The Legacy of Saint Brigid.
February 1st marks the first day of Spring in Ireland and the promise of longer, brighter days ahead. There’s real beauty in the landscape of Ireland in Spring, with its changing colours and the lush green fields dotted with fluffy-white newborn lambs.
February 1st is also known as Lá Fhéile Bhríde or Saint Brigid’s Feast Day. Saint Brigid, also known as “Mary of the Gael”, is one of Ireland’s patron saints, along with St. Patrick and St. Columba/St. Columcille. She is the saint of cattle and dairy work.
Born in Dundalk in 450 AD, Saint Brigid’s selfless nature nurtured both the land and the living. The name Brigid comes from a Celtic goddess of fire and light and Brigid of Kildare likely carried some of these attributes.
She is accredited with first creating the unique cross, which bears her name. This cross is normally handmade from rushes, however occasionally straw is used.
The legend of St Brigid’s Cloak.
The legend of Brigid’s cloak is often told. It’s the story about the manner in which she came to acquire the land to build her monastery at Kildare. It is often regarded as one of the first miracles associated with her. Saint Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland, was the founder of the first Irish monastery in County Kildare (Cill Dara meaning “Church of the Oak Tree”), which was a dual monastery of men and women serving equally together under the rule of an Abbess.
When she was young, St Brigid wanted to join a convent however her father took a firm stand and insisted that she marry the wealthy man he had promised her to. The story goes that she asked for God’s help to take away her beauty so that the man wouldn’t want to marry her. Her wish was granted and she joined the convent. Whatever about her outer beauty being tarnished, her inner beauty continued to grow, illuminating every heart lucky enough to encounter her. The legends spread of miracle healings, taming of wild animals, and turning water to ale.
She approached the King requesting the land on which to build her monastery. The place she selected in Kildare was ideal. It was near a lake where water was available, in a forest where there was firewood and near a fertile plain on which to grow crops. The King refused her request. Brigid was not put off by his refusal. Rather, she and her sisters prayed that the King’s heart would soften. She made her request again but this time she asked, “Give me as much land as my cloak will cover.” Seeing her small cloak, he laughed and then granted this request. However, Brigid had instructed her four helpers each to take a corner of the cloak and walk in opposite directions – north, south, east and west. As they did this the cloak began to grow and spread across many acres. She now had sufficient land on which to build her monastery. The King and his entire household were dismayed and amazed. They believed that this woman was truly blessed by God. The King became a patron of St. Brigid’s monastery, assisting her with money and food and later he converted to Christianity. It was on this land in Kildare that she built her dual monastery c.470. She was also known as a friend of animals because of her love and protection of God’s creation. Her monastery was acclaimed as a centre of education, pilgrimage, worship and hospitality until the 16th century when all the monasteries were suppressed.
St. Brigid died at the age of 75 in AD 525 and was buried in the church she had created in County Kildare. Her remains were exhumed years later and brought to Downpatrick to be buried alongside Saints Patrick and Saint Columcille. However, her skull was brought to Lisbon where it remains today.
Saint Brigid’s Cross.
The distinctive Saint Brigid’s Cross design, made from woven rushes, which became St. Brigid’s emblem, is thought to keep evil, fire and hunger from the homes in which it is displayed. However the tale of its creation is somewhat confused, and there is not one definitive version.
One of the tales told is as follows….”St Brigid was by the sick bed of a dying pagan chieftain, possibly her father, soothing him with stories about her faith and her unwavering trust in God. She began telling the story of Christ on the Cross, picking up rushes from the ground to make a cross and before his death, the chieftain asked to be baptized”. Over time, word spread about St Brigid, her kindness, faith and the making of the cross from rushes became synonymous with her. It has been an Irish tradition on the eve of her Feast Day (February 1st ) to fashion a St. Brigid’s Cross of straw or rushes and place it inside the house over the door. St. Brigid’s emblem has been used in Irish designs throughout history.
How to make a St Brigid’s Cross.
You will need rushes (or pipe cleaners or chenille stems), string or elastic bands and a scissors.
Watch the video below as Tom Doyle from the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, demonstrates how to make a St Brigid’s Cross
Solas Bhríde Centre and Hermitages.
Solas Bhríde (Brigid’s light/flame) is a Christian Spirituality Centre with a focus on the legacy of St. Brigid. The Centre welcomes people of all faiths and of no faith in their search for meaning on life’s journey. It is a popular destination for pilgrims and visitors, local, national and international.
Féile Bríde – Brigid’s Festival is a week- long series of events commencing on the eve of St. Brigid’s Day – Due to the current global pandemic all events organized by Solas Bhríde for Féile Bríde 2021 will be delivered virtually. Have a look at the Solas Bhríde website for more information on the online events for Féile Bríde 2021.
Solas Bhríde Centre is a uniquely designed ecological building in the shape of a St Brigid’s cross, situated in a natural landscape, with a meditative garden, labyrinth and proposed cosmic walk. It has achieved national awards, including the Green Building Award 2015. The centre is located close to St Brigid’s well and within walking distance of St. Brigid’s Cathedral, the original monastic site. It is adjacent to the Irish National Stud & Japanese gardens and it is surrounded by the Curragh Plain. (Brigid’s Pastures).
At the centre they share and celebrate the story of Brigid in a creative and life-giving way and give visitors and pilgrims an opportunity to: explore the traditions, values and spirituality of Ireland’s patroness St. Brigid, to celebrate the Christian Celtic Feasts and the natural and liturgical seasons and they afford visitors time to meditate, reflect and pray.
Many people visit Solas Bhríde to sit awhile with St. Brigid’s flame. The flame is being tended in Solas Bhríde since it was re-lit in Kildare town in 1993. The flame burns as a beacon of hope, justice and peace for our world.
St. Brigid’s Well, Liscannor, County Clare.
St. Brigid’s Well in Liscannor is regarded as a place of healing, and the spring at the well known site is is located in a narrow man-built ‘cave’. The cave is filled with photos, statues, rosary beads and medals, which have been left over the years by many pilgrims.
Located in County Clare on the Wild Atlantic Way, close to the world famous Cliffs of Moher, locals, tourists and passersby are drawn to the pilgrim site, which also has a statue of St. Brigid in a glass case.
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Note: Featured image at the top of the blog is of St. Brigid’s Cathedral, County Kildare © Tourism Ireland.
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