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water jug    I will bring a cup of water,

Here’s the best that I can offer

In the dusk of coming night,

There is evidence of light,

With the pattering of rain,

Let us bow as if in grace

Consider all the ways we heal

And how a heart can break!

 

passion-of-christ

 

Oh,  abide with me

Where its breathless and its empty,

Yes, abide with me

And we’ll pass the evening gently.

Stay awake with me,

And we’ll listen more intently

To something wordless and remaining

Sure and ever-changing

In the quietness of now.

 

Let us ponder the unknown

What is hidden, what is whole,

And finally learn to travel,

At the speed of our own souls.

There is a living water,

A spirit cutting through,

Always changing, always making

All things new.

fen marsh

 

Oh, abide with me

Where its breathless and its empty

Yes, abide with me

And we’ll pass the evening gently

Stay awake with me

And we’ll listen more intently,

To something wordless and remaining,

Sure and ever changing,

in the quietness of now!

 

There are things I cannot prove,

But still somehow I know,

It’s like a message in a bottle

That some unseen hand has thrown.

You don’t have to be afraid,

You don’t have to walk alone,

I don’t know but I suspect

That it will feel like home!

 

100_5651

 

Oh abide with me

Where its breathless and its empty

Yes, abide with me

And we’ll pass the evening gently

Stay awake with me

And we’ll listen more intently

To something wordless and remaining

Sure and ever-changing

In the quietness of now.

 

A Permeable Life is about what presses out from the heart, what comes in at a slant and what shimmers below the surface of things,” Newcomer says. “To live permeably is to be open-hearted and audacious, to risk showing up as our truest self, and embracing a willingness to be astonished.”

 

A Permeable Life

I want to leave enough room in my heart
For the unexpected,
For the mistake that becomes knowing,
For knowing that becomes wonder,

For wonder that makes everything porous,
Allowing in and out
All available light.
An impermeable life is full to the edges,
But only to the edges.
It is a limited thing.
Like the pause at the center of the breath,
Neither releasing or inviting,
With no hollow spaces
For longing and possibility.
I would rather live unlocked,
And more often than not astonished,
Which is possible
If I am willing to surrender
What I already think I know.

So I will stay open
And companionably friendly,
With all that presses out from the heart
And comes in at a slant
And shimmers just below
The surface of things.

 

 

Excerpt From: “A Permeable Life: Poems and Essays.”

A Permeable Life, produced and engineered by Paul Mahern (John Mellencamp, Over the Rhine, Willie Nelson, Lily & Madeleine), will be in stores on April 1, 2014, from Available Light Records, distributed by MRI/Sony RED Music.

Newcomer is simultaneously releasing a companion book, A Permeable Life: Poems and Essays. Newcomer has attracted a devoted following with her warm voice, exquisite melodies, and an irreverent yet spiritual view of the world.   As in the work of poets Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry, Newcomer’s songs are based in the ordinary, and infused with images from the natural world.

Author Barbara Kingsolver wrote, “She’s a poet, storyteller, snake-charmer, good neighbor, friend and lover, minister of the wide-eyed gospel of hope and grace.”

On April 1, 2014, Available Light Records, distributed by MRI/Sony RED Music, releases a new album of Newcomer’s music entitled A Permeable Life.  On this album, Newcomer’s signature deep voice takes on a quiet conversational tone, close and intimate.

Recording artist Carrie Newcomer’s work cuts across secular and spiritual boundaries. She has had many artistic collaborations with notable authors such as Parker J. Palmer, Barbara Kingsolver, Jill Bolte Taylor, Philip Gulley, Scott Russell Sanders and Rabbi Sandy Sasso. She facilitates workshops on songwriting, creative writing, spirituality, vocation and activism. Newcomer, who tours throughout the U.S. and Europe, has also toured with Alison Krauss.

 

northcarolinaweddinginn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in me, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me,
Christ with me.

 

 

Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine secundum verbum tuum in pace
quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum
lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuae Israhel

 

 

De profundis clamavi ad te Domine: Domine exaudi vocem meam. Fiant aures tuae intendentes in vocem deprecationis meae. Si iniquitates observaveris Domine: Domine quis sustinebit. Quia apud te propitiatio est: et propter legem tuam sustinui te Domine. Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus: speravit anima mea in Domino. A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israel in Domino. Quia apud Dominum misericordia: et copiosa apud eum redemptio. Et Ipse redimet Israel ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.

Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord:  Lord, hear my voice. Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.  If thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it.  For with thee there is merciful forgiveness: and by reason of thy law, I have waited for thee, O Lord. My soul hath relied on his word.

