Saint of the Day – 29 November – Saint Brendan of Birr (Died c 573) Abbot known as “Prophet of Ireland,” Founder of the Monastery at Birr in Central Ireland. Brendan is one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland and a friend and disciple of Saint Columba. Born in Ireland and died in c 573 at Birr, Ireland of natural causes. Patronage – Birr, Ireland. Also known as – Brendan mac Nemain, Brendan of Biorra, Brendan the Elder, (to distinguish him from his contemporary and friend, St Brendan the Navigator of Clonfert.) Prophet of Ireland, Brandan, Brandon, Breandan, Brenainn, Brendanus. Additional Memorial – 6 January, as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.
In early Christian Ireland the druid tradition collapsed with the spread of the new faith. Study of Latin learning and Christian theology in monasteries flourished. Brendan became a pupil at the Monastic school at Clonard Abbey. During the sixth century, some of the most significant names in the history of Irish Church studied at the Clonard Monastery. It is said that the average number of scholars under instruction at Clonard, was 3,000. Twelve students who studied under Saint Finian became known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland; Brendan of Birr was one of these.
Brendan of Birr is said to have been of a noble Munster family. It was at Clonard that Brendan became a friend and companion of St Kierán and St Brendan the Navigator.
Brendan founded the Monastery at Birr in central Ireland in about 540, serving as its first Abbot. He emerges from early Irish writings as a man of generous hospitality with a reputation for sanctity and devotion who was an intuitive judge of character. He was considered one of the chief prophets of Ireland. This is evidenced both in his title (‘Prophet of Ireland’) and by his attendance at the Synod of Meltown, in which Saint Columba was brought to trial over his role in the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561. Brendan spoke on Columba’s behalf, prompting the assembled clerics to sentence Columba with exile, rather than excommunication. His friendship and support for Columba resulted in important connections between Birr and the Columban foundations. An adviser of Columba said that the saint saw a vision of Brendan’s soul being carried away by angels after his death. He thereupon ordered a mass to be said in his honour.
Brendan’s monastery at Birr was later to produce the MacRegol Gospels, which are now housed at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Most glorious ascetic and chief of Ireland‘s Prophets,
O Father Brendan, thou wast a bright beacon
in the western isle, guiding many to salvation.
At thy heavenly birthday,
the Angels rejoiced
and miraculously announced their joy
to our Father Columba.
The prayers of the righteous
avail much for us sinners.
Wherefore O Saint, pray to God for us
that He will find us a place
in the Mansions of the Blest.
Hymn of Saint Brendan of Birr