Saint Brigid and Imbolg

Saint_Brigid's_cross

Saint Brigid’s Cross made from fresh rushes. Image Wikimedia Commons

On 1 February each year, Ireland celebrates the feast of ‘Mary of the Gael‘, St Brigid (Also pronounced Breege  or Bríd.) Most people of my generation will recall going to school on the  day before St Brigid’s day armed with lots of rushes that had been carefully pulled from their sheaths. There we would fold and turn the soft green stems until we had a swastika shaped St Brigid’s Cross.  The ends would be tied, the rough edges straightened up and cut and then we had it! A really simple pleasure that was very easy for even the youngest child. The Cross was then brought home and placed over the front door (on the inside) or behind a picture,  and there over the coming year it would gradually dry out and turn a straw colour as it acted as a talisman to protect the house and all those within.

Brigid we learned, was born in Faughart, County Louth in the 6th century and one of my abiding memories as a boarder in the St Louis Convent in Dundalk County Louth was the annual pilgrimage to her Faughart birthplace on cold wet god forsaken February days!  Bridget we also learned was a great friend of the other great Irish saints – Patrick and Colmcille – and is reputedly buried with these  two in Downpatrick in County Down – an unusual enough occurrence I suspect that a female would be buried alongside two holy men.

According to tradition a sacred fire has burned in Kildare since pre-Christian times and  priestesses gathered on the hill of Kildare to attend to the ritual fires dedicated to the goddess Brigid in return for protecting their animals and their crops. St Brigid is also associated with Kildare as it was there that she founded her monastery and church and where she kept alive a tradition of keeping a fire burning on a hill. For her and her nuns the fire represented the new light of Christianity, which reached Irish shores early in the fifth century.

Brigid Perpetual Flame

The Perpetual Flame Solas Bhride Brigidine Order

There is definite convergence then between St Bridget, the Christian Abbottess and the pre Christian goddess, Bridget  and their symbolic use of fire.

Imbolg or Imbolc is a Celtic festival marking the arrival of Spring. It falls half way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is one of the fire and light festivals in the Celtic tradition and marks new beginnings  longer days, return of the sun and animals  preparing to breed.

The Christian festival of Candlemas also occurs at this time – so-called as this was the day of blessing for all church candles for the coming year. On Candlemas night, people lit candles in their homes to ward off evil spirits.

St Brigid, the goddess Bridget, Imbolg and Candlemas are all celebrated at this time of new beginnings. Whether pagan or Christian is arbitrary… what is certain is that here in the Northern Hemisphere our days are lengthening – we are pulling away from the darkness of the winter solstice, towards new beginning, new life, a new season.

Lá fheile Brighid fe mhaise daoibh!

References

Pagan Imagery in the Early Lives of Brigit: A Transformation from Goddess to Saint? by

Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, Vol. 16/17, (1996/1997), pp. 39-54

http://www.solasbhride.ie

Wikipedia.org

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18 Comments

Filed under Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland

18 responses to “Saint Brigid and Imbolg

  1. I love the story of how Brigid’s cloak was stretched by her four nuns to get the most out of the King’s offer.

  2. As Bridget is my second name, I have grown up with the stories of Bridget/Brigid… pity I don’t remember all of them now.

  3. Pingback: Happy St Bridget’s Day « BRIDGET WHELAN writer

  4. The days are getting longer for sure, but it doesn’t feel like spring in Co Mayo just yet! Have St Brigid’s Crosses for sale in the garage, and hubby wishing everyone a good Imbolc on the web. I certainly appreciate how traditions keep going even in the modern day. My small town hasn’t forgotten them yet!

    • That’s wonderful – hope you sold all the Bridget’s Crosses and that your hubby’s readers loved being wished a good Imbolg! The traditions are great and well worth preserving! Thanks for your comment – much appreciated ! 🙂

  5. The St Brigid’s Stream and Shrine of my childhood was a wonderful wild, overgrown and almost pagan place. Now it’s been tidied up with paths, a car park and a new prayer room and the link with old Ireland seems lost to me.

    • Hi Mairead – thanks for visiting! I remember the ‘roughness ‘ of it well – as boarder in a local boarding school we were marched out in the rain and slithered and slipped in a wet, cold mucky place every year. This was REAL pilgrimage!

  6. Pingback: Thought of the Day – It’s Candlemas Day « Jack T. Scully

  7. Pingback: St Bridget reaching across the generations | A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND

  8. I’m a little slow reading my favourite blogs but this post of yours made me think of one I did last year in which St. Brigid is mentioned in relation to Leap Year: http://inanirishhome.com/2012/02/29/an-irish-leap-year-tradition/ When you get a minute, have a quick look at it…I think you’ll enjoy it. All the best! Kim

  9. Pingback: Thought of the Day – It’s Candlemas DayJack T Scully | Jack T Scully

  10. Pingback: Celtic Festival of Imbolg | A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND

  11. Reblogged this on A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND and commented:

    Another look back at the Irish tradition of St. Brigid’s Day

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