Ireland’s St. Brigid’s Day 1 February Marks the First Day of Celtic Spring – Part 1
St. Bridget’s Cross – North Mayo and Native American Design
The following is contributed by an Irish relative from County Mayo, Ireland, currently living in County Sligo. Ireland:
Over twenty years ago, on a holiday in Portugal, we visited a church in, I think, Oporto which contained a statue of St Brigit the Virgin. My reaction was one of incredulity bordering on culture shock as with our Bridget of Kildare her virginity or otherwise was of no consequence or relevance in the Celtic times she lived in about 450 A D.
Bríd (pronounced Breege) was the Celtic mother-goddess venerated throughout Celtic Europe and her feast day was at Imbolc (1st February) and the first day of the Celtic spring. She was associated with regeneration, fertility, growth and spring calving which saw the arrival of milk and butter after the supply had dried up in the winter.
On a recent visit to America I came across a lovely book “ How the Irish saved Civilisation “ by Thomas Cahill, Anchor Books. It is beautifully written and authoritative on the Early Irish Church. He describes how Bridget, the head-strong daughter of a king, was converted by St. Patrick. She founded a double monastery (one male and one female) at Kildare and was a powerful personage in the Early Irish Church. There are some hints that she may have performed some functions as a bishop, e.g. ordaining priests and saying Mass, and her feast day is, guess what, the 1st February. Her monastery was at Kildare, Cill Dara (the Church of the Oak Tree). The oak tree played a central role in druidic ceremonies and beliefs.
My own mother was called Breege and had a great devotion to St. Bridget (or was it Bríd ?) She was a great believer in the “Brat Bríde” or Bridget’s Cloak. Bridget’s colour was red ( not very virginal) and on St. Bridget’s night, the night before 1st February she spread her red cloak all over Ireland to give it protection for the following year. It was the custom to leave out over-night, on a tall bush, a piece of red flannel so that it was touched by Bridget’s Cloak. This was the “ Brat Bríde “ and its touch would cure sickness in people and animals. A newly calved cow was touched by the “ brat” to ensure a good supply of milk and the spuds for planting in spring were also touched to ensure a good harvest.
Over forty years ago when I got married my mother gave us a St. Bridget’s Cross as a wedding present for, as she said, to bless the marriage. Years later, while we were living in England, I included it in a multi-cultural exhibition. One of the assistant curators was an American who was part Native American. He got very excited when he saw my St. Bridget’s Cross as he said Native Americans also made them and they were associated with nature and the gods.
Much of Bríd of the Celts was incorporated into the cult of St. Bridget, but St. Bridget the Virgin ? Not our lassie from Kildare!