Brigid of Kildare vs. Julian of Norwich

Today, in one of the most highly anticipated matchups of Lent Madness XV, we pit the only two official Silver Halo winners (as graciously awarded by the Supreme Executive Committee) in history against one another, as Brigid of Kildare faces Julian of Norwich (yes, we know it's unfair, etc, etc, but remember this is Lent Madness not Lent Sanity). In 2015, Brigid took home the Silver Halo, after falling to Francis of Assisi, while in 2016, Julian received the Silver Halo, losing to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Yesterday, Gertrude won. Well, to be specific, Gertrude the Great defeated Gertrude of Nivelles 63% to 37%.

And just in case you missed yesterday's episode of Monday Madness, in which Tim and Scott actually appear TOGETHER, you can watch it here.

Vote now!

Brigid of Kildare

Maybe it’s surprising that St. Brigid of Kildare is so universally beloved when her miracles include popping her own eye out of its socket and causing her brother’s eyeballs to explode in his head.

But then, Brigid also is said to have hung her coat on a literal sunbeam.

She’s known as the “Mary of the Gael” and considered — alongside St. Patrick and St. Columba — one of the three national saints of Ireland.

And, in recent years, the Brigidine Sisters in Kildare report they’ve seen a reclamation of the traditions and customs associated with their namesake.

“Her life still speaks to us in the twenty-firstst century,” according to the sisters’ website.

Brigid was born at what the Brigidine Sisters call a “a time of major transition” in fifth century Ireland and “embodies in herself the pre-Christian Celtic and Christian Celtic spirit.”

Her father was a local chieftain and her mother a slave who was sold to a Druid when the chieftain’s wife discovered she was pregnant. Brigid was raised in the Druid’s home, reportedly befriending him and St. Patrick alike. One of the earliest writings about her life, “Broccan’s Hymn,” describes Brigid as a “wonderful ladder for pagan-folk to visit the kingdom of Mary’s Son.” She still links Christianity and contemporary Pagan traditions, as some believe Brigid may not have been a historical figure, but rather a Christianization of the Celtic goddess who shares the same name and many attributes.

Brigid gave freely to the poor, performed wonders from an early age and, after refusing marriage with her eye-popping miracle, entered consecrated life. In one of the best-known stories about Brigid, St. Mel accidentally read her the order of episcopal consecration, which would make her a bishop. When it was brought to Mel’s attention, he replied, “No power have I in this matter, inasmuch as by God hath been given unto her this honor beyond every woman.”

The saint is perhaps best known for the double monastery for men and women she built around 470  in Kildare, which went on to become a center of education, pilgrimage, worship, and hospitality.

Her feast day is February 1, which coincides with the beginning of spring and Imbolc, when Wiccans (plus practitioners of other contemporary Pagan traditions) remember the goddess Brigid; people of many different beliefs mark the occasion by twisting reeds into Brigid’s crosses.

Collect for Brigid of Kildare

O God, whose servant Brigid, kindled with the flame of your love, became a shining light in your church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (LFF 2022)

Emily Miller

Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich was born around 1342, likely in Norwich, England. Her life is known from her writing, called Revelations of Divine Love or Showings. Her writings are some of the earliest surviving writings by an English woman.

Very little is known of Julian’s life. Julian may not have been her given name. She was an anchorite at St. Julian’s Church, which may be the source of the name by which history knows her. References to her come from four bequests who name Julian and note her role as an anchorite, that is, a person who withdrew from secular society to live in small enclosures attached to churches and to lead a life focused on prayer and solitude. They generally only experienced outside contact through small windows allowing access to receive the Holy Eucharist and to offer spiritual guidance to clergy and lay people.

We can glean some information about Julian’s life. She had at least two maids who assisted her, as both were named in the bequests. Because her mother was with her during her serious illness, historians believe Julian was likely from a family of means that would have allowed some bending of the rules for anchorites not afforded those who were poorer. Her call to be an anchorite likely meant her family could contribute financially to the church that supported Julian and her consecrated life.

