Brigid’s Cross is widely believed to be a Christian symbol but its origins lie in much older traditions and folklore.
The cross is usually woven out of rushes and sometimes straw. It consists of a central square surrounded by four arms at right angles and adorns the doors and rafters of Irish homes, usually in the kitchen, warding off fire and evil.
Brigid was a life giving goddess
Traditionally, these crosses were woven on the feast of Imbolc, the festival of the pagan goddess Brigid, to mark the beginning of Spring.
Brigid of the Tuatha de Danaan, in Irish Celtic mythology, was known as a life-giving goddess which is why the beginning of Spring with the birth of new lambs and the flowers beginning to bloom again, was associated with her.
She was also associated with fire, its productive uses and destructive power.
Brigid became a Christian saint
With the introduction of Christianity to Ireland, the goddess Brigid became St. Brigid, or St. Brigid of Kildare (450-520), one of Ireland’s patron saints.
Many of the attributes of the goddess were transferred to the saint. Imbolc became St Brigid’s Feast on the 1st Febuary. The cross became known as St. Brigit’s Cross. St. Brigit herself became associated with sacred flames and holy wells in keeping with the pagan beliefs.
St Brigid helped a dying man
St Brigid is said to have been an early pioneer of Christianity in Ireland. According to The Christian story, St Brigit’s cross came about when Brigid was called to the house of a dying chieftain. As the man lay dying and delirious, Brigid began to console him.
She picked up some rushes from the floor and began weaving a cross. At this point the dying man gained some lucidity and asked what she was doing. Brigid’s explanation of the cross calmed the man and he converted to Christianity on this deathbed.
St Brigid is still celebrated in Ireland
In modern times the feast of St Brigid is still celebrated in parts of Ireland on 1st February.
People weave crosses and display them on their doors and some of the older traditions are still observed. Neo-paganism has also resurrected Imbolc as a religious holiday on the same day.
Right, is a more complicated St Brigid’s Cross – a diamond-cross made with rushes twisted on to willow twigs.
Here’s a video to show how to make a St. Brigid’s Cross. You could use art straws if you can’t get rushes.
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Video – Inside Brigit’s Garden in Co Galway
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The wonderfully ornate illustrations and calligraphy in the Book of Kells has inspired artists for centuries and is still highly influential today. It’s now possible to have your name written in the style of the Book of Kells with ornate initial letters and calligraphy that are direct replicas of work created by the monks more than a thousand years ago.