A story is told of how much Brigit valued her virginity. She was whole unto herself and wanted to remain that way. She took out one of her own eyes to show her determination that no man would desire her and make her dependent. She then took the veil and the rite of ordaining a bishop was said over her. This page gives several versions of this story. In the next page you can read what meaning it has for us today.
1. In her late teens Brigit was returned to her natural father in Offaly. Shortly after this her father and stepbrother provided a suitable young man to engage in marriage with her. The three men were very enthusiastic but Brigit refused, her stepbrother jokingly said to her "idle is the pure eye in your head, not to be on a pillow beside a husband". Brigit replied "the son of the virgin knows it is not healthy to bring harm on us". She then put her finger under her eye and plucked it out such that it rested on her cheek. On witnessing this, her stepbrother promised her she would never have to marry unless she choose so herself. She then lifted her damaged eye with the palm of her hand put it back into its socket whereupon it was perfect again.
2.When this sacred spouse of Christ saw herselfe pressed, and importuned by her friends to marry, she prayed to God, that he would be pleased to disfigure her body with some deformity, to this end that men should cease from making further love unto her; and without delay her eye burst, and melted in her head; then taking three other maydes in her company, she repayred to a holy Bishop, called Machella, S. Patricks Disciple, to be vayled at his handes: the holy Bishop saw a piller of fire appeare over her head , and contemplating moreover her ernest and ardent love of virginall integrity, he gave her the holy vayle of chastity: at which time as she fell prostrate before the venerable Prelate to offer herselfe a holy, cleane and impolluted host to her heavenly spouse, she touched the alter poste, which incontinently budded forth a fresh with leaves and so continueth greene and florishing to this day: Being vayled with the sacred cognizance of chastity, her bursten eye was restored again to perfect health.
3. Brigit's brothers, her father's sons, who had come from Mag Kifi, met her. Some of them were laughing at her; others were not pleased with her, and her brother Bacene said, "The beautiful eye, which is in your head, will be betrothed to a man though you like it not." Thereupon she immediately thrust her finger into her eye. "Here is that beautiful eye for you!" said Brigit. "I deem it unlikely," she said, "that anyone will ask you for a blind girl." Her brothers rushed about her at once save but there was no water near them to wash the wound. "Put," she said, "my staff about this sod in front of you." That was done. A stream gushed forth from the earth, and Brigit's eye was restored. And she cursed her brother Bacene and his descendants, and said, "Soon your two eyes will burst in your head." And it happened thus.
4. Came a certain man of good kin unto Dubthach to ask for his daughter (in marriage). Dubthach and his sons were willing, but Brigit refused. Said a brother of her brethren named Beccan unto her: 'Idle is the fair eye that is in thy head not be on a pillow near a husband.' 'The Son of the Virign knoweth,' says Brigit, 'it is not lively for us if it brings harm upon us.' Then Brigit put her finger under her eye, and drew it out of her head until it was on her cheek, and she said: 'Lo, here for thee is thy delightful eye, O Beccan!' Then his eye burst forthwith. When Dubthach and her brethern beheld that, they promised that she should never be told to go unto a husband. Then she put her palm to her eye and it was quite whole at once. But Beccan's eye was not whole till his death.
Said Dubthach to Brigit: 'O daughter,' says he, 'put a veil on thy head. If thou hast dedicated thy virginity to God, I will not snatch thee from Him.' 'Deo gratias,' says Brigit.
Brigit, and certain virgins with her, went to Bishop Mel, in Telcha Mide, to take the veil. Glad was he thereat. For humbleness Brigit staid, so that she might be the last to whom the veil should be given. A fiery pillar arose from her head to the ridgepole of the church. Bishop Mel asked: 'What virgin is there?' Answered MacCaille: 'That is Brigit,' saith he. 'Come thou, O holy Brigit,' saith Bishop Mel, 'that the veil may be sained on thy head before other virgins.'
It came to pass then, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, that the form of ordaining a bishop was read over Brigit. MacCaille said that 'The order of a bishop should not be (conferred) on a woman.' Dixit Bishop Mel: 'No power have I in this matter, inasmuch as by God hath been given unto her this honour beyond every woman.' Hence, it is that the men of Ireland give the honour of bishop to Brigit's successor.
5. Brigit and certain virgins went to take the veil from Bishop Mel. He was very happy to see them. Because of her humility, Brigit held back so that she might be the last to whom a veil should be given. A fiery pillar rose from her head to the roof of the Church. Bishop Mel said to her: "Come, holy Brigit, that a veil may be placed on your head before the other virgins." Then, it happened that, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the form of ordaining a bishop was read over Brigit."
For more stories, see this Saint Brigid web site.
Main picture: Saint Brigid by Karri Ann Allrich, but the picture has disappeared from the internet.
Brigit with bishop's staff from a ladies' association that I can no longer find on the internet.
Veil from a photo by Barbara Beckerman
Eye from a NY department of psychology, although it no longer seems to feature the eye.