 

Arvo Pärt: one of a select few who make their living solely through composition

My first encounter with Arvo Pärt’s music is indelibly etched on my consciousness. My piano teacher – the late Susan Bradshaw – placed a piece in front of me which, from a visual point of view alone, was immediately intriguing. Consisting of just two pages, what was most striking about the music was its utter simplicity: there was no time signature; no changes of tempo, key or dynamics; no textural variation. Playing through this quiet piano miniature I was dumbstruck by its crystalline beauty. The piece was Pärt’s Für Alina. I was hooked.

This was 25 years ago when I was an  undergraduate at Goldsmiths, University of London. Pärt at that time was virtually unknown in the West. Since then, he has become one of the most widely performed, recorded and fêted contemporary composers, one of a select few who make their living solely through composition.

The difficulty that Simon Broughton faced when trying to get Pärt to talk about his music on camera chimes entirely with my own experience when I came to write my PhD on the composer. I had the good fortune of meeting Pärt several times during my research, including the slightly terrifying experience of giving a paper on his Credo in the composer’s presence at the Royal Academy of Music. One particularly memorable afternoon was spent with Arvo and his wife, Nora, at the Orthodox Monastery of St John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (the Pärts owned a property a short drive away). While Pärt was perfectly happy to answer my questions about his work list, which pieces had been withdrawn for revision, and so on, he responded to questions about his music by giving me Archimandrite Sophrony’s weighty hardback tome, Saint Silouan the Athonite. “If you want to understand my music,” he told me, “read this.” The music, you inferred, must speak for itself.

Born on 11 September 1935 in Paide, Estonia, Pärt studied composition at the Tallinn Conservatory under the influential teacher Heino Eller. Although best known for the works he has composed since the unveiling of the “tintinnabuli” style, announced in 1976 by Für Alina, Pärt had already become something of an enfant terrible in Soviet musical circles during the 1960s. The darkly expressive orchestral piece Nekrolog (1960),  Pärt’s first mature work, caused a scandal by being the first Estonian work to employ serialism, incurring the wrath of no less a person than the all-powerful head of the Soviet Composers’ Union, Tikhon Khrennikov. Not a man to be trifled with.

Using other avant-garde techniques such as pointillism and aleatoricism, Pärt wrote further experimental works including Perpetuum Mobile (1963), Symphony No 1 (1964), Diagrams (1964) and Musica Sillabica (1964) in which extremes of dynamics and texture at times reach cumulative points of such intensity that the music seems to be on the verge of complete collapse.

Becoming dissatisfied with serial technique, Pärt searched for another means of furthering his musical development, resulting in his use of “borrowed” tonal gestures and the adoption of baroque and classical forms, such as the comic finality of the musical catch phrase which brings Quintettino (1964) to an ambivalent conclusion; the grotesque distortion of Bach’s Sarabande from English Suite No 6 in the central movement of Collage on B-A-C-H (1964); and the ironic cadenza and grandiloquent tonal conclusion of the cello concerto Pro et Contra (1966).

The remarkable Credo (1968), which represented both the culmination of his early style and the first work in which he set a religious text, is a pivotal work in Pärt’s output. Scored for piano, chorus and orchestra, the two outer sections are based on a pristine C major tonality –  specifically the C major Prelude from Book I of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier – while the central triptych journeys into chaos and a wild, improvised climax. An exhilarating cri de coeur of a piece, the composer’s musical affirmation of faith (“Credo in Jesum Christum”) ensured that the work was banned in the Soviet Union following its first performance.

Following Credo, Pärt reached a creative impasse and underwent a dramatic reorientation of style. The impulse for this change was twofold, springing on the one hand from an inner musical necessity brought about by his encounter with plainchant and other early music, and on the other by his gradual religious awakening (originally Lutheran, Pärt converted to the Russian Orthodox Church). Rather than appropriate the stylistic conventions of past composers, his compositional concerns now became directed towards a very specific goal: the setting of religious texts. It was no longer enough to simply import tonality by wearing a Bachian stylistic mask as he had done in Credo.

The surprising richness of the work’s closingGratiarum Actio is one of the most transcendent passages of 20th-century sacred music

While the techniques and processes of early music have proved to be a continuing source of fascination and inspiration for many contemporary composers – Louis Andriessen, Peter Maxwell Davies and Steve Reich all readily spring to mind – no other composer has made such a profound study of this music, and with such fruitful results, as Pärt. Aside from the importance of specific models from early music, Pärt’s in-depth exploration compelled him to rebuild his musical language from scratch. Anything that had no properly audible, as opposed to merely textural, purpose no longer had a place in his work.

