From Brother Wold, Sister Sparrow: Stories About Saints and Animals, retold by Eric A. Kimmel
Saint Brigid’s father was a wealthy man who owned a large herd of milk cows. When Brigid was a little girl, her father sent her to milk the cows and churn the milk into butter. Brigid herded the cows together, then milked them one by one. She poured the rich, sweet milk into a churn and began turning.
As the handle of the churn moved up and down, Brigid sang in time to its rhythm. People passing by on the road stopped to listen. Many were poor, dressed in rags. Listening to Brigid’s song helped them forget their troubles.
Brigid churned the milk into butter in no time at all. She scraped the sweet butter, yellow as a field of buttercups, out of the churn. She had enough to fill a bucket. Then she noticed the poor people standing in the road. They thanked her for the music.
Brigid could not feel happy, seeing how ragged and starved they looked. “Would you like some butter?” she asked them.
The poor people looked at her with grateful eyes. Brigid held out her bucket to them. The butter tasted so good! More people came. Soon the bucket was empty.
“I’ll make more,” Brigid said. “And would you all like a drink of fresh milk, too?” She milked more cows and churned more butter, singing all the while. She spent the whole morning and a good part of the afternoon milking and churning. She poured gallons of milk and churned pounds of butter. And the miracle was that her cows kept giving milk until all the poor people had enough.
By then both churn and butter pail were scraped clean, and not a single drop of milk was to be had from any of the cows.
“It’s time to go home. Father will be wondering where I am,” said Brigid. She picked up her churn, pail, and milking stool and started back down the road.
Her father was indeed wondering and not just about Brigid. “Where is the butter?” he asked as she came through the doorway.
“Gone,” said Brigid.
“Gone?” How can it be gone? What about the milk?”
“It’s gone too!”
“All those cows? All that milk? All that butter? Gone, you say? Where did it go?”
Brigid told her father how she had spent the day pouring milk and churning butter for the poor people who had come by on the road. Now there wasn’t a drop of milk or a pat of butter to be had. But indeed, wasn’t it worth a little milk and butter to make all those poor souls happy?
“No! It wasn’t worth it at all. And you’re a fool,” her father said. “If you give to every beggar who comes wandering down the road, we’ll soon have nothing for ourselves. What will become of us then? Let this be a lesson to you. Go back to the pasture, and don’t come home until you’ve replaced all the milk and butter you’ve given away.”
Brigid picked up her churn, bucket, and milking stood and returned to the pasture. She found the cows bedded down for the night. There would be no more milk until tomorrow. Brigid sat down on the stool and looked up toward the sky.
“Heavenly Father,” she said, “I always try to do good, but I am not sure if I’ve done right or wrong. I tried to help the poor. Now Father is angry with me for giving away our milk and butter. Was I wrong? Or is he? Please show me the right way. Give me a sign.”
As soon as Brigid finished her prayer, she heard wings rustling overhead. Coming down from Heaven was a flight of angels. Each one carried a bucket, a churn, and a milking stool. The angels set their stools beside the cows, sat down, and began milking. When their buckets were full, they churned the milk into butter – three times as much butter as Brigid had given away. Then they flew back to Heaven, leaving the butter behind in buckets of purest gold.
Thus did Brigid receive her sign. And thus too did she learn that no good deed is ever wasted. It always returns to the giver tenfold.
Saint Brigid is one of Ireland’s most important saints. She is the patron saint of milkmaids. Her feast day is February 1, and her emblem is the cow.