The Coming of the Light
Stormy Sky... by Joan Eardley, 1962
The wind has been blowing a gale. I heard it whip around the house in the wee hours of the morning and hail beat against the windows with force. Nothing was going to get in its way.
I wonder if the old shed will still be standing when daylight comes. In some ways it would be alright if it weren't. A good excuse to get a new shed.
Last night there were flashes of lightning in the sky and the rumble of thunder - a rare thing in the north of Scotland
Nature has its sounds, its methods of making itself known to us, keeping us in our place.
When I got up to make some coffee I turned on the radio to hear the met office report:
‘…Faroes Fair Isle, cyclonic at first in north, otherwise northwesterly 7s, Severe gale 9 to Bailey storm 11, Decreasing 6 to gale 8 then decreasing 3 to 5 later....Squally wintry showers, rain later, moderate or good, occasionally poor….’
The strangely comforting sound of the Shipping Forecast, announcing terrible weather in smooth and almost poetic language...
Yesterday, 1 February, marked the first day of spring in the Gaelic calendar. It coincides with St Brigid's Day, a day celebrating Ireland's only female patron saint. While spring does not officially start for a number of weeks, most people in Ireland will still have celebrated St Brigid's Day as the symbolic end to the winter, with schoolchildren usually weaving St Brigid's Crosses to mark the day.
St Brigid, or Bríd, was born into slavery and gained prominence in her older years as she had many miracles attributed to her. She is the patron saint of Ireland, alongside St Patrick.
It is said that when St Brigid prayed, the wind and the rain became still, which could relate to her being linked to the first day of spring, where the wind and rain become calmer and the sun emerges at last. The current weather conditions announce anything but that. However, the sun did push its way through the swiftly moving bulk of cloud yesterday, though today there is a heavy grey blanket covering all of the sky.
Winter Sea III by Joan Eardley, 1958
While I haven’t noticed any here in Caithness yet, dandelions are a prominent symbol of St Brigid's Day, as it is traditionally the first flower to bloom in spring.
The bright yellow flowers are representative of Brigid’s candles, lighting her path from the season of cold and dark to the renewal of light and life. The legends of Brigid draw from an ancient Celtic goddess and so she is associated with the sun, carrying with her all forms of light: fire and hearth and candles (her story merging into the Christian celebration of Candlemas which is today), along with the inner fire of inspiration and creativity.
Saint Bride (or Brigid) by John Duncan, 1913
This painting by John Duncan hangs in the National Galleries of Scotland. It blends the Hiberno-Saxon art of the “Book of Kells” and the more modern Celtic Revival and Symbolist art movements. The ancient story of St Bride (or Brigid) is that she was transported miraculously to Bethlehem to attend Christ’s nativity.
Duncan shows two angels carrying the saint in white robes across the sea in a seascape setting that reflects the artist’s fascination with the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Iona.
The realistic depiction of birds, the seal, sea, and sky provide a naturalistic contrast to the supernatural angels overlapping the patterned border.
Scenes from Christ’s life are framed by Celtic motifs and decorate the angel’s robes. The motifs are reminiscent of the “Book of Kells” illuminations and reflect Brigid’s legend of having founded a school of art and illumination in Ireland.
Candlemas by David Jones, 1923
Naturally following on from St. Brigid's Day is Candlemas, a festival of light in the lengthening days of early spring.
Candlemas, which always falls on 2nd February, marks the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox. For country people, this turning point in the year, meant the lactating of sheep, ready for the new born lambs, and in some parts of Britain, it would be the first day of ploughing.
The 2nd February is supposed to be an indication of what the weather is going to be like. The rhyme goes like this:
If Candlemas be fair and bright / Come winter have another flight / If Candlemas brings clouds and rain /Go winter and come not again.
So we’ll see whether those old traditions are any good over the next few weeks after we evaluate today’s weather!
What ways can we be a light in the world, when all seems grey?
Perhaps we can light a candle today, as a reminder of the shining radiance growing in the darkness, just like the waxing snow moon of February. And in the spirit of St. Brigid, we can create something new to enrich and bring hope, encouragement and light to others - a painting, a cake, a piece of writing, a card to someone, a knitted star much like the one my friend sent me at Christmas time which I still have hanging in my window.....
Click here for a reflection about Candlemas by the Revd Katy Hacker Hughes.
Presentation of Christ in the Temple by Fra Angelico, 1450
Simeon in the Temple by Rembrandt Van Rijn, 1669
Candlemas Day has a rich and fascinating history throughout the world. Here are some ways it is celebrated:
France and Belgium Candlemas Day is celebrated with a specific method of preparing crepes.
Mexico Candlemas Day is celebrated with tamales.
Puerto Rico Bonfires and singing mark the end of Candlemas Day.
Luxembourg Children roam the streets singing and hoping to receive a reward of candy or coins.
Peru The fortnight-long period of Candlemas singing, dancing, and feasting comprises a festival that’s in South America’s top three, with Rio’s “Carnival” and Bolivia’s “Carnaval de Oruro.”