On February 1, it is a popular tradition that children in Ireland weave little four-armed crosses from straw or green rushes, with a woven square at the center. This tradition marks the beginning of spring and commemorates one of Ireland’s most iconic saints, St. Brigid of Ireland.
If you visit Ireland on February 1, you are likely to notice little St. Brigid crosses on the windows and doorways of various homes. Basically, these crosses are small crosses usually woven from rushes or straws. They have four arms on each end and a center square, but there are also three-armed versions. St. Brigid’s cross is closely linked to Brigid of Kildare, who is one of Ireland’s patron saints. Let us learn more about St. Brigid and what the crosses represent.
What does St. Brigid’s cross mean?
St. Brigid is one of the few remarkable female saints throughout history. Commonly known as Bridey, she is the epitome of everything a strong Irish woman represents. St. Brigid’s cross is a Christian symbol. It is tied to the history of Brigid of the Tuatha de Danaan, which according to the Irish Celtic Mythology, popularly known as the life-giving goddess.
The weaving of St. Brigid’s cross is a beautiful tradition among the people of Ireland. The history of the cross is hinged to the saving action of Jesus Christ on Mount Calvary. More so, the cross keeps fire, hunger, and evil away from homes that hang it in various places.
How do you make a St. Brigid’s cross?
Many people from Ireland, as well as Irish Americans, prefer to make St. Brigid’s crosses themselves. The process is quite simple and straightforward that children also enjoy making them for their arts and crafts projects in school. Often, these crosses come from reed or rushes, but some people who do not have access to these materials use Chenille stems, otherwise known as pipe cleaners.
After choosing your preferred material, collect about 16 to 22 of them and arrange them vertically, depending on how large you want your center square on the cross. Fold all the stems in half, except for one. Cut the last stem into four equal pieces to form a bind for each arm of the cross.
Loop one of the bent stems around the middle of the vertical stem, making sure the ends point to the right. Loop the next bent stem around the first arm and ensure it is pointing upwards. Place the next bent stem around the upward arm to make sure it is looking to the left. Create the final arm by placing a bent stem downwards around the left arm. Repeating these steps about three to four times enlarges the size of your cross, but you have to make sure that you begin on the right and underneath the arm.
Secure the final stem by using a small piece of pipe cleaner or elastic bands. Pull the last loop of the right arm of the cross and slot the last stem downwards and through the loop formed. Ensure you re-tighten each end and trim them to have the same length. Upon completion, your St. Brigid’s cross is ready for hanging now.
What is a St. Brigid’s Cross made of?
Often, St. Brigid’s Cross consists of rushes or straws. Some Irish Americans also use pipe cleaners to make the cross as they are durable and can bend to form the arms of the cross. Furthermore, a distinctive square made from woven rushes lies at the center from which three arms extend and tied and fastened at the end.
Where do you hang St. Brigid’s cross?
These crosses are hung by doors, windows, or in the rafters of homes, protecting the dwellers from fire and hunger. According to tradition, on each St. Brigid’s Day, a new cross must be used, and the old one discarded by throwing it into the fire as a symbol of requesting the Saint to protect the home from fire. Some people believe that placing the cross at the roof is a more effective way to protect a home from fire, especially if the house contains wood and thatched roofs. After hanging the cross, it is sprinkled with some holy water.
Why do we make St. Brigid’s crosses?
St. Brigid, also referred to as Our Lady of the Irish, is admired by many because of her independent spirit, and dedication and determination to serve God. The old tale of St. Brigid entails an old and pagan chieftain, who was her father. He lay in his bed delirious, and his servants called upon Brigid to stay with him along his bedside with the hopes that she would calm his restless spirit.
As she was by his bedside calming and consoling him, she picked up some rushes, which were all over the room. Her fingers wove the dry strands, eventually forming a cross. As she was weaving, she explained to the man the cross’s meaning, eventually calming him and bringing peace to his soul.
As a result, the chieftain’s fever broke, and he became quiet. Due to her message of love and enlightenment, the chieftain agreed to baptism as a Christian, just before his passing. Once word of the old chieftain’s conversion and baptism became known, the news spread like wildfire, and now people make the crosses as a commemoration act of the occasion.
Similarly, during her existence in the fifth century, it is said that St. Brigid is responsible for protecting people from specific harm, as well as hunger and fire. Another common belief about St. Brigid is that she was a close friend to St. Patrick and assisted him in building up a firm foundation of the Christian Church in Ireland.
As a way to celebrate St. Brigid’s day, it is vital to remember this old tale and share it with your loved ones. Today, many jewelers and manufacturers incorporate the cross into various pieces of jewelry designs and ornaments.
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