Methodology Spotlight

Young men honor St. Bridget

We spent a few days in one of the most southern town of the Netherlands, Noorbeek in the province of Limburg. Every year young men in this town honor Saint Brigida with a special pine tree. Perhaps Simon Deneij was one of them.

Roman Catholic Parish (Noorbeek, Limburg, Netherlands), baptisms 1651-1794 marriages 1680-1794 burials 1679-1794, baptism of Simon son of Petrus Deneij, 28 September 1651; “Pays-Bas: Province de Limburg, registres paroissiaux, 1542-1910,” images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 28 September 2020), image 6 of 404.

Transcription and translation

28 7bris bap[tizatus est] Simon fil[ius] leg[itimus] Petri Deneij et Joanna Thonissen. P. Joannes Deneij et Mechtilda Thonissen.

On 28 September [1651] was baptized Simon, legitimate son of Petru Deneij and Joanna Thonissen. Godparents were Joannes Deneij and Mechtilda Thonissen.

Saint Bridget

Bridget of Kildare (453-523) is the second most important Irish Saint. After Saint Patrick, obviously. As a young woman she became a hermit and lived in a cave under an oak tree. On that same location she founded a monastery. She is the patron saint of cattle.

In 1634 the small town of Noorbeek suffered from cattle plague. The inhabitants prayed to Saint Bridget. They promised to honor her annually with a pine tree if she would protect the town’s cattle. The cattle were healed and the inhabitants kept their promise.

Saint Bridget of Kildare, print from Theodor Matham, after a drawing by Abraham van Diepenbeeck, 17th century (photo credits: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, object no. RP-P-OB-23.303)

Jonkheid Sancta Brigida

What started as a promise developed into a tradition that is now part of protected cultural heritage. Every year, on the second Saturday after Easter the young men in Noorbeek gather to find a suitable tree in the woods. Early in the morning the old tree is removed, after which the young men go into the woods.

Completely according to the tradition and with a lot of ceremony, the new tree is cut down and loaded onto a wagon. A priest blesses the tree. Then the men travel through the area with the tree on the wagon until they are back in Noorbeek at the end of the day. Shortly before midnight, the new tree stands in front of the church. [source]

St. Brigida Church in Noorbeek, Limburg, Netherlands with the pine tree from 2019 (photo credits: collection of the author)

Cultural Heritage

Was ‘our’ Simon one of the young men in Noorbeek, who honored Saint Bridget in the 1670s? Did he go into the woods to find her a pine tree? We do not know for sure. With this example we want to demonstrate how cultural heritage – not only tangible but also intangible – can be used for genealogical research. Folklore and traditions color the life of our ancestors that we want to describe and record.

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