The Kildare Cathedral
     Cill Dara, 'The Cell of the Oak': overlooking the plain of the river Liffey, this double monastery of nuns and monks is the only one of its kind in Ireland. It is primarily a convent where monks help out, not a monastery with female attendants.

Kildare was founded in 470 by Saint Brigid, a formidable personality who impressed rich and poor alike. The king of Leinster was one of many who had no hesitation in supporting her cause, and it was he who made the generous grant of this site, Drom Criadh, 'the ridge of clay'. In its centre stands a giant oak tree, under which the founder built her cell and oratory, hence the name, Ceall Dara.

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     Saint Brigid had other foundations around Ireland, prior to Kildare, but this has been her most lasting legacy. The quality of mercy lies at the hear of her sisters' work here, a fact not lost on the sick and the poor, who have come here in their multitudes over the centuries.
A tradition of unstinting charity and medical care began here.
Looking at it in the 10th century, Kildare is an impressive sight, with its cathedral, round tower and high cross, all the features of a well established and well endowed monastic city. Of course it wasn't always like this. Like Brigid's previous foundations, Kildare started life as a collection of wattle huts surrounded by an earthen wall. Getting the community going was the priority; monuments could wait.
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     That Kildare grew to such an extent and at such a rate is testimony to the charisma and energy of its founder. Everyone looked to Brigid: members of the Church hierarchy sought her counsel, chieftains came for blessing in war, and the poor came for comfort and charity in their frequent hours of need. Kildare very quickly became a centre of pilgrimage.


With power comes responsibility. So many people had to be catered for that Brigid applied for a bishop to be appointed, someone to take charge of the sisters and pilgrims, someone to hold ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the surrounding district. Brigid was allowed to make the choice, and she selected Conleth. In time, he came to be known as 'Brigid's Brazier' for his working of gold and silver. With Conleth came the monks, who provided spiritual ministry for the vast army of poor and infirm who made their way to Brigid.

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     The two communities worship daily in the same church at the same time, but are kept from one another's' eyes by a high central partition running down the nave, separating the nuns from the monks. The two communities access each portion by lateral entrances.


The cathedral is the only building held in common by the two autonomous communities for Mass and other services. It is large and lofty, richly adorned with pictures and hangings, and ornamental doorways. As the 10th century visitor enters, he comes into a building that has been rebuilt and refurbished several times since Brigid's day. The architectural principles of the first cathedral remain intact, however.

Beyond the cathedral is the round tower, built in the 9th century to protect the clergy and the sacred vessels of the cathedral against the raids of the Danes. One hundred and eight feet high, with five foot thick walls, it is a very prominent structure.

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     Chief among the treasures to be protected is the Book of Kildare. Those who have travelled say it compares with the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels. As with all other religious establishments, the art of copying and illuminating has been carried out here in Kildare. Indeed, it is a place of no little industry, with nuns making sacred vestments, and schools dating back to Brigid.


And yet for all its riches, perhaps the most significant feature is St Brigid's Fire-House, situated between the round tower and the cathedral.

Here, a fire is kept continuously burning, tended by twenty nuns, keeping a light before the Blessed Sacrament. It honours the relics of the holy foundress, and it welcomes the poor pilgrims in accordance with the hospitality instituted by Brigid. Her spirit lives on here.
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 St. Brigid