My anti-inflammatory diet doesn’t allow sweets, but today, I’m having a bit of jam anyway. Blueberry jam. Because of St. Brigid’s cloak.
St. Brigid of Ireland was a woman of great power and a friend of the poor. People who love her tell many, many wonderful stories about her. One of my favorites is the story of St. Brigid’s cloak and the King of Leinster. This king was wealthy and powerful, but no friend of the poor.
St. Brigid’s Request
A time came when Brigid had a community of women who needed a convent. They needed land, and Brigid knew just the place. It had rich, fertile land for them to grow food. Near a lake, so they would have a secure supply of water. Tucked in beside a forest, where they could gather firewood and berries.
And the land St. Brigid wanted belonged to the King of Leinster.
St. Brigid and some of her nuns met the king on this land, and Brigid asked it of him as a gift. He laughed. The King of Leinster had no interest in giving anything to anyone.
St. Brigid’s Cloak
But St. Brigid wasn’t the sort of woman you should laugh at, even if you’re a king. She prayed, asking God to soften this man’s heart. Then she asked him if he might give her just as much land as her cloak would cover.
The king was thoroughly amused. He might not have been, if he’d paid attention to what people said about St. Brigid. If he had listened to the poor, he might have known that, if Brigid had no other place to hang her cloak, she would hang it on a sunbeam. A woman who can do that – well, who knows what else she can do?
The King of Leinster was about to find out. He saw her small stature, and her small cloak, and said, “Of course. All that your cloak covers will be yours.”
He expected her to lay it out on the ground. Instead, she summoned four of her nuns and gave them each a corner of the cloak. Pointing them in the direction of the four cardinal points of the compass, she told them to run. And they ran. And St. Brigid’s cloak grew. And it grew.
And the king, thoroughly frightened, asked Brigid what she was doing.
“My cloak will cover all of your land, because you mistreat the poor.”
A King’s Repentance
This all happened at a time when a king couldn’t go back on a promise and remain a king. He begged Brigid to call the nuns back. He would give them the land they needed, he said, and he would be a friend of the poor.
The stories don’t say, but I imagine that St. Brigid looked at him coolly for a long while, as her cloak grew larger and larger. Then she nodded, and called the nuns back. She had what she had asked – the king gave them the land for their convent. And whenever he faltered in his promise to be a friend of the poor, Brigid had only to allude to her cloak.
Our Lord said that, wherever you put your treasure, your heart will follow it. And as the king served the poor, he came to realize that he was serving St. Brigid and her God. Before too long, he became a Christian himself. He paid to have the convent built for St. Brigid’s sisters, and he supported them generously.
But the sisters believed in working for their keep. They gathered blueberries every year, making and selling jam to provide for their own needs. And so, on her feast day, many people who love St. Brigid eat jam, to remember her.
O holy Brigid, thou didst become sublime through thy humility, and didst fly on the wings of thy longing for God. When thou didst arrive in the Eternal City and appear before thy Divine Spouse, wearing the crown of virginity, thou didst keep thy promise to remember those who have recourse to thee. Thou dost shower grace upon the world, and dost multiply miracles. Intercede with Christ our God that He may save our souls.
St. John the Almsgiver: It seems somehow appropriate that the Orthodox Church commemorates St. John the Almsgiver just before the Advent begins.
St. Elizabeth the Dragon-Slayer: The emperor gave St. Elizabeth land for her community. But the land was worthless, because of the dragon.
The Life of St. Brigid: If you love St. Brigid, you need this picture-book hagiography.