The Festival of Imbolc and St. Brigit
Irish History From The Annals

Image of a traditional St. Brigid's cross by Culnacreann.

The pagan Festival of Imbolc honouring the goddess Brigit falls on the same day, 1 February, as the Feast of St. Brigid.

Imbolc is one of the four cross-quarter days, with Beltaine, Lugnasadh and Samhain. It fell midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox of the Celtic calendar and falls on 1 February in the modern Gregorian calendar. Imbolc coincides with the festival of St. Brigid of Kildare, whose cult probably incorporated elements from the worship of the goddess Brigit, or exalted one, the daughter of the god Dagda. Brigid died on the 1st of February in the year 525 AD and the Annals of the Four Masters includes this death notice.

Saint Brighit, virgin, Abbess of Cill Dara, died. It was to her Cill Dara was first granted, and by her it was founded. Brighit was she who never turned her mind or attention from the Lord for the space of one hour, but was constantly meditating and thinking of him in her heart and mind, as is evident in her own Life, and in the Life of St. Brenainn, Bishop of Cluain Fearta. She spent her time diligently serving the Lord, performing wonders and miracles, healing every disease and every malady, as her Life relates, until she resigned her spirit to heaven, the first day of the month of February; and her body was interred at Dun, in the same tomb with Patrick, with honour and veneration.

St. Brigid’s cult centre was at Kildare and consisted of a sacred perpetual fire within an enclosure tended by nuns. Gerald of Wales writing in the twelfth century left this account of it in chapters XXXIV to XXXVI of his book on the Topography of Ireland.

At Kildare, in Leinster, celebrated for the glorious Brigit, many miracles have been wrought worthy of memory. Among these, the first that occurs is the fire of St. Brigit, which is reported never to go out. Not that it cannot be extinguished, but the nuns and holy women tend and feed it, adding fuel, with such watchful and diligent care, that from the time of the Virgin, it has continued burning through a long course of years, and although such heaps of wood have been consumed during the long period, there has been no accumulation of ashes.

The fire is surrounded by a hedge, made of stakes and brushwood, and forming a circle, within which no male can enter, and if anyone should presume to enter, which has been sometimes attempted by rash men, he will not escape divine vengeance. Moreover, it is only lawful for women to blow the fire, fanning it or using bellows only, and not with their breath. Moreover, by virtue of a curse pronounced by the virgin, goats here never have any young. In this neighbourhood there are some very beautiful meadows called St. Brigit’s pastures, in which no plough is ever suffered to turn a furrow. Respecting these meadows, it is held as a miracle that although all the cattle in the province should graze the herbage from morning till night, the next day the grass would be luxuriant as ever.

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