Julian was well known and regarded for her spiritual counsel. The Book of Margery Kempe shares the author’s meetings with Julian as a spiritual director in about 1413, some three years before Julian’s death. Julian experienced a serious illness around her early 30’s. The priest prayed last rites, and as Julian anticipated her death, she had a series of 15 visions as she gazed at the crucifix. She had a final vision the following morning. Julian recovered from her illness, and wrote her visions, which became the known as the Shorter Text version of Revelations of Divine Love. Sometime later, probably about a decade, Julian more deeply reflected on her visions and their meaning for Christians and wrote a longer text, as many of her visions were contrary to the Church’s teachings of Jesus and sin.

Revelations of Divine Love contains many important understandings of God and Jesus. Julian prayed for three graces from God to have a vision. In her visions, she sees and hears insights of God’s love. She sees sin as fitting, even appropriate in some ways, for God’s love to be known and experienced by us imperfect humans and not exclusively a punishment. She equates God’s love in feminine and motherly images and frames the Holy Trinity in domestic terms. God and Jesus are masculine and feminine, not solely one.

Collect for Julian of Norwich

Triune God, Father and Mother to us all, who showed your servant Julian revelations of your nurturing and sustaining love: Move our hearts, like hers, to seek you above all things, for in giving us yourself you give us all. Amen. (LFF 2022)

Laurie Brock


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106 comments on “Brigid of Kildare vs. Julian of Norwich”

  1. As we ponder our choice, let us dare
    To advance St. Brigid of Kildare.
    After all, we should note
    That in Ireland a vote
    A new holiday for her did delcare.

  2. I was tempted to vote for the first woman Bishop, but Julian still has my heart. My visit to her ´cell’ in Norwich, and I know it wasn’t the real cell, was such a spiritual experience. It was steeped in holiness. There is something about her and her writings that bring that out in people.

  3. I had to vote for Julian, because I share her name! Also, she kept a cat, and I'm still upset that Gertrude of Nivelles lost yesterday.

    1. Thank you! You had me at cat.

      Also, Julian helped me weather the pandemic. I still love Brigid, and the melding of the Celtic with the Christian.

      As others have said - today is brutal.

    1. My thoughts exactly, Alyson. Brigid and Julian have been two of my favorite saints since I learned the concept of “Saint”. And because of Brigid’s connection to needlework, our prayer shawl ministry at St Andrew’s Amarillo was named St Brigid’s Guild. Around that same time in my life one of my favorite friends introduced me to the Taize service at that same parish…and her favorite saint was Julian (so I began to learn of her life, too). These two women were my choice at the beginning of Lent Madness XV, and now I must make a choice. And I’m drawn to Julian in 2024 because “all manner of things shall be well”.

      1. Hello, Amarillo! I was baptized and confirmed at Saint Andrews, and my mom was a member of the Daughters of the King there.

  4. "yes, we know it's unfair, etc, etc, but remember this is Lent Madness not Lent Sanity"

    As to ocular popping:
    I have a younger b(r)other and can relate. He has made *my* eyes pop a few times, and I do like to return favors...

    Brigid needs to be a "bride" this time!

  5. Although St. Brigid is the name of my DOK chapter at Bethesda-by-the-Sea, my heart is with Julian; she is my go to mystic. I am in awe of her deep and committed relationship with Jesus. Her life was filled with loss and illness. She turned all of that loss and suffering to draw close to Christ! And to top it off she used her relationship with Christ for many others through counsel.

    1. That's one of the reasons I love Julian as well. She suffered genuine hardship--so when she says "All will be well, and all manner of things will be well," it's not some kind of toxic positivity.

  6. Julian gets my vote today as one of the few saints I knew of before Lent Madness. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the luck of the Irish was with Brigid today, as both are worthy. Tough choice today.

  7. This year is a voting disaster! Not sure I can believe any real results. Some days it takes your vote, other times not. And not from phone, I know. Perhaps it is just too popular now. Don’t know why I try to vote 3-4 times, when it still doesn’t respond, or shocking, does! Doesn’t matter the time of day.

