cross and crucifix banner Home Blog Crosses History Articles About Resources

Articles


Every day and each night
I will say the genealogy of Bride,
I will not be killed, I will not be harried,
I will not be put in a cell, I will not be wounded,
Neither will Christ leave me in forgetfulness.
No fire, no sun, no moon will burn me,
No lake, no water, no sea shall drown me,
No dart of fairy nor arrow of fay will wound me,
And I am under the protection of my holy mother Mary,
And her foster-mother Bride.
Genealogy of the holy maiden Bride (second verse)

St. Brigid> Part 1
Continue to Part 2>

St. Brigid’s Cross

St. Bridget, St. Briget, Cros Bhrighite

St. Brigid cross

Making a St. Brigid’s cross is one of the traditional rituals in Ireland to celebrate the beginning of early spring, February 1. The crosses are made of rushes that are pulled rather than cut. They are hung by the door and in the rafters to protect the house from fire and evil.

St. Brigid (450-520) is the only one of the three patron saints of Ireland who is native to the country. Historical data on her is slight. She is often considered a pious legend. The legends are wonderful stories of generosity and care for all creatures. Prayers and poetry surrounding her are beautiful statements of faith. In Ireland, celebrations of St. Brigid’s Eve involved the entire community. Irish missionaries spread the story of this confidant, generous saint throughout Europe.

St. Brigid and her cross are linked together by the story that she wove this form of cross at the death bed of either her father or a pagan lord, who upon hearing what the cross meant, asked to be baptized. One version goes as follows:

A pagan chieftain from the neighborhood of Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful. Brigid sat down at his bedside and began consoling him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he converted and was baptized at the point of death. Since then the cross of rushes has been venerated in Ireland.

By the time St. Patrick arrived in the fifth century, Ireland’s conversion to Christianity had been going on for centuries. Never part of the Roman empire, Ireland took elements directly from Egyptian, Greek, and Frankish missionaries.(1) Celtic traditions blended with these sources developing distinct practices.(2)

While not reported in writing until the 17th century, the practice of making a St. Brigid cross is believed to have carried over from pre-Christian times. The cross is associated with the start of spring, the time when the ground can first be prepared and lambs are born.(3) The cross is made of rushes in the shape of a fylfot or swastika.(4)

The first written record of her is found in the 7th century. The basic outline of her story is as follows. St. Brigid’s father, Dubthach, was a member of the tax paying class but not a noble. Her mother, Brocessa, was a slave. As a young woman, Brigid became a consecrated virgin of Christ, the act that allowed her to totally dedicate her life to Christian service.(5) She founded a monastery and a convent in Kildare (Cill-Dara, cell of the oak) around 470 in Ireland. She died in 525 on the same day she was born, February 1.

Many wonderful tales are associated with her generosity. In one story, she gives away her father’s sword to a leper. She is able to provide a constant supply of milk and ale to her guests. Her prayer for a feast in heaven is to have a "great lake of ale...and every drop a prayer" (a recitation of this prayer is on beliefnet). Based on a vision, as a Christian saint she is considered "Mary of the Gaels," the midwife of the Virgin Mary.(6) Churches throughout the world were named after her. According to one source, her initial popularity was spread by the kings of Leinster to further promote their territory. The spread of the word "Brigid" may also be based on the origins of the Irish word Brigi, which means "strength".(7)



Continue to Part 2>

Notes

  1. Nigel Pennick, The Celtic Cross (London, 1997) p. 17. [Return]
  2. Jakob Streit, Sun and Cross, (Edinburgh, 1984) Hugh Latham trans., p. 69, believes that the uniquely peaceful transformation was due to the cooperation of the Druid priesthood, who may have had a vision that led them on this path. There is neither legend nor tradition regarding this. [Return]
  3. Conrad Bladey, Brigid of the Gael (Lindthicum, Maryland, 2000) p. 125, found the earliest references to the crosses from 1689, where a Rev. Story found the cross in abandoned houses. Bladey’s book is an extensive collection of St. Brigid lore. The cross story, he writes, is not in the early legends (p. 113). [Return]
  4. Herbert Whone, Church Monastery Cathedral (Tisbury, Wiltshire, 1977) p. 79. Fylfot means fill the foot, since this design was used to complete the border of a cloth or window. The word for swastika came into use in the middle ages. The swastika is found in catacombs, in mosaics in early Christian churches and was the cross of the Manichean sect. Streit, pp. 112-13, writes that in Ireland there are signs indicating the passing from the Druid to the Christian period. One carved stone pillar now in the National Museum in Dublin, has an arrow between two Druid crosses (fylfots) pointing towards a Christian sun cross. From Michael Howe, Amulets, p.102, "To the early Christians the normal form of swastika meant, ’Genesis, towards God‘; the reversed form was said to mean ’Cessation, away from God.‘" [Return]
  5. D.D.C. Pulin Mould, Saint Brigid (London, 1964) p. 25. Once becoming a virgin of Christ she could not later take a husband without the risk of being excommunicated. [Return]
  6. Streit, p. 68, reports the legend regarding the Celtic god Brigit that at his death, the Chief Druid of Iona saw Jesus as an infant being rocked to sleep on Brigit’s knee. Another legend has a Christian seer meeting Brigit and declaring that she appeared identical in every feature to Mary. [Return]
  7. Mould, pp. 48-52. One sign of her popularity on the continent is in liturgies. He notes that "over two hundred manuscript breviaries contain an Office for her feast." St. Patrick is not nearly as well represented. Bladey, p. 7, suggests that the reason many place names in Ireland have her name may relate to the the similarities in the word for strength instead of to her. [Return]


Back to top

Home Blog Crosses History Articles About Resources
Copyright © David Stiver 2005-2011