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New Beginnings and Extraordinary Women

February 1st celebrates Ireland’s only female patron saint, St Brigid.  Celtic legend refers to her as St Bride, a goddess figure who predates Christianity. 

From an early edition of The Calling of the Bride, by Isobel Wylie Hutchison

Traditional Gaelic stories (known collectively through Fiona Macleod’s tale “The Sin Eater”) cast her as a nun, who was transported by angels from the Hebrides to Bethlehem on the first Christmas Eve to become the foster mother of Christ.  Though Brigid’s backstory is debatable and contains few historical facts, her links to spirituality and far flung shores, made her the perfect muse for Isobel at a time when female role models were in short supply.


St Brigid is most commonly associated with poets, though she’s also the patron saint of blacksmiths, sailors, midwifes and new beginnings.  Symbolically she’s all about hope and growth, so it’s fitting that Brigid’s saint’s day should mark the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  It’s also the day that Isobel suggests her play ‘The Calling of Bride’, be performed.

From an early edition of The Calling of the Bride, 'decoration' by Helen Rolland

Published in 1926, The Calling of Bride is not only based on Scottish folklore around St Brigid but also the ties she created between Scotland and the Holy Land.  Jerusalem, with its historical and religious significance, is the perfect backdrop for Isobel’s play, giving her a foundation to explore themes of spirituality, identity, destiny and the interconnectedness of all living things. 

Though best known as a botanist, arctic explorer and filmmaker, Isobel was also an accomplished author.  Six books of poems, seven books on her travels and 12 articles for National Geographic Magazine, (as well as countless other letters, diaries and articles), give us a fascinating insight into her world in the early twentieth century.  The Calling of Bride was her only play and seems to have been inspired by her first trip abroad – a grand tour (like an elaborate finishing school for wealthy people at the time) of Spain, Morocco, Egypt and Israel. 


Isobel with her Dalmatian Punch in the gardens of Carlowrie Castle

Isboel Wylie Hutchison aged around 17 years at her home, Carlowrie Castle, Kirklsiton

During that visit to Palestine, Isobel collected cypress and oleander seeds, which she propagated on return to her family home in Carlowrie Castle.  For 40 years, the sale of these plants helped support the hospice of St Andrew’s Church in Jerusalem, which was founded in recognition of the Scots involved in the liberation of Palestine during WWI – an act that would have been relatively recent history when Isobel visited.  The Calling of Bride is dedicated to those of the 52nd Lowland Scottish Division who lost their lives.


A mere 32 pages long, The Calling of Bride is a mixture of theology and mysticism which seems to embody Isobel’s journey of self-discovery and perhaps her quest for a higher purpose.  Throughout her life, Isobel was a woman of contradictions.  Brought up in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland she had a strong Christian faith but believed equally in faeries.  She shunned marriage but spent long periods of time during her travels in male company.  She challenged beliefs around female stereotypes but adopted the customs and culture of native women on her travels. Ultimately blending in was her way of standing out.

Isobel and Brigid could be considered kindred spirits.  Both are remembered as strong, devout women who defied social norms and since their stories have been passed through generations, we have to conclude that their teachings on culture, environment and beliefs are as relevant today as they were when they lived.


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The North Star Explorer

Learn more about Isobel’s passion for the natural world, her experience of travelling to remote places and her encounters expressed through art and creative writing.

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