Bridgit at St. Brigid's 

Not Your Typical Mother/Son Encounter

While the home team -- Peter and our dog, Max -- watched the 49ers win against God knows whom on October 3, Bridgit and I crossed the Bay Bridge for San Francisco with my friend, Bruce, in his red VW van.

Our destination was St. Brigid's Church that is located on Broadway and Van Ness. St. Brigid's Parish in San Francisco dates back to 1863 with the present structure built in 1896. The stone, gray, is ---- only in San Francisco --- recycled curbstones. Interlace designs abound on the decorative borders looking very much like the edges of ancient Irish illuminated manuscripts. Lambs, winged lions, beatific figures abound. The stone is rough and therefore a pleasurable tactile experience. There are round arches and wheel -shaped stained glass windows. Like St. Brigid, the congregation is Irish. The Church's website,, identifies the architecture as Richardsonian Romanesque Revival.

Unfortunately, the doors to St. Brigid's were officially closed in 1994

along with the doors of eight other San Francisco churches. The reason? The Archbishop cited "changing demographics." Since then, four of the churches have managed to jump-start themselves. With St. Brigid's, over 18,000 people have signed a petition to reopen the Church. According to the website, 1,000 families called St. Brigid's their house of worship in 1994.

People continue to congregate around the exterior of the church. It was the banner on the massive central doors that caught my friend Margo's attention one day as she passed by. It reads: "We know how you feel about St. Brigid, 'cause we feel the same too. Save Saint Brigid Church."

 Flowers and banners brought by people who want St. Brigid's Church reopened, San Francisco, 1999 copyright Pam Mendelsohn

Margo said that many people have taken up St. Brigid's cause. She suspected that Bridgit might be welcomed there.

Although there were no people on the Church steps when we arrived, there was a steady stream of shopping cart pushers filing past; each glancing up at the banner and at the assortment of faded flowers in jars on the steps. There were also a few worn out candles. Posters and written invocations for involvement were affixed on both side doors which are wooden.

When I took Bridgit out of the van, I came face to face with a cart pushing man who was reeking of alcohol. I thought: this man looks a lot like Freddy Coombs, San Francisco eccentric from nearly 150 years ago, reincarnated. He did quite the double take when he saw Bridgit, and then regained his composure sufficiently to ask me for a quarter. I said I'd be happy to give him a dollar, but I'd love him to pose with Bridgit. He asked me if I'd like him to wear his Nazi uniform for the occasion. Indeed, there was a uniform peeking out at me from his shopping cart. He lurched forward, telling me he knew I was one of the Jews. Then I realized who he reminded me of -- right down to the three cornered hat. Haman: the figure most denigrated -- and for good reason -- each year at Purim! The melody and the words to the song surfaced from my childhood: "Oh once there was a wicked, wicked man, and Haman was his name, sir. He tried to kill all the Jews, but we were not to blame, sir."

The offer of a Nazi uniform definitely took the wind out of my sails. But this man did not look wicked. Wrecked, but not wicked. Turn on my heels? It seemed the logical choice except for the fact that my feet remained planted with toes heading toward the Church steps. I told him to forget the Nazi uniform and suggested we sit on the steps to discuss how he wanted to frame a picture of himself with Bridgit.

 On the steps of St. Brigid's Church, San Francisco, 1999 copyright Pam Mendelsohn

As we sat together, he told me that all the men in his family, including him, had been mean to women. He said that he wanted to pose in a way that showed him not being mean. How would that be, I asked. He said he wanted to pose as if Brigit were his mother. How? He gently reached around behind him to Bridgit who was leaning against the Church door. Laying Bridgit in his lap, face(less) up, he looked straight at me and said: "Like this." My lens eye saw that this man had created a reverse Pieta.

 Posing in a way that does not suggest being mean to women, San Francisco, 1999  copyright Pam Mendelsohn

It was not the typical mother son pose, but then there was nothing much typical about anything that had transpired between us, between the three of us. Does he look mean to women in this image? I think not. Perhaps Irish eyes were shining on those steps. Legend has it that Brigid was considered a goddess of healing among the ancient Celtics.

After handing Bridgit back to me, the man of the three cornered hat took off up Van Ness. I stayed for a while longer, posing Bridgit within the context of St. Brigid's Church. She was a beautiful counterpoint to the interlacing design, and I liked the way she blended in with the lambs, lions, angels.

 Bridgit among the recycled San Francisco curbstones of St. Brigid's Church, San Francisco, 1999 copyright Pam Mendelsohn




About Bridgit
Bridgit in Malta
Bridgit at St. Brigid's
She Floats!
High Light: The Winter Solstice
Excursion to Primal Decor
Getting to Know Felicity


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