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Every February 1, schoolchildren across Ireland deftly weave little four‐armed crosses from green rushes or straw, with a woven square at their centre. The tradition is an old one and marks the beginning of spring, while commemorating one of Ireland’s iconic saints – St Brigid.
Placed above the doorways and windows of homes, these little St Brigid’s crosses are said to protect those within from harm – and from fire and hunger. This annual act of weaving stems from an old story about St Brigid – or Mary of the Gael – which tells how she was once summoned to the bedside of a dying pagan chieftain.
Brigid, regarded as a holy person from a very young age, was asked to calm the restless spirit of the chieftain, who may or may not have been her father. The story goes that as she spoke to him, she lifted rushes from the floor and began weaving them into a cross. Realising his soul was now at peace, the chieftain asked to be baptised before he died. Ever since, the St Brigid’s cross has been made out of green rushes or straw on the eve of her Feast Day on February 1.
St. Brigid's Cross (Navy)
St. Brigid's Cross (Pale Blue)
Born around 450AD, St Brigid, or Brigid of Kildare, was known for performing miracles, healing and feeding the poor. She was also said to have been a friend of St Patrick’s and is remembered for having foun
ed two monasteries – one for men and one for women – along with an art school.
One of the monasteries was founded on the former pagan shrine of a Celtic goddess called Brigid, under an ancient oak tree. Indeed, February 1 was previously celebrated as the pagan festival, Imbolc, and was associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid.
Over the years, the St Brigid’s cross has become an iconic symbol throughout Ireland, with RTE having previously used it as their station ident on TV. Meanwhile, pilgrims continue to journey to Kildare Cathedral, where St Brigid is said to be buried at the right side of its high altar.