Tabula Rasa. Cartoon portrait by Heinz Valg (1978) 

048Tabula_Rasa_ZeichnungTo uncover what he considered to be the startling power of unadorned melody, Pärt wrote reams of technical exercises using just a single line of music. Apart from its innate inner strength, what impressed the composer most about plainchant was its cohesiveness, its clarity and its flexibility. From working with just a single line of music, Pärt then began to investigate the potential of using two voices, before intuitively discovering the simple two-part unit that was to become the basis of the tintinnabuli style: a generally step-wise melodic line accompanied by a triadic or “tintinnabuli” harmony (tintinnabulum literally means “small bell”). Subtly varied from work to work – the composer determining the rules of the game for each piece – the tintinnabuli style has proved extremely flexible.

An outpouring of works followed in 1977 – something of anannus mirabilis for Pärt – including three of the most enduring works of the new style: the seemingly endless melodic descents of Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten; the punctilious melodic elaborations of the double violin concertoTabula Rasa; and the startling gesturelessness of Fratres.

The most perfect realisation of the tintinnabuli style came with the St John Passion (1977-82). Wishing to act merely as a vessel for the music, Pärt decided from the very beginning that the Passion text would yield the entire substance of the work. Setting the text syllabically throughout, every single phrase structure, note value and caesura between phrases is governed entirely by the punctuation of the text. The result is a work of profound restraint, at once both detached and deeply affecting. The surprising richness of the work’s closing Gratiarum Actio – a final offering of praise and thanks which is heard in its entirety in the forthcoming episode ofSacred Music – is one of the most transcendent passages of 20th-century sacred music.

From the troubled angst of Credo to the celestial atemporality of the St John Passion, Pärt’s has been one of contemporary music’s most fascinating journeys

Pärt has remarked that it is the nature of the language being set that predetermines to a remarkable degree the specific character of each vocal piece. From working predominantly with Latin texts, his many commissions have seen him setting Italian in Dopo la vittoria (1996), Spanish in the psalm setting Como cierva sedienta (1998), and numerous settings in English. The latter include the stylised invocations and responses of Litany (1994), a return to St John’s Gospel for I Am the True Vine (1996), and The Deer’s Cry (2007), a setting in English of St Patrick’s Breastplate (“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me…”). Of especial significance is Pärt’s setting of Church Slavonic, a language used exclusively in ecclesiastical texts, in the imposing Kanon Pokajanen (1997). As evidenced by the extract of the piece heard in Sacred Music, its sound-world appears to place it within the illustrious tradition of Russian Orthodox Church music. What all of these works vividly illustrate is the way in which the tintinnabuli style can absorb new textural and harmonic approaches.

From the troubled angst of Credo to the celestial atemporality of the St John Passion, Pärt’s has been one of contemporary music’s most fascinating journeys.

Three essential recordings

Pärt’s music has been incredibly well served on disc, notably by ECM New Series, to the extent that his ever-increasing discography has become difficult to keep up with. The following three recordings, however, are essential.

Tabula Rasa (ECM New Series)
Three purely instrumental classics of the tintinnabuli style: FratresCantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten and Tabula RasaFind on Amazon

Passio (ECM New Series)
Pärt’s austere masterpiece, conducted by one of his foremost interpreters, Paul Hillier. Find on Amazon

Kanon Pokajanen (ECM New Series)
A stunning performance of the Canon of Repentance by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Find on Amazon

 

 

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North
This Country your Valour, this Country is yours
Farewell to the mountains high cover’d with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer -
A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the Forrests and wild-hanging woods;
Farwell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

 

red_deerstag  isle of mull

 

 

 

 

Rowan LeCompte dies at 88; stained-glass artist designed National Cathedral windows

Peter Swanson - Rowan LeCompte, who designed more than 40 stained glass windows for the Washington National Cathedral, died Feb. 11 at age 88. 

By Matt Schudel

Rowan LeCompte never forgot the day his life was changed. It was July 1, 1939, he was 14 years old and was visiting Washington with an aunt.“It was a gorgeous day,” he recalled in a 2008 interview with The Washington Post. “The sky was blue. The air sparkled.” 

Through the window of a taxicab, Mr. LeCompte (pronounced luh-KAHMPT) saw a building that left him transfixed. It was Washington National Cathedral, with its slender Gothic spires ascending to the heavens.Under construction for 32 years, it was far from finished. Scaffolding lined the walls, columns were incomplete and temporary buildings were covered with tar paper.

