Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Archaeology of St. Brigid - From the Rynne Archive


Pamphlet published by John Ryan S.J.,
1978, Etienne Rynne Archive.

The Feast day of Saint Brigid falls on the first of February. Also known as Lá Fhéile Bríde, and also going back to the Pagan feast of Imbolc, marking the arrival of Spring, the story of Brigid marks an important point in the annual calendar. Within the archive of archaeologist Etienne Rynne is a file of research dedicated to the archaeology, heritage, and sites related to the life and story of Brigid both within Ireland and internationally.

Rynne read widely on the subject of Brigid’s life, and on the Pre-Christian and later Christian history of the life of the saint. Newspaper cuttings of articles, letters to the press debating aspects of Brigid’s life and activities are documented, as are excerpts of scholarly articles. Rynne’s own manuscript research is wide ranging and detailed. Rynne kept a detailed series of notes and writings on a batch on index cards, charting pieces of information on Brigid’s life, her birth, sites associated with her in Ireland, such as wells and churches, miracles, sacred objects, and legacies of Brigid’s story in Irish life today.

Some of those index cards note points including: “Brigid – Irish Goddess – Rivers – the Brighid in Ireland, the Braint in Wales, the Brent in England”; links to Goddess Minerva – both had a perpetual fire”.

The index cards note details of local and regional records and stories of Brigid, from a visit made to St. Mel in Co. Longford and where it is said he heard the confession of Brigid. Also listed are sites of interest outside of Ireland – including at Glastonbury in Somerset, England, where it is said Brigid visited in 488 and apparently gifted a bell to the Abbey in Glastonbury.

Notes by Etienne Rynne on St. Brigid in Glastonbury
and in Bruges.

Another note card by Rynne discusses St. Brigid’s Mantle in Bruges, Belgium, where a cloak she once wore is said to have been in the possession of Gunelda, sister of Harold, last of the Anglo-Saxon Kings (who was killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066). When she fled to Belgium among the valuables she had was Brigid’s cloak which was later willed to the Cathedral in Bruges. A case of mistaken identity is also noted within Rynne’s research as he mentioned a “little church in Brittany” where the Pastor replaced “an old badly deteriorated statue of St. Brigid of Kildare with a nice new one that turned out to be St. Bridget of Sweden instead!”

For more on the Rynne Family Archive, including the archaeological papers of Etienne Rynne, the full catalogue is searchable online here.

The Archaeology of St. Brigid as compiled
by Etienne Rynne