How did a Celtic Goddess become the patron saint of Ireland?

How did a Celtic Goddess become the patron saint of Ireland?

Saint Patrick gets a lot of attention both in Ireland and around the world. But what of Ireland’s other patron saint, Brigid?

February 1st is St Brigid’s day, an inclusive feast that can and has been celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike.

Indeed, this feast pre-dates the Christianisation of Ireland. Before there were any saints in Ireland people were celebrating this day and this woman.

The ancient Celts called February 1st Imbolc, it was one of four seasonal Gaelic feasts (the other three being Samhain, Bealtaine and Lughnasagh).  

Imbolc was an auspicious day for the ancient people of Ireland going back at least two thousand years. The feast marks the end of the winter and celebrates the first signs of Spring. Still in modern Ireland Spring is said to begin on February 1st.

There is a Neolithic (stone-age) passage tomb at Tara called The Mound of The Hostages. This tomb is very like the well-known Newgrange. On the morning of Imbolc this tomb is completely illuminated by the Spring sunshine as its tiny doorway aligns perfectly with the rising Spring sunshine.

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The Mound of The Hostages ancient tomb at Tara.

The Mound of the Hostages tomb is magically illuminated by dawn sunshine at Imbolc and the Samhain. Thanks to Mary Gibbon of Newgrange Tours for this “inside” photo.

There can be no doubt that to the ancient people who orchestrated such an event, the beginning of February was a special time.

The word Imbolc comes from the Gaelic “i mbolg” or in the belly, most likely referring to pregnancy. This was a time of rebirth, regrowth and the lengthening of the daylight hours. With more daylight came more work. The farming communities were busy as the ewes were giving birth or already lactating. Within the household, it was customary to utilise the extra light to do a “Spring-clean” of the home.

Imbolc was a festival of hearth and home with tributes to the Goddess Brigid being an important part of the feast.

According to Irish mythology Brigid belonged to the Tuatha Dé Danann. She was the daughter of the Dagda or chief druid. The Tuatha Dé Danann is a collective term for the Gods of pre-Christian Ireland. Each member of the Tuatha was associated with a particular aspect of life or nature and thus became the God/Goddess of that event.

Brigid was the Mother Goddess of fertility, healing, poetry, smith craft, and midwifery. Naturally her feast day was Imbolc. Brigid was closely associated with sacred flames and holy wells.

When Ireland converted to Christianity many pagan traditions were carried over to the new faith. The Goddess Brigid became Saint Brigid.

The St Brigid’s cross is traditionally made of reeds and its origin is also thought to be pre-Christian. The woven square in the middle closely resembles the structure of the prehistoric sun cross.

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St Brigid’s Cross

The traditional St Brigid’s cross has become a symbol of Ireland. It can be mounted in an elegant frame or presented simply like the one here to make a thoughtful gift for friends and loved ones.

Thanks to World Prayer Gifts for sharing this photo.

Today in Ireland the St Brigid’s cross makes the perfect gift to a family who have recently welcomed a new arrival or moved into a new home. When placed above the doorway, the cross is thought to confer protection to the home and those within.

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