But within the cathedral’s walls, Mr. LeCompte found a world of wonder. The darkness was brightened only by flickering candles that gave off the scent of wax; an organist was playing Handel; and the north rose window, Mr. LeCompte recalled, appeared to be “floating in the dark.”

“It was a magic, marvelous, dim, ravishingly beautiful place, and I was stunned,” he said in a 2009 NPR interview.

The cathedral became nothing short of an obsession. Mr. LeCompte began to study its stained-glass windows, then went home to Baltimore to read everything he could find on the subject. In October 1939, he made a watercolor study for his first window.

A little more than two years later, he approached the cathedral’s architect, Philip Hubert Frohman, with a design for a small window in an out-of-the-way chapel. The design was approved on the spot, and Mr. LeCompte was paid $100. He recalled the meeting with Frohman during a 2001 lecture at the cathedral:

“He said, ‘By the way, Mr. LeCompte, how old are you?’ And I said, ‘I’m 16, Mr. Frohman.’ And he just said, ‘Good God! I thought you were older.’ ”

From that day, Mr. LeCompte devoted his life to stained glass in general, and to Washington National Cathedral in particular. It was the only job he would ever have.

He went on to design more than 40 of the cathedral’s windows, including its largest and most spectacular, the “Creation” rose window above the western entrance facing Wisconsin Avenue NW. When the circular window was dedicated in 1976, Washington Post architecture critic Wolf Von Eckardt hailed it as “surely one of the masterpieces of Christendom.”

Mr. LeCompte, who lived in recent years in Waynesboro, Va., died Feb. 11 at a hospital in Fishersville, Va. He was 88. He had pneumonia, his stepdaughter Susan Arritt said.

As a child, Mr. LeCompte had hopes of being either an artist or an architect. A life devoted to stained glass allowed him to be both.

There was no school to study an art that was more medieval than modern, so he learned on his own, with occasional tutorials from other masters. He lived in New York for several years and, early in his career, designed windows for churches in Baltimore and Hartford. His windows are in the New York governor’s office, churches across the country, medical facilities and the Princeton University campus.

But from the time of his first, fateful visit to Washington National Cathedral, Mr. LeCompte knew that is where he belonged. He designed more of the cathedral’s 231 windows than any other artist, including the 16 clerestory, or upper-level, windows lining the full length of the nave.

Stained glass may have been an ancient art, but Mr. LeCompte saw his windows as an expression of his time. In one window he included small images of ballistic missiles as a quiet protest against military proliferation.

In a depiction of the childhood of Jesus, Mr. LeCompte slyly included a self-portrait, modeling the face of Joseph after his own.

Rowan Keith LeCompte was born March 17, 1925, in Baltimore. His father was a baker, and as he began his career, Mr. LeCompte heated some of his early glass designs in an oven.

He served in the Army during World War II and participated in the Normandy invasion and the liberation of Paris. He received the Purple Heart.

His first wife, the former Irene Matz, helped with some of his designs before her death in 1970. She is buried in a crypt at Washington National Cathedral.

Mr. LeCompte lived in Waterford, Va., for many years before settling in the Shenandoah Valley town of Waynesboro. A documentary about his life, “Let There Be Light,” was completed by filmmaker Peter Swanson in 2012.

Survivors include his wife of 39 years, Peggy Money LeCompte of Waynesboro, Va.; four stepchildren, Susan Arritt of Fishersville, Deborah Arritt of Kearneysville, W.Va., Jennifer Groh of Stuarts Draft, Va., and Daniel Arritt of Scottsdale, Ariz.; and five grandchildren.

Mr. LeCompte was not simply trying to re-create a lost art. As early as 1955, he said, he wanted to have stained glass “assert itself as a great modern art.”

He aimed for three qualities in every window: clarity, richness and sparkle.

In 1972, he received the commission for his greatest work, the west rose window. His theme was nothing less than creation, based on the passage from Genesis: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep . . . And God said, ‘Let there be light.’ ”

Mr. LeCompte chose an abstract design, using colored glass to refract light in all the hues of the spectrum. It took more than three years to complete the project. The cathedral’s glass fabricator, Dieter Goldkuhle, who died in 2011, inserted more than 10,500 pieces of colored glass in the window, which is 26 feet in diameter.

rose window

At its unveiling in 1976, viewers were astonished at how the eye was drawn from one cluster of light to the next, as if viewing a painting by Helen Frankenthaler or Jackson Pollock. The colors sparkled, faded and glowed, changing by the hour and imparting a sense of mystery and, in the eyes of many, the divine. Von Eckardt, the Post critic, called it “a glorious hallejujah in colored light.”

