Bridget of Kildare Word on the week 5th February 2022.
Under the heading ‘The Biddies Are Back’ the daily newspaper showed dancers, clad in white, performing a ritual dance. This annual event had been postponed because of the Covid pandemic. They were heralding the start of Spring on the 1st of February and paying homage to St Brid, the patron saint of the farming community.
Coincidentally the government had been considering granting the country an additional holiday partly as a ‘thank you’ for coping so well with the pandemic and partly to bring the number of public holidays more into line with other countries. Another factor was the availability of St Bridget’s day so from 1st February 2023 we will holiday.
Some may have wished the Saint would have chosen a warmer day to die but it was on 1st February 525 (or thereabouts) that the event took place. Brigid (the spelling varies) is said to have been buried at the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, and a costly tomb raised over her “adorned with gems and precious stones and crowns of gold and silver”. Then about the year 878, owing to Viking raids, Brigid’s purported relics were taken to Downpatrick and reburied in the tomb of St. Patrick and St. Columba.
Brigid of Ireland, or of Kildare, has been venerated since the early Middle Ages. It is in place names that her influence is best seen. In Ireland there are multiple Kilbride’s (Church of Brid). In Scotland, East Kilbride and West Kilbride are called after Brigid. Lhanbryde, near Elgin, is thought to be Pictish for “Church of Brigid”. Abroad place names abound from Newfoundland to the Antarctic!
Many wells have been made sacred to her as expanding Christianity turned heathen customs into Christian ones. Wells were places where wishes were allegedly met and votive clothes tied to neighbouring trees. The requests were often associated with fertility and childbirth.
The best known symbol of Brigid is her cross made of straw or reeds. Legend has it that Bridget wove one while sitting at the bedside of a dying Chieftain, whilst she weaved, she explained the meaning of the cross to him. He understood that Christ had made a way for him, via the cross. to get right with God. Her calming words brought peace to his soul. He was so enamoured by what she said that the old Chieftain requested he be baptized as a Christian just before he passed away (Acts Chapter 8 verses 30 to 38).
Perhaps this inspired the hymn writer Henry Francis Lyte, an Irishman, to pen the last verse of his popular hymn ‘Abide with me’: – Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes, Shine through the gloom and point me to the shies; Heaven’s morning breaks, and earths vain shadows flee: In life and death, O Lord, abide with me.
Interestingly, ‘Hold Thou Thy cross’ have been changed to ‘Reveal Thyself’ to remove any transgression into idolatry in imbuing a man-made cross with supernatural properties. However, Scripture has no such obsessions using the cross as shorthand for the atoning work of Christ (Galatians Chapter 6 verse 14).