Saints of The English Year – St. Bridget/Bride.

February 1st.

In Ireland, Brighid, who died around the year 525, is second only in popularity to Saint Patrick, and her feast is a day of widespread celebration. She was of humble origins, was baptised by St. Patrick himself, and later became a nun and first abbess of Kildare. Little is known of her beyond this, but numerous legends about her pious acts and miracles spread her fame across Ireland and on to the continent by the early Middle Ages. On her day, children in Ireland would go from house to house and display an effigy or doll that represented the saint. Brigid’s Crosses, made from straw, would also be hung up to protect the house from evil in the coming year.

In England, her popularity in Pre-Reformation times is evidenced by the nineteen ancient churches dedicated to her, including St. Bride’s in Fleet Street, London, as well as a number of places called ‘Bridewell’, most probably derived from wells dedicated to her. The most famous of these Bridewells was a palace built between Fleet Street and the River Thames for Henry VIII, which eventually became a house of correction; the word ‘Bridewell’ later becoming a generic term for a prison.

Nevertheless, except where people of Irish extraction have settled, this saint’s day does not seem to have been celebrated much since the Reformation, and no widespread customs have been reported, although there are some indications of a belief that dew gathered on St. Bride’s Day was considered to be particularly good for the complexion.

[© Steve Roud: The English Year. 2006]

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