Sunday, May 16, 2010
Happy Feast Day, Brendan!
Saint Brendan the Navigator, May 16
Born c. 484-489; died at Annaghdown, Ireland, c. 577-583.
"I fear that I shall journey alone, that the way will be dark; I fear the unknown land, the presence of my King and the sentence of my judge."--The dying words of Saint Brendan to his sister Abbess Brig.
Like the wanderings of Ulysses, is the story of Saint Brendan voyaging over perilous waters. We see him as only a shadow in the old Celtic world, he was born the son of Findlugh on Fenit Peninsula in Kerry, Ireland, of an ancient and noble line. It is said that he studied theology under Saint Ita at Killeedy, that he was a contemporary and disciple of Saint Finian and later Saint Gildas at Llancarfan in Wales, and that later he founded a monastery at Saint Malo.
Saint Brendan was given into the care of Saint Ita, who taught him three things that God really loves: "the true faith of a pure heart; the simple religious life; and bountifulness inspired by Christian charity." She would have added the three things God hates are "a scowling face; obstinate wrong-doing; and too much confidence in money." When he was six he was sent to Saint Jarlath's monastery school at Tuam for his education, and was ordained by Bishop Saint Erc in 512.
On the Kerry coast, with 14 chosen monks, he built a coracle of wattle, covered it with hides tanned in oak bark softened with butter, and set up a mast and a sail, and after a prayer upon the shore, he embarked in the name of the Trinity. After strange wanderings he returned to Ireland and, about 559, founded a great monastery at Clonfert in Galway of 3,000 monks and a convent under his sister Briga. He gave his monks a rule of remarkable austerity.
Later he visited the holy island of Iona, which was the center of much missionary activity. He founded numerous other monasteries in Ireland and several sees. And he himself made missionary journeys into England and Scotland.
It is said that Columbus, to whom Brendan's story would have been familiar, may have been inspired by the saint's epic saga Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis. Long before Columbus, the Irish monks were renowned as travellers and explorers. Tradition says that they reached Iceland and explored even farther afield in the Atlantic--perhaps as far as America.
Scholars long doubted the voyage to the Promised Land described by Brendan could have been to North America, but some modern scholars now believe that he may have done just that. In 1976-77, Tim Severin, an expert on exploration, following the instructions in the Navigatio built a hide-covered curragh and then sailed it from Ireland to Newfoundland via Iceland and Greenland, demonstrating the accuracy of its directions and descriptions of the places Brendan mentioned in his epic. Brenden is perhaps the first Orthodox Saint to set foot on North American soil.
Brendan himself stands out in a dark age as the captain of a Christian crew. Like the Greeks and the Vikings, he had a craving for the sea, but he built his boat, and launched it in the name of the Lord and sailed it under the ensign of the Cross.
Now the great mountain that juts out into the Atlantic in County Kerry is called Mount Brandon, because he had a little chapel atop it, and the bay at the foot of the mountain is Brandon Bay. Brendan probably died while visiting his sister Briga, abbess of a convent at Enach Duin.
H/T to Mairs