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Fifty years after Saint Patrick’s death in 461, another Celtic saint was born to continue Saint Patrick’s mission and convert pagan Ireland to Christianity. Saint Brendan was born around the year 484, in Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland. He was born into a time period when Ireland was converging into Christianity. Saint Brendan’s parents were Finnlug and Cara. Saint Brendan’s Feast day is celebrated May 16th (Gratten and Hartig).Saint Brendan was baptized under Saint Erk. After this, according to Irish customs at the time Saint Brendan was taken from his parents and put under the foster care and education of Saint Ita “the Brigid of Munster.” For five years he was educated under Saint Ita. He then finished his studies under Saint Erk, who ordained him a priest when he was only 28 in the year 512. Between the years 512 and 530, St. Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert and Shanakeel. Saint Brendan often sailed the seas to spread the gospel throughout Ireland as well as Scotland, Wales, and Brittany in the north of France (Klein).
According to an old Irish tale, St. Brendan embarked on an epic journey. According to the story, Saint Barinthus told Saint Brendan that he had just come back from a trip to Paradise. For 40 days Saint Brendan fasted and prayed atop a mountain on the Dingle Peninsula, a spindly finger of land on the west of Ireland that points directly at North America. Saint Brendan started a voyage to the isle of the blessed (later known as Saint Brendan’s Island). He brought with him 14 monks in a boat called a currach, covered in hide and with a square sail. As his ship beat on the waves, St. Brendan saw towering crystal pillars afloat in the oceans, sheep the size of oxen, giants who pelted the ship with fireballs that smelled like rotten eggs and talking birds singing psalms. Through a cloud of fog the Irishmen hit what they called paradise, and they stayed for 40 days.
An angel appeared and told the men to go back home to Ireland (Klein). Soon after the word of their voyage was out, flocks of pilgrims followed Saint Brendan. Having established the Sees of Ardfert, St. Brendan proceeded to Thomond, and founded a monastery at Inis-da-drum, in about the year 550. He then journeyed to Wales, and then to Iona. After a three year mission in Britain, he returned to Ireland and did much good work in various parts of Leinster, especially at Dysart, Killiney, and Brandon Hill. He founded the Sees of Ardfert, and of Annaghdown, and established churches at Inchiquin, County Galway, and at Inishglora, County Mayo (Bunson).Saint Brendan died in 587 in County Kerry, one of the 12 Irish apostles.
Saint Brendan’s date of canonization was before there were proper ways to record them. If the date was ever recorded, it was lost. Saint Brendan was the patron saint of two Irish Dioceses, Kerry and Clonfert. He is also a patron saint of boatmen, mariners, travelers, elderly adventurers, and whales, and also of portaging canoes. He is the patron saint of these things because he was a navigator and voyager (Bunson).Some people believe that Saint Brendan discovered America, 500 years before the Vikings, and 1000 years before Christopher Columbus. When Columbus and other explorers failed to find the legendary island of paradise, a new theory arose that perhaps St. Brendan and his crew had actually sailed clear across the Atlantic and that paradise was, in fact, North America. This theory is not impossible due to many geographical relations from Saint Brendan’s voyage to modern life (Klein). Much like Saint Patrick, the line between the history and legend surrounding Saint Brendan has been blurred.
The legend of his voyage was passed down vocaly for generations until an Irish monk finally put it to paper in a Latin text entitled “Navigatio Sancti Brendani,” or “The Voyage of St. Brendan.” The book became so widely known that cartographers began to include “St. Brendan’s Island,” on maps. Christopher Columbus was aware of the elusive island, which was drawn everywhere from the southwest of Ireland to near the Canary Islands off the African coast. as he embarked on his own voyage across the Atlantic in 1492 (Klein). The voyage of Saint Brendan could be completely fake, but for centuries numerous scholars also discounted the Vikings’ sagas of their voyages to the New World as legends. That all changed with the discovery of a Viking settlement on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland in 1960, and Irish eyes would be smiling if any artifacts connected to St. Brendan are ever found in North America. (Bunson)In my own opinion, Saint Brendan was adventurous for his time period. During the dark ages people thought the world was flat and held up by a monster and if you traveled into the sea you would be eaten by the monster. I chose to write my Saint Project on him because of my Irish heritage and also because I have lived by a body of water with sailing and boating for my whole life. Saint Brendan has inspired me to try to live my life more fully by trying new things.
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