St. Brendan the Navigator

St. Brendan of Clonfert, AKA St. Brendan the Voyager, AKA St. Brendan the Navigator, AKA St. Brendan the Abbot is famous for his legendary evangelical journey to the West.

There's a lot of speculation as to whether Brendan may have reached the Americas 400 years before the Vikings did, and a thousand years before any other noteworthy Europeans (there may even be some evidence).

Bur regardless whether his voyage made him the first European in the New World, the narrative of St. Brendan is a fascinating tale rife with that famous Irish hyberbole that brings us saints like Muirgen the Mermaid.


Lifetime: ~500
Region: Tralee, Ireland
Patronages: Sailors; Divers; Whales
Iconograpy: Boat; Whale; Preaching to fish
Feast Day: May 16

St. Brendan was fostered to St. Ita of Kileedy (the Brigid of Munster) when he was a year old. They became close friends and Brendan would visit her frequently between his travels throughout his life.

He set up numerous monasteries throughout Ireland, as well as in Scotland, Wales, Brittany, and elsewhere. According to the most famous version of his story, when Brendan was 80 (yes, an actual octogenarian) he set out on his most famous journey.

His friend, St. Barinthus, had just gotten back on his own voyage, and claimed that the land he had reached far to the West was the Garden of Eden itself.

Brendan was enraptured, and spent 40 days praying and fasting to see whether God wanted him to seek out this Western Paradise. 

Satisfied that he should sail west, Brendan assembled his crew of fellow missionaries and hopped in his sailboat to follow the setting sun.

On the trip, Brendan and his crew stop at many strange islands. They find an island of dogs, where food has been left out for them but no humans are in sight. They discover an island of sheep, an island with magical singing birds,  an island of silent monks who eat a bread that stops them from aging, and finally an island with a well that makes them sleep for 3 days. 

Then, they journey back to some of the earlier islands, where one of the magical birds tells them that they must continue this cycle of island visits for 7 years to become holy enough to approach Paradise. They do this, committing to this annual pilgrimage of strange lands for the next 7 years, then break out to go further West.

Before they reach any new lands, their small boat is approached by a monstrous sea creature. Had they not pilgrimmed the previous islands, growing each year in their faith, they may have panicked and been overtaken by the beast, but instead they stay calm and pray to God for deliverance. God answers their prayers, stirring the waters to repel the beast from them. Then, God sends a second, even larger monster from the depths to slay the first before sinking back below the waves.

Brendan and his fellow voyagers discover more strange islands, including one where a gryphon is battling a giant bird. Then, a school of vicious fish start to circle their boat. The sea is so thick with them that they cannot even sail. However, Brendan calmly offers Mass to his brothers, thanking God for their safety so far on the voyage. The fish stick their heads out of the water and listen to Brendan's preaching. When Mass ends, the school swims back down into the water and the ship continues West.

They discover another grey, barren island, where they decide to camp for the night. The crew tries to light a fire, and suddenly the island sinks into the water. It isn't until the water jets out of the island's blowhole that they realize that it wasn't an island at all, but a whale so huge they could dock their ship on it without it even noticing.

The ship lands on another island, this one volcanic, where demons seize one of their crew and drag him into the volcano, to hell. The next island is empty and cold, a secret place where Judas Iscariot is allowed to flee from Hell on Sundays and holidays. Brendan and his fellows spend the night repelling the demons that torment Judas so that he can enjoy one day of respite.

Finally, after a few more stops, they reach the Promised Land. They don't stay long, as one of the saints who dwells there asks them to return home, assuring them that they will be able to return when their earthly lives end. 

Brendan and the other monks return home. Shortly after they make it back home, Brendan dies at the age of 97. 

Prayer of St. Brendan the Navigator
Lord, I will trust You,
Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown.
Give me faith to leave the old ways and break fresh ground with you.

Christ of the mysteries,
Can I trust You to be stronger than each storm in me?
Do I still yearn for Your glory to lighten me?

I will show others the care You’ve given me.
I will determine amidst all uncertainty always to trust.
I choose to live beyond regret, and let You recreate my life.

I believe You will make a way for me and provide for me, if only I trust You and obey.
I will trust in the darkness and know that my times are still in Your hand.
I will believe You for my future, chapter by chapter, until the story is written.

Focus my mind and my heart upon You, my attention always on You without alteration.
Strengthen me with Your blessing and appoint to me the task.
Teach me to live with eternity in view.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven.
Feed me, and, somehow, make my obedience count for You.

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