Today is the feast of Saint Brigid, an Irish leader and legend whom I have claimed as my own patron saint. She shares a name with the Gaelic mother goddess and a feast day with the Celtic festival of Imbolc, a day to celebrate spring’s first stirrings in the belly. She was said to be born in the threshold of a door and indeed has bridged the Celtic and Christian traditions. She was born on February 1 as both the daughter of a slave and a nobleman, and as she grew, she was known for her generous compassion for the poor. Once she was granted her freedom, she founded a double monastery at Kildare, where she began not only a farm and a convent, but also schools for metallurgy and script illumination. The story goes that when she asked for land to build her abbey, the King of Leinster grudgingly said she could have whatever land could be covered by her cloak. So she had her friends take a corner each of her cloak, and it miraculously expanded to cover the whole tract of land she desired, which included an oak grove and a holy well. This has led to the practice of laying out a piece of cloth on the eve of her feast day to receive blessing.
Saint Brigid’s cross, which has been used as a symbol of protection in Ireland, was said to have been created when she calmly wove reeds at the bedside of a dying pagan king. When he asked what it was, she used the cross to convert him to belief in Christ. Echoing elements of the pagan legends, she is said to have lit a sacred fire at her monastery which was never to be put out. She is the patron saint of dairymaids and metallurgists, of midwives and scholars, of thresholds and of fire and of Ireland itself.
I wrote these hymn lyrics last year during my celebration of the feast.
Sung to the tune LAND OF REST (The Faith We Sing 2241)
We celebrate on Brigid’s day
a feast to call the spring.
We wait with hearts flung open wide
for stirrings change will bring.
We spread a cloth to claim a space
where healing waters flow;
we spark a fire to kindle hope
for light and warmth to grow.
We stand between the old and new,
the thresholds of our days.
We learn to love the in between,
to walk in Brigid’s ways.