Sunday 6 February 2022

Saint Brigid's Cloak


We continue the series of posts in honour of Saint Brigid with a reminder of one of her most famous relics - the Mantle or Cloak preserved at Bruges Cathedral. I have already brought a brief account here from an Irish writer who saw this relic in the 1880s, but an Australian newspaper of 1937 picked up on a paper by a 'Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries' which re-examined it. This is a reference to the 1936 article 'The "Mantle of St. Brigid" at Bruges ', published by H.F. McClintock in the Society's journal. I will bring a summary of his paper in the next post, but for now here is an introduction to the main details of the relic as published in the Auckland Star newspaper of January 16, 1937:


It had often been found, says the "Children's Newspaper," that tradition is founded on fact.

It has always seemed unlikely that the piece of curly woollen fleece said to be part of St. Brigid's cloak, which has been treasured for 900 years in the cathedral of St. Sauveur at Bruges, was actually worn by the Irish saint, who was born as long ago as the fourth century.

Now some remarkable evidence has been found in ancient documents by a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries that the fabric, which is very ancient and shows signs of hard wear, actually may have been part of St. Brigid's mantle.

It is a piece of shaggy, dark crimson material, about 21in by 25in, and was, taken to Belgium by an English princess, after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Before he became King of England, Harold had lived in Ireland as an exile. While he was the guest of the King of Leinster it is likely that, when making a pilgrimage to the tomb of the saint at Kildare, he acquired this relic.
Shaggy weaving, which is extremely ancient in Europe, was probably an Irish custom long before Brigid's time, and there are many allusions in old manuscripts to shag-rug mantles. It has been found that the piece of shag-rug at Bruges was coloured with dye made from iron oxide, and artists of the future will be able to represent the exact tint of her mantle.

ST. BRIGID'S CLOAK. Auckland Star, Volume LXVIII, Issue 13, 16 January 1937, Page 7 (Supplement)

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