More about St Brigid on a Big Day in the Arab World

How many of us know very much about the Arab world?  Hmmm, not many hands raised out there.  I admit to not knowing a great deal about it, either, having been a student of Western history and only ancient Egypt, but I have been paying close attention to the goings on in modern Egypt these last couple of days.  I have learned that multiple media sources need to be used - all sorts of up-to-the-minute comments are coming in through Twitter, but they are often unsubstantiated; Al Jazeera has been my main news source but I also check in with the Guardian and New York Times which include more background and general information to help get me up to speed.  Not that I am up to speed.  I saw a humorous exclamation on one of the network news shows that American journalists were taken by surprise and were late getting in on the story.  Not many of us are, it seems.

But this is a fascinating time.  Just today, the King of Jordan sacked his cabinet (in light of what now seems rather light protesting in that country last week but also in the wake of last week's events in Tunisia*), and a little while ago Egypt's President Mubarak spoke to the people of Egypt, claiming that he will not stand for re-election in September.  Now we will see whether or not this announcement will appease the protesters, who are still calling for his immediate resignation.

Now, how many of us are better tuned in to all things Irish?  Ah, see?  Just as everyone is Irish on St Patrick's Day, so everyone seems to be much more knowledgeable about this tiny Western Isle than the whole of the Arab world.  Perhaps because many of us truly do claim to be of Irish descent.  But also because something about the music, the art, the mythology of that green country touches something in many of us that resonates.  Here we are on more familiar ground.

Today is the feast of St Brigid, or Bride, and the stories about her abound.  That she was profligate, giving away everything she ever seemed to get her hands upon, fuels many a tale about this young woman who seemed to have been the daughter of poet to a king (or chieftan) and a Druid (or maybe Christian) mother.  She may have written this poem:

I should like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I should like the angels of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.
I should like excellent meats of belief and pure piety.
I should like the men of Heaven at my house.
I should like barrels of peace at their disposal.
I should like for them cellars of mercy.
I should like cheerfulness to be their drinking.
I should like Jesus to be there among them.
I should like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I should like the people of Heaven, the poor, to be gathered around from all parts.

(See why people like Irish stuff so much?)  Of course, history is hard to pin down when one is talking about the sixth century.

What does seem to be fairly well recognized is that Brigid was probably the founder of the first double monastery, i.e., a monastery for both men and women but under the rule of an Abbess, which was not uncommon in that part of the world during the sixth to ninth centuries.  There was more famous double monastery in Whitby (England), overseen by St Hilda of Whitby, which was the site of the church synod of 663 where the Catholic Church in England had to decide between following Celtic of Roman practices.  Ironically, the result of the synod was that Roman practices would rule, but the idea of a double monastery was undoubtedly Celtic.  These monasteries were seats of learning for both men and women and afforded women particular power in the Church despite the fact that they were not allowed to be ordained to the priesthood.

Ireland is home to many beautiful ruins and cemeteries featuring distinctive Celtic crosses, which were covered in carved "stories" much like stained glass windows do today, to show Bible stories to those who could not read.  Most Celtic crosses also featured a circle that surrounded the intersection of the upright piece and the arms.  

The other cross distinctive to Ireland, though, is St Brigid's cross, pictured above, which is often made of woven straw.  In case you'd like to make your own St Brigid's cross, click here for directions.  You'll need 16 pieces of straw and a bit of patience.

Finally, the bonfire is also associated with St Brigid.  In early February we are all wishing for light and warmth.  If you decide to have one tonight, be careful.  And remember the fires that have been burning in Egypt.

*footnote:  The status of women in Tunisia is unique in the Arab world where they have near equality with men and were very visible in the revolution there in January.


I enjoyed this informative piece!
Thanks! Good luck making your St Brigid's cross!