While tended by pagan priestesses, the Goddess Brigid’s flame had been burning ceaselessly in Kildare Ireland for what some speculate to be millennia. (1) These priestesses have been likened to the "virgins" who spent their lives tending other Goddesses’ eternal flames (such as Vesta’s) throughout history. Some say that these priestesses were virgins in the modern sense; others say the word is used in an ancient sense that implies only they were owned by and vowed to no man.
In Christian times, Catholics in Ireland have honored a St. Brigid. According to books describing Catholic saints and other Christian sources, St. Brigid was a mortal woman who lived c. 450-525 CE. (2) She was baptized by St. Patrick (3) and defied her parents by refusing to marry, even to the point of removing her own eye to make herself a less-desirable bride. Various miracles are attributed to her, including healing, multiplying milk and butter, etc. She founded the monastery in Kildare c. 480 CE (4) and may even have been consecrated a bishop. (3) The website of one order of Irish Roman Catholic women says that the monastery “was at the site (coincidentally) of a shrine to the Celtic Goddess Brigid.” (5)
Coincidence or no, it later became known that the nuns were keeping the old pagan flame alive, now honoring it in their own faith. In 1184 CE (6) Gerald of Wales, Giraldus Cambrensis, wrote that a group of Christian nuns in Ireland had been keeping “the fire of Saint Brigid… This they call inextinguishable, not that it could not be extinguished, but because the nuns feed it with fuel and so carefully that it has continued inextinct from the time of the virgin…” (7) The flame was surrounded by a hedge which no man might cross; some myths even hold that men who attempted to enter the sacred enclosure suffered insanity, crippling, or death. (1, 8)
Learn about the church’s attempts to extinguish the flame, and its re-kindling, at http://www.examiner.com/article/brigid-s-eternal-sacred-flame-kildare-ir....
(2) The Benedictine Monks of St. Augustine’s Abbey, Ramsgate. The Book of Saints: A Dictionary of Persons Canonized or Beatified by the Catholic Church, 5th edition. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1966. Page 134.
(3) McBrien, Richard P. Lives of the Saints. HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Page 95.
(6) Monaghan, Patricia. Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines; Europe and the Americas; Volume II. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood, 2010. Page 310.
(7) Minehan, Rita. Rekindling the Flame: A Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of Brigid of Kildare. Kildare, Ireland: Donovan Printing Ltd/, Newbridge, Co. 1999. Page 26.