FEast: May 16th
sailing, discovery, ships, whales, divers, travelers, navigation
Though most of St. Brendan's tale is a legend changed many times and combined with legends of other ancient Irish heroes, we do know a few things about him.
He was born in Southwestern Ireland and raised by the seaside from a young age by St. Ita, who became one of his closest friends as he aged. At age 6, he was sent to a monastery school, and ordained a priest by age 26. He made it his mission then to establish monasteries, and that is what took him on his first voyages to Scottish Islands, Wales, and the coast of France.
The legend then goes that he set out on a 7 year journey to try and find the Garden of Eden with 14-17 other monks, setting sail on the Atlantic Ocean. It is thought that he could have already been 80 years old when he took this journey.
"Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis" (Voyage of Saint Brendan the Abbot), recorded first around the year 900, tells the legend of what happened on this voyage. The crew encountered islands full of strange things, such as monks who eat magic bread and do not age, a griffon, a sea monster, Judas Iscariot stuck on a rock, a well with water that puts people to sleep for several days, a "coagulated" sea, a gigantic sea monster, a whale that allows them to celebrate Easter on its back, Paul the Hermit who is fed by an otter, an island of birds singing to God, the spirit of St. Patrick, floating crystal structures, volcanoes and hot springs, and more. It was thought that he had made it to Greenland, Iceland, and possibly Jamaica, the Bahamas, and North America. In 1976, an adventurer named Tim Severin built a boat much like Brendan's would have been, and proved he could have sailed all the way there! Since then, there have been other links and discoveries suggesting he could have been the first European in the Americas.
Another mystery is that of "St. Brendan's Island", the island described as paradise that he had set out to find and then finally landed on after the 7 years before returning home. There are many stories and diary entries by explorers even up until the 1700s that describe sightings of an island that could not be firmly located, but was somewhere in the western Atlantic ocean. When it was first suggested that he had made it to the Americas, that idea was no longer pursued.
After establishing a few more monasteries and churches, Brendan died while visiting his sister, with his last words about how he would now have to journey alone to a very unknown land. As he had wished, his body was taken secretly to be buried to avoid followers taking pieces and relics.
Though many of us may not travel the world in quite the same capacity as you, be with us AS we journey through our lives . as many varied people and places enter and exit. give us the grace and the bravery required to know when and how to continue. Show us strength when things go wrong, & always inspire our curiosity and willingness to learn and grow.
With a sailor's jacket emblazoned with the shamrock of his country, a St. Brendan's cross, and a compass around his neck, Brendan is ready for wherever his journeys will take him. His eyes are wide with wonder, maybe a little fear, and most of all, admiration for the beautiful creation he encountered.