“It just sings, Rowan, sings a ‘Te Deum,’ ” the cathedral’s dean, Francis Sayre Jr., told Mr. LeCompte. “Oh, ye little pieces of glass, praise ye the Lord!”

In 1990, construction of the cathedral was finally completed after 83 years. But Mr. LeCompte kept going, creating new windows and replacing others. He designed his final window about four years ago, but it has yet to take its place in the cathedral’s firmament.

Quiet and modest, Mr. LeCompte seldom spoke of his religious beliefs, except to say, “I believe in kindness and love, and there are those who say that those are God.”

He seemed more content to consider the movement of light as it filtered through his windows. He recalled that when his rose window was unveiled, a young girl danced in the colored light that poured onto the floor within the cathedral.

When asked what she was doing, she said, “I’m dancing because I found the end of the rainbow.”

Feast of
St. Brigid

Per the 1962 Missal, today’s Feast is that of St. Ignatius of Antioch, but St. Brigid, though not celebrated liturgically by those using the 1962 Missal, is still honored today, especially among the Irish.

St. Brigid — her name is correctly pronounced “Brigg-id” or “Bree-id” but almost never is — was born in A.D. 451 or 452 to a pagan father (Dubthach) and Christian slave mother (Broicsech) just after the time that St. Patrick was preaching (St. Patrick died in A.D. 493). It is said a Bishop — a follower of St. Patrick — met the pregnant slave woman and predicted that the child she was carrying would do great things. It is said, too, that a Druid of Dubthach’s household had predicted that there would soon be born one who “shall be called from her great virtues the truly pious brigid; she will be another Mary, mother of the great Lord.”

Brigid’s mother was sent away at the insistence of her father’s wife — sold to a Druidic poet in Connacht — but Brigid was to be returned to her father after she was raised (it was undoubtedly he who gave her her name — most likely in honor of the false goddess, Brigid, whose name means “Fiery Arrow” and who was akin to the Roman goddess Minerva, who concerned herself with fertility, prosperity, and poetry, and who was symbolized by a spear, crown, and globe). Her impoverished, enslaved mother did her best to raise her well, and a white red-eared cow is said to have provided all the food St. Brigid needed to grow, indicating that she was special indeed as white red-eared cows are rare in Ireland.

When she was around 10 or so, she did move back to be with her father at Faughart Hill. She was given charge of the dairy — but gave much of the produce away. This enraged her father, but she was strong-willed and continued in her charity.

While still young, Brigid went to visit a Christian mission. The Bishop there was recounting a dream he had in which he saw Our Lady, and as he spoke, Brigid entered the room. He stopped and said that she was the one he’d seen in his vision — another sign of the special graces she’d been given.

Not too long later, Brigid returned to her mother and found her working hard in a dairy. Brigid stayed on to help her mother, leaving the relative luxury of her father’s house out of love for her mother. She continued her charity, of course, churning butter in 13 portions in honor of Christ and the Apostles — one portion larger than the rest which she’d give to the poor. Despite her giving away much of the produce, her pantry was always full — miraculously so. This miracle and Brigid’s charity changed the hearts of the Druid who’d bought her mother, and he and his wife converted to the Faith and gave Brigid’s mother her freedom, whereupon she and Brigid returned to the land of Brigid’s pagan father.

Brigid was hated by her father’s wife, and her charity wasn’t pleasing to her father, either, as she gave away some of his wealth, so her father took her to live as a bond maid with Dunlang, King of Leinster, a Christian. When they arrived, Dubthach went in to speak with the King, leaving Brigid in the chariot. A leper came to her, and she gave him her father’s sword so he’d have something of value — even as Dubthach was complaining to the King about how Brigid was always giving away his things. King Dunlang, after meeting and speaking with Brigid herself and seeing Christian greatness in her, convinced her father to give her her freedom, and then gave him his own sword to compensate for the one Brigid had given away.

As a freewoman, she became a part of her father’s clan, and being a part of the clan made her marriageable to the clansmen. They began to seek her out as she was beautiful, but she consecrated herself to Christ and wanted no part of marriage. It is said that she, like St. Rose of Lima was to do later, disfigured her face so that no man would even want to marry her. Her resolve convinced her father to allow her to take the veil, and she became the first nun in Ireland.

