with the Goddess)

By: Natalia Klimczak


Ernest Abel, Przewodnik po świecie duchów i demonów, 2011-2013.

Brighid, available from:

Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1, by Alexander Carmicheal, available from:

St. Brigid of Ireland, available from:

Brighid, available from:



How strange, the islands seem to share a common ancient belief system, this can be seen as early as 8000 bce in Malta, that had a single mother Earth goddess. They share the same type of building structures and triskelion used at New Grange for example. This spreads to other islands around the Med and perhaps further. There was known trade between Malta and the Alpine region in axes around this time, so ideas and commodities did travel some considerable distance. Around 6000-3000 BCE three deities are created. The twins, the mistress if [wild] animals (the 'Moon') and the master of animals (the 'Sun), with his consort ('Venus'). This creates four houses, that represent planets, time of day (midnight, sun-set, mid-day and sunrise, respectively. They have corresponding seasons: Winter, Autumn, Summer and Spring, they also represent cardinal direction (and to a degree wind direction at their time of day). This does then get very confused after around 1600BCE, the sisters in law in particular. This may be why Brigit has certain aspects of Minerva (Virgin) and others of Dawn (birth). It is also why the three are sometimes combined in the triple goddess (That become fates in some cultures). This may explain the slight confusion, the twins both represent aspects of light sunlight and moonlight. It is useful to see there stem from though that are the main axis (North - the 'Earch' is furthermost away from the sun) to South (closer to the Sun), the sisters in law (Moon and VEnus) orbit their principles. This was well understood in very ancient times.
The earliest Etymology of BRITain may be associated with BRITomartis and was know to the Phoenicians that suggests the name was in use in very ancient times. According to the mariners referencing system, this may be referring to the sources of tin (west to Iberia), then North to Brittaney and Britain. It is interesting that the Mythology of IReland is based on invasions that are generally considered to be from IBeria, but the irelands would be a much better match. They favored small defensible islands which is where a lot of the Neolithic building are. The single ship turning up at Ireland shore and negotiated half the Ireland! this needs to be considered, the metal merchants could have bought the support of clans and would have brought organisation (This is the root meaning behind the deities, those that organise), they would have setup stores of grain (for Winter months: the ever-filling cauldron), planned economic output, division of labour, with surpluses to pay for a military and so on. The Egyptians didn't have the navigational expertise to make such a voyage, the islands that traded with the Egyptians did though and it does explain the out of place artefacts such as glass and ape bones being found this far north. It would also explain the interest in SNakes that is found in Irish iconography (difficult to explain this as there were not any in IReland, St Patrixk driving them out is not cull of actual snakes, but the idea). This relates to Thuban the snake and pole star at this time and is associated with mother earth as she turns one a day and once a year in ongoing cycles.

You’re correct in your claim. The Church has a long history of ururping the ancient gods and their holy places. I guess it made sense since they were tryng to supplant the local ways with theirs. The stronger the resistence of the locals, the more intense the pressure to convert them. In some areas, the only way to do so was to absorb the gods and make them saints. The Church even added the strongest pagan rites into Church holidays. It’s sad to think of all the information that was lost along the way.

“….The Christian religion adopted and modified many pagan sites and stories. Several churches replaced ancient altars and sacred pagan locations. ….”

With the exception of its alleged founder, there is not a single original idea in the christian belief.

The shrine of Guadalupe supplants the shrine of Tonazin – a female goddess. The revered ‘mantle’ is nothing more than a painting – of completely human origins.


Natalia Klimczak is an historian, journalist and writer and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Languages, University of Gdansk. Natalia does research in Narratology, Historiography, History of Galicia (Spain) and Ancient History of Egypt, Rome and Celts. She... Read More

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