On the 1st of February, the nation celebrates St Brigid. Widely known as Mary of the Gael or Muire na nGael which translates to ‘Our Lady of the Irish’ in Gaeilge. St Brigid is Ireland’s only female patron saint. She serves this title alongside St Patrick and St Columcille.
Born into a noble family, Brigid was named after the ‘Goddess of Fire’. Which is said to be one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion. Her name reflected well upon her personality as she was a strong, empowering female figure in Irish history.
Brigid had a caring, giving, generous personality although she spent her childhood as a slave for her father. Brigid became a free woman when she turned eighteen. She wanted to make a difference in her life and the lives of others. She planned to follow God’s plan to help the less fortunate, but her father had different intentions for her and tried to marry her off to another man. This put a spin on her plans. Legend has it she prayed for her beauty to be taken away so that no man would ask for her hand in marriage and she could spend her days giving back to the world. Her wish was granted and she began her time in the convent. She made a graceful vow to dedicate her life to God, and in return her beauty was regained. She was said to be more beautiful than ever.
Brigid is said to have travelled all around Ireland performing miracles and building convents. Her most known convent began in County Kildare. As the story goes, Brigid and four of her friends approached the King of Leinster in hopes for land to build a convent. She wished for it to be near a forest for fertile land, access to firewood and close to a lake for water. The King laughed in Brigid’s face at her request. Brigid had faith in God and prayed that he would help with her dreams. She asked again, but this time saying “Will you give me as much land as my cloak will cover?”. The King looked at the small cloak Brigid carried and granted her wish only to humour her, knowing he wouldn’t be at much of a loss. Brigid asked for her four friends to take a corner and walk their separate ways. North, East, South and West. To the king’s dismay, the cloak began to grow and spread for many acres. The King was amazed and soon realised he was in the company of a woman who was truly blessed by God himself. Brigid was granted the land she wished to build her convent on, alongside money, food and anything else that was needed for her mission. Brigid performed a true miracle that day, alongside converting the King to Christianity after he had his eyes opened to the true power of God. This was to be one of the many miracles Brigid would perform for the people of Ireland.
The Cross of St Brigid is said to have originated when Brigid was called to the bedside of an unwell pagan man. She sat down beside him and began to console the distressed man. She picked a handful of rushes from the ground and began to weave them into a distinct shape of the cross, while explaining its meaning to the man. Her voice was so calming and angelic it urged him to become a baptised Christian moments before his death.
Irish households all around the country come in unison on the 1st of February to celebrate by making St Brigid’s Crosses in her memory. A cross hung above a door is said to keep evil, hunger and fire out of the home. As tradition goes, a new cross is made every year on the first day of Spring to welcome the longer days and brighter evenings into our lives.
Enjoy this wonderful demonstration on how to make a St Brigid’s cross!