Monday, 30 March 2015

The History of Brigid's Cross

Brigid's Cross

A strong symbol of Ireland, and typically woven every year from rushes
 to celebrate the early onset of Spring, around 1st February, St Brigid's Feast Day, these small and beautiful crosses are now mostly associated with the Christian story of St Brigid,  yet have roots that reach much further back into the distant past...


St Brigid's Cross

Crosóg Bhríde, St. Bridget, St. Brigit, St Brighid, St Bride

St Brigid, a contemporary of St Patrick, and the only one of the three patron saints of Ireland who was native to the country, was the founder of the first Irish monastery in Kildare. Historical information on her is scanty, but legend has it that she was a confident, caring and generous soul with infinite patience and compassion for those in need. There are several variants on the story of how the cross came to be named after her, but they follow a similar pattern:

St Brigid Wikimedia Public Domain
St Brigid Wikimedia Public Domain

She was called to attend the deathbed of a pagan chieftain (in some versions it is her father,) and found him delirious, so was unable to converse with him. Struck by inspiration, she began to weave a cross from the rushes that covered most floors at this time in history. The sick man seemed to notice what she was doing through his fever, and asked her about it. She explained about her beliefs and the significance of the cross within them. As she spoke the man became calmer, his delirium faded and he questioned her further. This lead to his request to be converted to Christianity and to be baptised at the point of death. Since this day the cross of rushes (occasionally straw) has been venerated throughout Ireland.


Earlier Pagan Origins

With its structure of four arms (there are also three-armed versions,) Brigid's Cross is possibly related to similar symbols such as the sun cross and swastika, which are both very ancient symbols, far predating Christianity.

The tradition of St Brigid's day comes from the Gaelic/Celtic festival of Imbolc, (or Imbolg which means literally, in the belly or womb,) the festival being dedicated to women and fertlity (hence the association with Brigid) and celebrated on either the 1st, or 2nd of February - the beginning of the lambing season and the quickening of the year.

Brigid's Cross image By Culnacreann Wikimedia Commons
Brigid's Cross image By Culnacreann Wikimedia Commons

The Goddess Brigid is one of the most important deities in Irish mythology, the daughter of Dagda, she was one of the Tuatha De Danann, an early mythical race in Ireland.

Brigid's name comes in many forms: Brigit, Bride, Bridey, Biddy, Briggidda, and was one of the most widely worshipped Goddesses in Iron Age / Celtic Britain and Ireland, a solar deity  associated with healing, fertility, wisdom, poetry, creativity, childbirth, and the craft of the smith (fire.) She is, a complex Goddess, incorporating many different strands of ancient myth. It is quite possible that the Northern British Tribe, the Brigantes, who were the largest single tribe (or confederation of tribes) in Britain, derived their name from Brigid, who was certainly very important to them. She has left her mark across the whole of the British Isles in the names of rivers, wells and stones. In the North, it is possible that Ilkley's Swastika Stone was associated with her worship.

Swastika Stone: Image TJBlackwell Wikimedia Commons
Swastika Stone: Image TJBlackwell Wikimedia Commons

There are many rituals linked to Brigid's Cross that are an echo of these earlier times, such as the tradition of the cross being hung within the home to protect it from fire, and, although many of the other original meanings of this enigmatic image may have been lost to us, it still remains a powerful symbol to this day.

Brigid's Cross sculpted plaque

So, there are very many different layers to Brigid, just as she is woven from multiple layers of rushes. She has a very old soul. She can mean different things to different people, and carries within her multiple meanings from the past. Just as we weave our own significances into the objects that we own and the objects that we make, imbuing them with power and significance, so these feelings and energies become a part of the whole.

Brigid's Cross sculpted plaque

I have long loved this symbol and also have a 'bit of a thing' about the patterning of woven items. The beauty of Brigid's Cross, the simplicity and folk traditions at its core, and its longevity and powerful associations, have long appealed to me.

My Brigid is hand crafted in metal and then inset within a 16 cm square oak plaque. Every part of the process is done by me, by hand. 

Thanks for reading!

bod

Justbod Team

Brigid is available from our 'Symbols' Collection.


Visit our main site:

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You might also like:

The Celtic Tree of Life: 'Crann Bethadh' 

A magical wolf, a riddle of face, a Celtic horse and the 'Battle Crow'
- bod's Ancient British Coins

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Celtic Coin Wall Plaque by Justbod


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Online Sources: 
Brigid's Cross - Wikipedia.
St Brigid - Cross Crucifix.
Brigantes - Wikipedia.
Brigid - Wikipedia.
Brighid - Mysterious Britain.

Book Sources: :
The Old Stones of Elmet: Paul Bennett
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols

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4 comments:

  1. Perhaps the Log Cabin design in patchwork quilting was inspired by Bridie's Cross. Symbolically, the red centre square is the hearthfire. Having no knowledge of Brigid 28 years ago, I wonder if this is how she first showed up in my life: a passion to make myself a Log Cabin quilt.


    I am now emerging as a textile artist crafting sacred icons based on aboriginal wandjina forms with inspiration from gondwanaland fossils.

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    Replies
    1. That sounds fascinating Rain-in-the-Face. I must confess that textiles and quilting are something I know next to nothing about. Do you have a link to any of your designs?

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    2. I'm on a grass-roots level here with no internet presence....however...

      I can give you a link to the work my countrywoman, Dijanne Cevaal has been developing

      http://origidij.blogspot.com.au/ Musings of a Textile Itinerant.


      and there is Amy Meissner, another textile artist, who works in Alaska has an amazing portfolio.


      You can surf Tali Gallery for indigenous designs
      http://www.taligallery.com.au/

      Lots of eye candy and click bait!

      Enjoy.


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    3. Thanks Rain-in-the-face - will check them out :)

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