Now, women consecrated themselves to Christ before then, but lived in private homes; Brigid formed the first religious community for women in Ireland. She and 7 companions met with St. Mel, Bishop, in Mag Teloch. On meeting the women, St. Mel “recognized” Brigid, saying that he was the one who’d made the prediction about her when she was still in her mother’s womb. He gladly consecrated the women, and when he did, it is said that Brigid’s self-disfigurement was healed and her beauty restored.

Brigid and her sisters first set up a convent in Ardagh, but then moved to what is now known as Kildare, “The Church of the Oak,” on land given to them by the good King of Leinster who’d convinced Brigid’s father to grant her her freedom. The fantastical Irish legend told to children is that she was refused the land near the oak tree that she loved, so told the King she’d be happy to accept whatever land her mantle could cover. The King assented, but her mantle miraculously covered all of Curragh!

Her convent grew, and she travelled to set up others all over Ireland and also a school of illumination and metallurgy. In those travels, she became known for her Christ-given ability to heal and wisdom. Bishops, priests, and chieftans sought her counsel, and she was so beloved that she became known as “The Mary of the Gaels.” A common blessing became “Brigid and Mary be with you.”

When St. Brigid died an old woman in A.D. 525 , her sisters kept a fire burning in an enclosure at her Kildare convent. This fire burned for centuries, tended by the Sisters and not burning out until A.D. 1220. It was re-lit and burned for 400 years, when the effects of the Protestant “Reformation” extinguished it again. St. Brigid’s association with fire and the proximity of her Feast to Candlemas tomorrow — a day celebrating Christ as the Light Unto the Nations, make the two Feasts entwined in the Irish imagination. On the day following Candlemas, the Feast of St. Blaise with its blessing of the throats with two crossed candles make for three days associated with light and fire.

St. Brigid (she is often affectionately known as “Bride,” “Bridey,” or “the Mary of the Gael”) is the patroness of dairy maids, infants, midwives, blacksmiths, poets, nuns, and students. Along with SS. Patrick and Columba (Columcille), she is the patroness of Ireland. St. Brigid is depicted in art as a nun with a Cross woven from rushes (see below), with a crozier, with fire (a candle, lamp, or bowl of fire), and/or with a cow.

And now for St. Brigid’s Day customs…

St. Brigid’s Crosses

During one of her travels, St. Brigid went to visit a dying pagan chieftan. As she sat near his bed, she picked up some rushes on the floor and began weaving a Cross. He asked her about what she was doing and, in explaining, she told him about Christ and the meaning of the Cross. He came to faith and was baptized.

It is customary on St. Brigid’s Day to make a Cross — known as a “St. Brigid’s Cross” — out of rushes or reeds (other materials may be used if no rushes or reeds are available). Once the Cross is woven, it is blessed with holy water and with the words

May the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost be on this Cross and on the place where it hangs and on everyone who looks on it.

It is then hung on the front doors of homes and left in place all year, to be burned and replaced with a newly-woven Cross on the next St. Brigid’s Day. Click here for instructions on how to make a St. Brigid’s Cross

Other Customs

It is said St. Brigid comes to visit on her Feast Day, blessing people and livestock, bringing her white, red-eared cow with her. To welcome her, families leave an oaten cake and butter on the windowsill — and corn for her cow.

Families also hang a ribbon or handkerchief out on trees or clotheslines, believing that if the Saint touched it it would have curative powers. These ribbons or handkerchiefs are called “St. Brigid’s Mantle.”

Because of St. Brigid’s association with fire, the building of bonfires would be fitting, too, if you live in a temperate zone. Fire and light are the perfect segue into Candlemas tomorrow, too, a day known as a “Feast of Light.”

And, yes, food is involved in the celebration of St. Brigid’s life. Colcannon, Boxty Cakes, and St. Brigid’s Oatcakes for the children are the thing:

Colcannon (serves 6) 

1 1/4 lbs. Kale or green Cabbage
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 pounds peeled and quartered potatoes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 cup cleaned and chopped leeks white part only
1 cup milk
Pinch of ground mace
Salt and ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup melted butter

Simmer kale or cabbage in 2 cups water and oil for 10 minutes, then drain, and chop fine. Boil potatoes and water, and simmer ’til tender. Simmer the leeks in milk for ten minutes ’til tender. Drain and puree the potatoes. Add leeks and their milk and the cooked kale, and mix in. Add mace, salt and pepper. Mound on a plate and pour on the melted butter.Garnish with parsley. 

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory

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