Wednesday, February 5, 2014

St. Brigid and the coming of spring

In this part of the world, the beginning of February marks the coming of Spring. Now, the Americans have Punxsutawney Phil, who this week saw his shadow and predicted 6 more weeks of winter for America (3 Feb).  We, in Ireland, on the other hand have St. Brigid of Kildare (Naomh Bríd in Irish or Brigit, Bride, Bree, Bridget).   Brigid was the daughter of Dubhthach, pagan Scottish king of Leinster, and Brocca (Broicsech), a Christian Pictish slave who had been baptized by Saint Patrick.



St.Brigid was born in 451 AD and died in 523 at a ripe old age of 72 in those days. A 5th century founder of a monastic order, abbess of a double monastery, and friend of St. Patrick, her main legacy is a Celtic symbol dubbed St. Brigid’s cross, although it isn't really a crucifix. She along with St. Patrick and St. Columba (Columcille) were the most influential people of their time in these parts. A flame in the monasteries where she reigned was kept going for centuries after her death in memory of her life. 

There are actually very few confirmed historical facts about Brigid. The numerous accounts of her life include many miracles and anecdotes that are deeply intertwined with pagan Irish folklore. She was attributed with a most amazing range of miracles and chose to work compassionately with those in greatest need - the poor and the sick. She is venerated as a truly liberated woman, one who was even thought to have been made a Bishop. Her humanity radiated from and was enabled by her compassion for Christ. Her friendship with St. Patrick was legendary. Her body was exhumed and buried next to his remains at Downpatrick. 


St. Brigid's cross. 
St. Brigid's feast day is February 1 in Ireland, formerly a celebration of the goddess of light and the quarter-day of the pagan year. It marked the beginning of spring, lambing, lactation in cattle, etc. and it now typically marks the end of winter.  It is celebrated by the traditional weaving of St. Brigid’s crosses out of rushes. Typically, they are hung in houses and barns to protect the buildings against fire and lightning and the inhabitants from illness and epidemics. Sounds like a pagan ritual more than a Christian one to me. 

Tide going out.

The weather conditions on the day were distinctly wintry this year, but ye have little faith. There was a massive storm starting with giant snowflakes and high wind once again pushing the astronomical spring tides onto the land in an unprecedented tidal surge. Many said they'd never seen anything like it in their lives, particularly in Cork. 

But the next day was beautiful and the strand was bountiful. Plump cloisins, queen scallops and oysters, just plucked off the shores. The other unique thing about St. Brigid's feast day is that it is typically associated with one of the biggest spring tides of the year. That means a higher high tide and a lower low tide than most others. On the low tide they uncover walkways to monastic settlements and islands as well as seafoods that are otherwise below water. On the high tide, they cover coastal roads and turns peninsulas into islands. It takes a great deal of vigilance and planning to live here. 

Queen scallops sauteed with garlic and butter. 

Curiously, the other particularly acute spring tide occurs around St. Patrick's Day every year. So here are St Patrick and St. Brigid, best of friends and both associated with astronomical events. Hmmmm.  

Here we are on the 5th of February and it was calm but very cold today. It's now raining and another gale is on its way. Sorry Brigid, I think Punxsutawney Phil is a better bet this year.  


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