While there is some debate over whether she truly existed or not, St. Brigid of Kildare makes up one of three patron saints of Ireland, alongside St. Patrick and St. Columba. The prayers of St. Brigid were said to put a stop to the wind and rain, heal the sick and poor, and cause livestock and farming fields to flourish.
In this article we are going to explore the legend of St. Brigid, her impact on Irish culture and society, and the famed St. Brigid’s Cross.
Who was St. Brigid of Kildare?
Before she became known for performing miracles, St. Brigid was responsible for organising communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland and establishing monastic institutions for both men and women in her native Kildare. It will be no surprise that her inspiration to spread the word of Christianity came down to another one of Ireland’s patron saints, St. Patrick.
Arguably one of St. Brigid’s defining moments came early on in her life, when she convinced her father to let her join a convent. It’s said that her father wanted her to marry a wealthy man that she’d been promised to. However, after convincing God to take away her good looks, Brigid was eventually allowed to pursue her dream.
She would later call on God’s help again, this time convincing her father to give her land in Kildare to set up her own convent. Her father mockingly said he would give her as much land as a cloak would cover. This is where the legend of St. Brigid gets interesting. At that moment the cloak grew with the help of God to cover acres and acres of land, leaving her father with no choice but to aid Brigid in her quest to build a convent.
The History of the Cross
When you think of St. Brigid, the first thing that probably pops into your head is her iconic cross. St. Brigid’s cross has become synonymous with religious prayer in Ireland. The story behind the cross is that St. Brigid was sitting by the bed of a dying pagan chieftain (who some believe could have been her father). She was comforting the man, telling her stories of faith, and putting your trust in God, when she began to tell the story of Christ’s crucifixion on the cross.
It was here that she began to pick up rushes from the ground and make what we now know to be a St. Brigid’s Cross. The practice of making the sacred cross from rushes caught on, and people across Ireland began to make similar crosses to hang over the doors of their homes to ward off evil, fire, and hunger.
As time went on, the cross became synonymous with the kindness and caring nature of St. Brigid, making them a popular gift between practicing Catholics here in Ireland.
St. Brigid’s Day
While not as globally renowned as St. Patrick’s Day, St. Brigid does in fact have her own feast day every year celebrated in Ireland. St. Brigid’s Day, also known as Imbolc or Imbolg is the Gaelic traditional festival that marks the beginning of Spring.
It’s held on February 1st, exactly halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. People celebrating St. Brigid’s Day would often make a version of her cross and a doll-like figure known as a Brídeóg. These would then be paraded from house to house in villages across Ireland by little girls accompanied by strawboys. It’s believed that St. Brigid herself used to visit someone’s home on the eve of the festival. People would make up a bed and leave out food and drink for her in the hope she would call. They would also leave clothes out hoping that she would bless them, along with other things like livestock and family wells.
All in all, St. Brigid has left a lasting impression as a patron saint of Ireland. Her acts of goodwill and kindness have solidified her as a figure many turn to when in need of a change of fortune. While her famous cross is still a popular tradition and emblem found in houses right across the Emerald Isle to this very day.
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