One of the highlights of a visit I once made to Ireland was to arrive at Kildare which was made famous by St. Brigid (sometimes known as Brigit, or Bride). She is said to have been baptized by Patrick and with him is known as Patron Saint of Ireland. She founded a monastery there just after Patrick began to convert the Irish. Brigid’s monastery was a mixed house of women and men—something that was unknown outside Celtic lands. (They were more enlightened than most!)
Her feast day kept today, on February 1st, coincided with the pagan festival of Imbolc, the Celtic season that marked the coming of light after the dark days of winter. Once again, the Christian Church displayed ingenuity and common sense in replacing a pagan feast with a Christian one because Brigid’s day is quickly followed by Candlemass, the day when we celebrate Christ as the Light of the World—the light which overcomes darkness or to put it in the words of Simeon’s song the Nunc Dimittis: a light to lighten the Gentiles (non Jews).
There is a further connection between Brigid and the feast of Candlemass. Just as we are pointed, by Simeon’s prophecy, towards the Cross of Christ, so too is the story of Brigid connected to a Cross. The story goes that on a visit to a sick friend who was close to death, Brigid reached down and picked up pieces of straw from the floor of the cottage. As she prayed for healing she wove the straw into a simple square-braided cross and hung it in the rafters over the bed. The friend began to get better and the Cross became a symbol of this healing. Today, it is known as St Brigid’s Cross.
Christianity is often a faith of paradoxes and none more so than the connection of birth with death. At Candlemass we complete our Christmas celebration of Christ the Light and then begin our journey towards Holy Week and Our Lord’s death on the Cross. Yet there is nothing strange in this. Christ’s victory over the human heart, and the darkness which so often besets our lives, begins in the Christmas event but needs Calvary to complete it. There Christ’s love shine from the Cross and in the light of that love we can claim our place in God’s heart.
Brigid’s cross, woven from simple straw became a sign of healing and of life. The straw of the Manger and the wood of the Cross, woven together, are symbols of our healing and salvation. A salvation that we Christians believe only Jesus Christ can offer.