After the Roman Emperor Constantine I accepted Jesus, the once-persecuted Christians sought their revenge against the Greco-Roman pantheists. The burnt became the burners and the killed were the killers, as the diverse cults of the Empire shriveled under the iron fist of the Messiah's ruthlessness. Mithra and Isis were forsaken en masse for the one True God, even though the new divinity was divided into an incestuous menage-a-trois.
The Church waged several centuries of crusades to exterminate any trace of the Old Religions from the European continent, but the bishops of persecution desired live souls more than dead pagans and persuaded many non-believers to abandon their idols through the adoption of traditional rites of the Northern Nations.
The Winter Solstice celebration was transformed into Christmas. The Irish Cross became the Cross of Jesus and Thor’s Oak evolved into a pine tree adorned with lights and color for Christmas. Many pagan gods and goddesses changed faith and today marked the feast day of St. Bridgit of Kildare, the patron saint of Ireland, which coincided with Holiday of Imbolc honoring Brigit, the one-eyed Celtic goddess of healing and poetry.
A statue of St. Bridgit graced the first apse on the left in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue and several years ago I decided to visit the church on my lunch hour. My boss asked where I was going.
Most companies gave their employee an hour to eat. The 82 year-old diamond dealer considered lunch a waste of time and he repeated his question, “Where are you going?”
“None of your business to be truthful.”
Manny had stiffed my raise two consecutive years.
"You show me no respect."
"That's true." Respect was accorded not to his age, but how he treated his two employees. “Since you’re so interested, I'll tell you where I’m going to St. Patrick’s to light a candle in honor of Breo-saighit or the fiery arrow.”
“Brio-sate?” Manny was mean, but he wasn’t stupid despite having never finished high school.
"It translates into Bridgit, the Celtic goddess of health and poetry.”
“Bridgit like Brigitte Bardot."
"I saw her movie AND GOD CREATED WOMEN with my first wife. She was gorgeous.” Manny had a good memory for women and like so many men of the 1950s and since Brigitte Bardot stole away the breath in that movie. Manny handed me a dollar and said, “Light a candle for me. Can’t do nothing, but good.”
“You got it.” Manny and I were friends going through a tough stretch. No one was buying diamonds and Manny was still paying my salary. He acted like a piece of shit, but he was my piece of shit.
It was winter. It was cold and I strolled up 5th Avenue through the tourists meandering the broad sidewalks like lost cows. The steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were crowded with sightseers posing for photos. None of the shooters had read the camera’s instructions about perspective or distance.
I entered the cathedral without wetting my fingers in the fount or genuflecting to the crucified Man from Bethlehem. I headed straight over to the first apse on the left aisle holding $3 for three candles; one for Manny, another for world peace, and the third for my family.
The offering box was in its normal place, however the array of candles had been stripped from the apse and the statue of St. Bridgit was covered by a black sheet.
This was sacrilege and I looked around for an explanation.
Several rows toward the altar a guard was evicting a groggy tramp. St. Patrick’s Cathedral was no Bowery hotel and I approached him with a lifted hand.
“Don’t start with me.” His accent was Jamaican. Maybe Trenchtown and his dreadlocks were short. Jah would forgive the cutting. These days every man needed to keep his job.
"Why are you throwing out the bum?"
“I only do what the priest tell me. No one can sleeping in the church.”
“Not even during the sermon.” Nothing put the snooze on me faster than a priest preaching salvation.
“There are some exceptions.” The guard gave up on waking up the bum and asked, “What can I do for you?”
“I’m just wondering why St. Bridgit doesn’t have any candles and why the statue is covered with a sheet.”
“The priests told us to tell anyone asking that question that the candle holders were removed for repairs.”
“Repairs.” The candle holders were steel. Their only enemy was rust.
‘That’s what I was told.”
“But there’s another reason?”
“I only know what I know.” The guard’s shrug answered my question.
The candles' absence and covered statue were to prevent any pagans from celebrating Imbolc in the cathedral. The Holy Motherfucker Church had not forgotten its crusades, for her memory stretched back 2000 years and the Vatican was not surrendering its position as # 1 to a dead religion, but neither was I here to not honor Brigit and Imbloc.
I purloined three candles from St. Bernard’s section of the apse without dropping a dollar in the offering box. I lit them in front of Brigit. The black robes could clean off the wax after Mass. I mumbled a quick prayer to health before the goddess’s statue and then hurried out of the cathedral into the cold winds of 5th Avenue.
I gave the $3 meant for the candles to Lenny the Bum on 47th Street. He’s no saint, but the Hassidic beggar was funny after a few chugs of cheap cognac.
“Damien, you’re a good gentile.” Lenny lived with his spinster sister in Washington Heights. “Jesus loves you.”
“Lenny, I’m an atheist. There is no God. Only you and me and the rest of the Cosmos.” My boss was watching my conversation with Lenny. Manny hated loafers and considered Lenny a disgrace to the Jewish race. The octogenarian from Brownsville pointed at his watch.
“So neither of us are going to heaven or hell?"
"Not a chance."
That’s a relief. I’ve been a bad boy.”
“Not that bad.” Lenny begged to care for his sister.
“Not so good either.”
I handed him the money.
Manny greeted me at the counter.
"Why do you waste your time with that bum?"
"Because he's a human same as you and me." I stopped taking off my coat and walked toward the door.
"Where are you going now?"
“I forgot my lunch. I’ll be right back.” I would eat a slice of pizza at my desk.
“First a candle to Brigitte Bardot and now lunch.” Manny rolled his eyes in disgust, then dipped his hand into his pocket. "What are you getting?"
"Sounds good." Manny handed me a ten. “Get us both a slice of pizza. I did like that Frenchie broad.”
"There was only one."
"And that's the truth." I had worshiped at the feet of her movie poster as a young man. It was no sacrilege to St. Bridgit. My adulation was pure from afar and a goddess would have it no other way.
ps St. Brigit is also the patron Saint of bastard children.