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. One of these days I'll vote for a figure who is a composite of apocryphal fictions and fibs, but not today. I love the idea that sin is a vehicle for God's grace, a medium for creativity. It's a recalcitrant material, not a punishment. Not everyone is called to a life of prayer and contemplation, but to those who are, it must be a beautiful, peaceful mode of being. In the fourteenth century women were not offered leadership roles in the church; that she could write and reflect was a blessing both for her and for her community. I'll vote for pagan goddesses another year, no matter what colour they turn the beer.

  2. I read Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, repeatedly throughout the COVID pandemic, with all its shut-downs, job terminations, stressful rumors, stressful finances, and contentious vax / anti-vax discussions.

    Julian had also lived in a time of pandemics, and her quiet insights gave me focus and steadiness. She has my vote

  3. Tough choice; but I have to go with Julian's statement of faith (not included in her blurb) applicable to these troubled time: All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

  4. These two women were amazing. It was a very hard choice. Julian won out because of her beautiful writings.

  5. Hurrah for Julian. Legends are fine as symbols but Julian's real wisdom continues to teach and to inspire us. Her understanding of the love of God and the workings of Grace reverberate across the centuries.

  6. I'm going with Brigid because I love my Brigid silver halo pint glass, and I am such a fan of Celtic Christianity. However, I'm also a fan of Julian, so it is a tough decision.

  7. Some might like to read Anchorhold: Corresponding with Revelations of Divine Love by Kirsten Pinto Gfroerer.
    The author writes letters to Julian.

  8. Although I love both of these saints, it is Julian who provided me the mantra which helped me get through a time of fear and uncertainty - All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. Julian has my vote today.

  9. Voting for the historically verified over the legendary, and the grounded spirituality over the eye-popping miracle stories.

    But yeah, it's unfair to match up two top seeds (based on popularity if not veracity, anyway) against each other in the first round.

  10. I still have and use my Brigid pint glass. I hope there will be another pint offering this year -- I don't drink coffee!

  11. I have learned so much from both of these women, but because I had my own "showing" experience of Brigid, I had to vote for her today!

  12. Looks like eye popping Brigid isn't going to win. Anyone who can pop eyes out gets my vote.

  13. "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well" (Julian of Norwich). I have used this writing so much when things seem hopeless, there is no way I cannot vote for Julian. My hope is that she gets the golden crown she deserves.

  14. just a note to Emily Miller - I am so sorry G of Nivelles lost yesterday - Loved your commentary and the humor in it! Keep writing!!!

  15. Today is truly difficult. Both did things to "unite" the masculine and the feminine. And Brigid also the pagan and Christian.

  16. I believe Julian has probably had the most influence on Christians thru the years, but as an O’Day, Brigid has a special place in my heart.

  17. Tim and Scott got it wrong. In 2022 Saint Theresa of Avila lost by only 3 votes. This makes her the only TRUE Silver Halo winner.

    1. It is my thought that the SEC may have decided that awarding a Silver Halo might become a difficult situation in the future and so ended the practice. I could be wrong, though!
      In any event, I love and use my Brigid pint glass and my cats drink water from the Julian large soup mug, so the Silver Halo duo are well honored in our house.

  18. I've always loved the mantra ascribe to Julian (All shall be well, etc) but having read both entries here, I went with Brigid, not withstanding the weird eyeball thing - yuk! Perhaps my vote is just predicated on what the bloggers each emphasized. Anyway, Brigid is far behind at this point of the morning, so it's likely Julian will prevail.

  19. Two amazing women. I voted for Julian of Norwich. Her visions and understandings seem astounding for that time. She must have had great courage to share and write her beliefs.

  20. Ah gee, Supremes! What an unfair matchup! Both women are worthy, I love both of them, but I need to vote for Julian, as I wear a bracelet engraved with her most famous saying: "All is well" got me through the pandemic.

  21. A hard choice between two saints who are beloved to me. But I have to vote for Julian and her assurances of divine love.

  22. AS a member of St Brigit's Episcopal Church in Frederick
    Colorado, I have been very interested in the life of this
    incredible saint. One of the studies that was offered was
    "Enhancing The Sacred" by Kenneth McIntosh where there is
    discussion about Brigit both as a Goddess and a Saint.
    We celebrate her Feast Day and also hold a "Ceili"
    featuring an Irish band,good and drink AND much Irish
    dancing by many in the congregation who also dress in
    Kilts and Irish to love a man in a kilt!

  23. St, Brigid! Because, at the very least: Sister Fidelma! and locking yourself into a cell for your whole life is weird. It is. See: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

  24. I voted for Brigid impressed with her role as a “bridge” between Paganism and Christianity. We desperately need more bridge builders in this day and age.