Imbolc (Imbolg) derives from the Old Irish i mbolg meaning in the belly, a time when sheep began to lactate and their udders filled and the grass began to grow. The Imbolc festival marks the beginning of spring and has been celebrated since ancient times. It is a Cross Quarter Day, midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, it can fall between the 2nd & 7th of February when calculated as the mid point between the astronomical Winter Solstice and the astronomical Spring Equinox. The astronomically derived date is later than the traditional date of January 31st / February 1st St.Brigid’s Day.
When Ireland was Christianised in the 5th century, the mantle of the Goddess Brigid was passed on to Saint Brigid (St Bridget, Bride, Brigit), born AD 452 at Faughart, near Dundalk, Co. Louth, she converted many Irish, becoming the country's second important saint after Patrick. She founded a monastery in Kildare and was associated with many of the ancient goddess’s attributes, being generous and a provider of food and hospitality, with links to the hearth, smiths, poetry, healing and marriage. Holy wells dedicated to her have various healing properties, including that of eyesight, and also helped induce pregnancy and ease labour pains. She ended her days at the monastery in AD 525.
The Saint Brigid’s Cross is one of the archetypal symbols of Ireland, while it is considered a Christian symbol, There are four main styles of St. Bridget cross, each popular in different parts of Ireland. Saint Brigid’s Cross may well have its roots in the pre-Christian goddess Brigid. The cross is usually made from rushes or, less often, straw, the rushes should be pulled rather than cut from a bog, damp field or river bank and comprises a woven square in the centre and four radials tied at the ends, and sprinkled with holy water. The cross is traditionally hung on the kitchen wall or often kept under the rafters of the roof to
protect the the house from fire and evil. In some traditions, the cross from the previous year is taken down and burnt, and then replaced by the new one.
There is a legend associated with the origin of Saint Brigid’s crosses. Brigid was called to the bedside of a dying pagan chieftain, she sat by him to keep watch over him in his final hours. While sitting by the dying man, Brigid picked up some rushes from the floor and began to weave them into a cross. The sick man asked her what she was making and Brigid began to explain the story of Jesus to him. Before he died, the chieftain had become a Christian.