*This article can be found in video format here*
Most people are aware of Saint Brigid’s Day and the iconic crosses that come from it’s tradition. St. Brigid is one of Ireland’s most famous and beloved patron saints. She’s one of my favourite saints! Because I love her story. At school, as a child, I was drawn in by her colourful story and character. But we’ll get into that soon.
The actual celebration on Feb 1st isn’t just about the Christian celebration of St Bríd. We’re remembering a Gaelic traditional festival called Imbolc. Imbolc is one of the four Gaelic traditional festivals (also known as “quarter days” or “fire festivals”) which each mark the beginning of a season. “Imbolc” roughly translates to in the belly in Neolithic Irish, referring to pregnancy and new life – the markers of Spring. Much like Halloween, or Christmas, it was originally a pagan festival, an celebrated to Pagan fire Goddess named Brigid. She is connected to the Goddess of Dawn who appears throughout many Indo-European faiths and cultures. When Christianity was introduced to Ireland, Brigid the goddess became Brigid (or Bríd) the saint, and Imbolc became Saint Brigid’s Day.
Some claim that Brigid was a real person who was attributed characteristics of the goddess. There is a wealth of interesting literature on this topic, including this article, available for you to explore.
The Story of St. Brigid
St. Brigid is said to be born in Co. Louth in 450AD. She lived on a farm, and was to be married off, but she was having none of that! She wanted to be a woman of God and care for the sick and the poor. She prayed that God would take away her beauty so that no man would take her from her true calling.So she got her wish, and became an ugly nun! It’s also said that after she entered a convent and gave herself to God, she was reendowed with her good looks which she did not need anymore… She continued to found convents around the country, most notably in Kidare. She’s also said to have founded the school of art where the illustrated manuscript, “The Book of Kildare”, was made.
There are many miracles associated with Saint Bríd. I’m going to tell you about the most famous one – the story of Saint Brigid’s Cloak.
The Miracle of Saint Brigid’s Cloak
So Brigid wanted to build ber Kidare monastry. The area she selected was perfect – it had nearby water, available firewood and access to croplands. So she asked the King of Leinster, but he refused. Brigid was not deterred by this, as she had the power of Christ on her side! She prayed, asking God to soften the king’s heart and allow her to win him over. The next time she approached him, she pleaded, “Give me as much land as my cloak will cover”. Now, Brigid had a very typical (read:small) cloak on, so of course the king laughed and accepted. But Brigid and her assistants each took a corner of the cloak and walked in opposite directions – North, South, East and West. The cloak stretched to accommodate the space between them, and grew to cover many acres, enough for Brigid’s monastry. The king was baffled (as you would be) but had no choice to accept her as a woman truly blessed by God and later became a charitable Christian himself.
Coming back to the celebrations, I’m going to briefly tell you about one Pagan tradition and one Christian tradition.
Brídeóg, meaning little Brigid, is a doll made from rushes or reeds and dressed with bits of cloth, shells, flowers and ribbons. A bed is made for the doll to liie in, The girls and young women of the community would gather to sing a hymn to Brigid in the doll’s presence, and the mmen were expect to enter the area of the ritual humbly and with respect for the women and the Brídeóg.
St. Brigid’s Cross
These crosses are made from rushes also (plenty of rushes laying around Ireland) and at hung at the door to protect the house from fire and from evil. Back in the day, thatched roofs were very common which is why fire was a serious concern.
So that is a quick introduction to the history of this enchanting festival.If you want to see more of this kind of thing, do subscribe, or if you prefer a video format, you can check out my YouTube channel.