Today is the feast day of Saint Brendan. Ora pro nobis.
In 484 Saint Brendan (also known as the Navigator, the Anchorite, the Bold) was born in Fenit near the port of Tralee, in County Kerry, in the province of Munster, in the South West of Ireland. He was baptized at Tubrid, near Ardfert, by Saint Erc. (1)
He spent his first year with his parents, then he went to the home of the local chieftain, Airde mac Fidaigh at Cathair Airde in Listrim. 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. (1)
Between the years 512 and 530 St. Brendan is known to have built monastic cells at Ardfert, and at Shanakeel or Baalynevinoorach, at the foot of Brandon Hill. It was from here that he set out on his famous voyage for the Land of Delight. (3)
The old Irish Calendars assigned a special feast for the “Egressio familiae S. Brendani”, on 22 March; and St Aengus the Culdee, in his Litany, at the close of the eighth century, invokes “the sixty who accompanied St. Brendan in his quest of the Land of Promise”. Naturally, the story of the seven years’ voyage was carried about, and, soon, crowds of pilgrims and students flocked to Ardfert. Thus, in a few years, many religious houses were formed at Gallerus, Kilmalchedor, Brandon Hill, and the Blasquet Islands, in order to meet the wants of those who came for spiritual guidance to St. Brendan.
Having established the See of Ardfert, St. Brendan proceeded to Thomond, and founded a monastery at Inis-da-druim (now Coney Island, County Clare), in the present parish of Killadysert, about the year 550. He then journeyed to Wales, and thence to Iona, and left traces of his apostolic zeal at Kilbrandon (near Oban) and Kilbrennan Sound.
After a three years’ mission in Britain he returned to Ireland, and did much good work in various parts of Leinster, especially at Dysart (Co. Kilkenny), Killiney (Tubberboe), and Brandon Hill. He founded the Sees of Ardfert, and of Annaghdown, and established churches at Inchiquin, County Galway, and at Inishglora, County Mayo. His most celebrated foundation was Clonfert, in 557, over which he appointed St. Moinenn as Prior and Head Master.
He died at Enachduin, now Annaghdown, in 577. (3)
St. Brendan was interred in Clonfert, and his feast is kept on 16 May. (3)
St. Brendan’s Encounter with a Sea Monster
An account of St. Brendan’s journey to the Island of Paradise may be found in a text known as the ‘ Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis ’, which was written down around the 9th century AD. Several variations are available, which has resulted in some differences in the details of the story. For example, St. Brendan is recorded to have not undertaken the voyage alone, but accompanied by a group of his fellow monks. The number of his companions, however, varies according to the sources, ranging from as few as 14 to as many as 60. In any case, the monks’ voyage took seven years to complete, during which they encountered a number of incredible adventures. (4)
Saint Brendan is known as the patron saint of boatmen, mariners, travelers, elderly adventurers, and whales, and also of portaging canoes.
At the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, a large stained glass window commemorates Brendan’s achievements. (1)
The Prayer of Saint Brendan the Navigator
Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways and break fresh ground with You.
Christ of the mysteries, I trust You to be stronger than each storm within me.
I will trust in the darkness and know that my times, even now, are in Your hand.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven, and somehow, make my obedience count for You.
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