Saint of the Day – 16 May – St Brendan the Navigator (c 484–c 577) Priest, Abbot, founder of many Monasteries also known as “of Clonfert,” “the Voyager,” “the Anchorite” and “the Bold” is one of the early Irish Monastic Saints and one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. – born in c 484 at Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland and died in c 577 at Annaghdown (Enach Duin). Patronages – boatmen, divers, mariners, sailor, travellers, whales, portaging canoes, Diocese of Clonfer, Diocese of Kerry. He is primarily renowned for his legendary quest to the “Isle of the Blessed”, also called “Saint Brendan’s Island”.
Brendan was born in Tralee in what would one day be known as County Kerry, Ireland, about the year 484 (just 10 years after the death of St Patrick). He was baptised at Tubrid, near Ardfert, by Saint Erc. He spent his first year with his parents, then he went to the home of the local chieftain, three miles to the East. He returned to his family at the end of his fifth year and completed his studies under Saint Erc, who ordained him priest in 510.
Between the years 510 and 530 St Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert and, at the foot of Mount Brandon, Shanakeel— Seana Cill, usually translated as “the old church”.
From here he is said to have set out on his famous seven year voyage for Paradise. The old Irish Calendars assigned a special feast and St Aengus the Culdee, in his Litany composed at the close of the eighth century, invokes “the sixty who accompanied St Brendan in his quest for the “Land of Promise”.
Many versions of the legendary journey to The Isle of the Blessed exist, that tell of how he set out onto the Atlantic Ocean with sixty pilgrims (other versions have fourteen, plus three unbelievers who join at the last minute) searching for the Garden of Eden and his entire journey is based around the Liturgical year, with his landings and discovery of land, coinciding with the seasons and feasts.
This would have occurred sometime between 512-530, before his travel to the island of Great Britain. On his trip, Brendan is supposed to have seen St Brendan’s Island, a blessed island covered with vegetation.
The most commonly illustrated adventure is his landing on an island which turns out to be a giant sea monster called Jasconius or Jascon. This has its parallels in other stories, not only in Irish mythology but in other traditions, from Sinbad the Sailor to Pinocchio.
As the legend of the seven years voyage spread, crowds of pilgrims and students flocked to Ardfert. Religious houses were formed at Gallarus, Kilmalchedor, Brandon Hill, and Inistooskert in the Blasket Islands, in order to meet the wants of those who came for spiritual guidance from Saint Brendan.
While the story of The Voyage of Brendan is filled with wonderful images, many modern scholars believe it has a historical foundation. Some claim that Brendan’s voyage brought him to the shores of North America, making him and his companions the first Europeans to reach the continent, nearly a thousand years before Columbus. In 1977, a modern aviator built a replica of Brendan’s boat and retraced his route across the Atlantic to Newfoundland, proving that such a journey was indeed possible.
Whether or not Brendan’s voyage is historically factual, the story speaks to us throughout the centuries. We, too, are on a journey. God has invited us to travel with our companions and to invite others to journey with us along the way. We are cared for by the Steward and often make the journey through the years from Epiphany to Holy Thursday to Easter. We encounter many strange and wonderful things along the way. And, in the end, we, too, are promised that we will be brought safely home.
Brendan travelled to Wales and the holy island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland and finally on returning to Ireland, he founded a monastery in Annaghdown, where he spent the rest of his life. He also founded a convent at Annaghdown for his sister Briga. He died c 577 in Annaghdown, while visiting his sister Briga. Fearing that after his death his devotees might take his remains as relics, Brendan had previously arranged to have his body secretly returned to the monastery he founded in Clonfert, concealed in a luggage cart.
Saint Brendan’s most celebrated foundation was Clonfert Cathedral, in the year 563, over which he appointed St Moinenn as Prior and Head Master. St Brendan was interred in Clonfert. He was Canonised in 1284.
Let the brothers and sisters now sing
Of the holy life of Brendan,
In an old melody
Let it be kept in song.
Loving the jewel of chastity,
He was the father of monastics.
He shunned the choir of the world,
Now he sings among the angels.
Let him pray that we may be saved
As we sail upon this sea.
Let him quickly aid the fallen
Oppressed with burdensome sin.
God the Father; Most High King
Breast-fed by a virgin mother,
Holy Spirit, when They will it,
Let Them feed us divine honey.
Guido of Ivrea, 11th century