On February 1, new St. Brigid’s Crosses will be placed in many traditional homes throughout Ireland. They honor St. Brigid, the “Mary of the Gaels,” who lived during the 5th and 6th century and is considered the patroness of Ireland.
The legend associated with St. Brigid’s Cross tells how a pagan Irish chieftain was near death, and Christians in his household asked Brigid of Kildare to attempt converting him to their religion. Brigid arrived but the chieftain was raving mad and not coherent. The dirt floor of the room was covered with rushes and Brigid took some of the rushes to form a cross. The chieftain saw the cross, calmed himself, and asked Brigid what it meant. She explained the story of Christ was able to convince him to be baptized. This is the Christian version of the St. Brigid‘s cross story.
Most believe the cross made of rushes (or straw) was pre-Christian and used for the festival of Imbolc that honoured the Goddess Brigid of the Tuath de Danann. Imbolc was the Celtic feast midway between the winter solstice and spring equinox. It was usually celebrated on February 1st or 2nd. Imbolc means “in the belly”, and it signified the birthing of lambs that occurred around that time. It anticipated spring and prepared the early Celtic people for early planting.
Some believe that Imbolc was celebrated in Neolithic times as well. The rising sun at Imbolc illuminates the inner chamber of the Mound of the Hostages (a passage tomb) on the Hill of Tara in County Meath.
After Ireland became Christianized, the date of the pagan feast of Imbolc became the feast-day to honor St. Brigid. Some still believe that St. Brigid is merely the Christianization of the pagan goddess by medieval monks. However, the life of St. Brigid is well documented by writers starting in the 7th century.
St. Brigid was born into slavery around 450 AD. Her father was a Leinster chieftain and her mother was one of his slaves who had been baptised by St. Patrick. As she grew older, Brigid performed many miracles such as healing the sick. Her charity became well known. She took food and goods from her father to feed the poor. On one occasion, she gave the sword of a Christian king, who was visiting her father, to a beggar. This king recognized her saintliness and convinced her father to give her freedom.
In 480 AD, St. Brigid founded a monastery in Kildare on the site of an older pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid. St. Brigid was the first to organize a consecrated religious life for women. She founded two monastic institutions, one for men, and the other for women. She founded other religious institutions elsewhere in Ireland as well. Brigid died in 521AD at Kildare, supposedly on February 1st. She was buried in a bejewelled tomb at her monastery, but her remains were moved to Downpatrick after her tomb was threatened by Viking raids.
St. Brigid’s Cross is made fresh with rushes (or straw) and hung in homes on her feast day to protect against fire and evil. It remains in the home until the next St. Brigid’s Day when another cross is hung. Crosses may be placed in out-buildings for their protection as well.
To see how to make a St. Brigid’s Cross, visit: https://fisheaters.com/stbrigidscross.html