    1. Try verifying you are not a robot first. Then make your selection and vote. Has worked for me.

    2. I have not had any difficulty in voting this year, whether on my laptop or my phone. But I know from comments like yours that there have been repeated struggles for many others. I have limited tech skills, so have no idea what the source(s) Of the problems maybe. But I urge the Supreme Executive Committee, once this Easter arrives, to engage some tech savvy people to do a bottom up review of, and possible replacement, of the website/platform, and then to engage in ample beta testing of the voting function across multiple device types, operating systems, and browsers to ensure that voting is consistently functional and accessible to all come next Lent.

      1. I will add that I'd like to be able either to view all the comments at once or to be able to skip to the end, so I can read the newest comments without hitting "enter, enter, enter" on every page of the older ones.

  8. Must vote for Julian. Her writing and a visit to her cell changed my life at a time when I really needed to be reminded of God’s constant and sure love.

    1. I had to make my way through FOUR today! It wasn’t exactly a hardship in the big picture, but it was unusual.

    2. The captcha is very difficult; the images are so small and fuzzy. I had to go through it four times before I could verify

  9. Ooh, you’ve given us a really tough one today, SEC. I visited St Julian’s in Norwich last year and was in her cell attached to the church. But my Irish forebears would find some way to smite me if I didn’t vote for Brigid.

  10. Julian of Norwich, in memory of the late, great Jeff Pierce, Oblate of the Order of Julian of Norwich and member of Transfiguration, Dallas, TX. Jeff's devotion to God and others was matched only by his intelligence and wit. May light perpetual shine upon him, as he shed light every day of his life.

  11. My vote is for Julian. Margery Kempe is an ancestor of mine and she visited Julian more than once. Gave me the incentive to read Julian

    1. In 2022, our book club read Revelations by Mary Sharratt, a re-telling of Margery á Kempe. Tells of her visions and affirmation by visits to Julian of Norwich. Wonderful book and inspiring lives!

  12. The gremlins of the ballot box must be out today. I voted but I didn't see my vote or comment posted. Since I don't want to be cast into Outer LM Darkness, I'm not voting again. Julian appears to be ahead anyway, possible due to the intervention of the late, great Jeff Pierce, member of Transfiguration in Dallas and an Oblate of her order. May light perpetual shine upon him.

    1. The Gremlins of the Ballot Box must have been banished to LM to Outer Darkness, since my comment is now visible. Thanks be to God, the SEC, and all technical people involved, and a good day to everyone.

  13. Darn it! This one is tough! Don’t tell my husband that I didn’t vote for St. Brigid. LOL

  14. A 5th century figure who did gross things with eyeballs and may or may or have even existed, vs. a 14th century mystic, spiritual director, and published writer whose poetic and liminal writings embraced feminine imagery and language for the divine? All shall be well indeed if she receives the Golden Halo.
    Moreover, her cat was devoted to her, and her feast day is my birthday. No contest!

  15. It is great to have gifted women theologians in Lent Madness. My vote today goes to Julian for the wonderful Revelations of Divine Love. The image is the statue of Julian outside the west door of Norwich cathedral. Sadly, her cat was not included, but on Saturday the cathedral cat, Budge of Norwich, greeted us as we arrived for a Christian Aid event. Julian would approve.

  16. The Celt in me says Brigid even though the Anglican leans more toward Norwich: it is March now, after all!

  17. The match-up I have been dreading--two of my favorites. How can I choose?

  18. SO NOT FAIR!!!!!
    I love both these saints, and have spent time in both Kildare (healing came at Brigid’s Well) and Norwich (studied her writings in beautiful depth). But Julian has fascinated me since my teens, and proved herself worthy of all the haloes the SEC can offer. She has my vote today. My cat concurs.

  19. My favorite coffee cup is the huge Julian of Norwich Silver Halo cup which I've used every day since it arrived. My favorite mystic image of God is from Julian: God gazing lovingly at the world, a little thing the size of a nut in God's hand, which exists because God loves it. I hope I can get a Golden Halo mug with Julian's famous quote on it. All shall be well...