Today, February 1st is the Feast of St Brigid. My daughters went to St Brigids National School it has long been a day of mild celebration in our house being as it means a half day and no homework (only for the youngest now though).
The 1st of February is also (according to the Celtic calendar) the first day of Springtime..and even though February can be one of the coldest months, this morning the sun is shining and the sky is blue! Spring is stirring. Snowdrops are well up and crocuses have also flowered and daffodils are just behind them. All of these flowers speak of hope and remind us that even during the long dark winter, the wheel of the year is continually turning and regardless of what is happening in our world, Mother Nature continues her work and life goes on. There is little as comforting as that fact…that life goes on… all is well.
St Brigid is one of my favourite saints because she is also a Goddess and it has become impossible to differentiate between the two. Legends swirl around her both her pagan and Christian expression. Some think that Brigid was actually a pagan priestess before her conversion to Christianity. Personally I don’t think it matters.
As a Goddess, Brigid is connected with healing, smithcraft and poetry. Traditionally in Ireland on the eve of St Brigids Day, a cloth would be left outdoors overnight. This cloth would receive a blessing from Brigid and would then be used for the rest of the year for healing. It was known (as far as I can remember) as Brat Bhride.
Brigid is also Goddess of fire, the hearth (traditionally the centre of the home) and energy. And finally she is Goddess of fertility and childbirth and is said to lean over every cradle.
The legends of St Brigid are equally fascinating and stories abound. We know she founded monasteries for both men and women. She is credited with making Kildare a monastic city and a renowned centre for learning and illumination. But more than that, she wanted her monasteries to be warm and comforting places – hence her association with the hearth traditionally the centre of the home and of sustenance. Her generosity was also legendary especially to the poor. She also had a huge affinity with animals and was credited with being able to get cows to milk three times a day.
She was very influential in her time and widely respected. Some legends even have it that she was made a bishop and lived with a special female companion.
But it is the way that her legend embodies both the traditional feminine aspects of domesticity, caring and healing with more masculine traits of smithcrafting and her successful navigation of religious patriarchy, that really appeal to me. It is this melding of these traditional roles that makes her a very relevant icon for today.
And how appropriate is it that tomorrow the Gender Quotas Bill is coming before the Dail? So today let’s remember Brigid – one of Ireland’s greatest feminine icons and ask her blessing as we embark on the first step in the business of political equality in this country.
Photo is of the Harry Clarke stained glass window depicting Brigid in Cabinteely Church.