Today, I woke up and went on a glorious run through the glowing morning sunshine. Moments of sun make all the clouds, darkness, and rain in Ireland worth living through. As the days begin to lengthen and the sun no longer sets at 4:00 PM, a sense of rejuvenation seems to come with every extra hour of daylight.
In Ireland, February 1st is a special day. It is considered the first day of SPRING and the celebration of St. Brigid’s day.
St. Brigid was an incredibly beautiful, strong-willed, and overtly kind woman. She lived around 450 AD and became a Christian under the influence of St. Patrick, though her father was a pagan. She wanted to devote her life to serving the Lord and helping the less fortunate. Nothing could stop her from helping others. She gave anything and everything she and her family owned to help the poor and sick.
Her extreme generosity bothered her father. He and her brothers wanted to marry her off, but she did not want to get married. Legend says she prayed the Lord would take away her beauty so no one would want to marry her. She became ugly, but once her father accepted that she would not get married, her beauty returned.
In her lifetime, Brigid had many accomplishments. Two included the founding of a monastery and an art school. In the art school, the famous Book of Kildare was written.
In honor of St. Brigid’s Day, we learned to make St. Brigid’s crosses out of rushes that a local woman, Mary, cut down from a nearby bog.
Mary was a fabulous storyteller. She shared the history of the making of St. Brigid’s cross before we began making our own. When St. Brigid’s father was dying, he decided that he wanted to convert to Christianity. As he lay on his deathbed, St. Brigid came to comfort him and sat on the floor of the thatch roof cottage. She used the rushes, which lined the floor, to make a cross for him. He was touched by her gesture and was baptized. Other legends say the dying man was not her father, just a pagan man from St. Brigid’s village, but I think the father version of the story is sweeter.
St. Brigid’s crosses are thought to be symbols of protection. They are hung around the house to enhance fertility, prevent fire and hunger, and keep evil away. Some also hang them in their barns to protect their livestock from harm and illness. It is bad luck to throw out a cross. If you decide to get rid of one, you must burn it and say a prayer to St. Brigid. Mary told us that she has so many crosses at home that she had to burn some.
We learned to make three different types of St. Brigid’s crosses. Two are more traditional looking with four legs, and the third was a three-legged cross. This cross represents the father, son, and holy spirit. After we completed the making of the crosses, Mary suggested that we take them to mass on Saturday or Sunday for the local priest to bless them.
Making the crosses was enjoyable, therapeutic, and a fabulous opportunity for learning about St. Brigid and Irish tradition. I am so excited to hang mine around my apartment and bring them back to friends and family in the United States!