The month of February is associated with St Brigid, one of Ireland’s patron saints, and whose feast day is celebrated on 1 February. She was a contemporary of St Patrick, renowned for her holiness and goodness. One of the legends about her concerns her dealings with the king of Leinster, who she approached to donate land for a convent. He wasn’t too keen, so Brigid asked if he would give as much land as her cloak would cover. Well, he didn’t think this would be too onerous, and agreed to the deal. When she spread her cloak on the ground, it immediately grew until it covered many acres. Brigid got her land, and apparently a convert to Christianity as well.
The tradition that we were interested in last weekend was the St Brigid’s cross. Originally a pagan symbol, this small cross is usually made from rushes that are woven together to form a centre square with four radials, tied at the ends. They’re associated with St Brigid because it appears she made one while attending a death bed, and the dying man was so taken with it that he converted to Christianity. The crosses also act as a protective charm, guarding the house from fire and evil – this probably harks back to their pagan origins.
At the weekend, a group of us gathered to continue an Irish February tradition of making St Brigid’s crosses. We took inspiration from some particularly delicious cupcakes, created for the occasion by a local artisan baker, Antoinette’s Table.
We began with pipecleaners. This was mainly because it is hard to source sufficient rushes in the driest state of the driest continent. And also due to a fear by some attendees of suffering grass cuts from the reed-like grasses I had liberated from a local council garden bed, discreetly using scissors, and two small boys as decoys.
The braver amongst us progressed to the grasses.
And I have ended up with so many crosses that my house is surely protected from fire and evil for years to come.