St. Brendan of Ardfert and Clonfert, known also as Brendan the Voyager, was
born in Ciarraighe Luachra, near the present city of Tralee, County Kerry,
Ireland, in 484; he died at Enachduin, now Annaghdown, in 577. He was baptized
at Tubrid, near Ardfert, by Bishop Erc. For five years he was educated under St.
the Brigid of Munster, and he completed his studies under St. Erc, who
ordained him priest in 512. Between the years 512 and 530 St. Brendan 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. The old Irish Calendars assigned a special feast for the
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. St. Brendan was interred in Clonfert, and his feast is kept on 16 May.
Voyage of St. Brendan
St. Brendan belongs to that glorious period in the history of Ireland when
the island in the first glow of its conversion to Christianity sent forth its
earliest messengers of the Faith to the continent and to the regions of the sea.
It is, therefore, perhaps possible that the legends, current in the ninth and
committed to writing in the eleventh century, have for foundation an actual
sea-voyage the destination of which cannot however be determined. These
adventures were called the
Navigatio Brendani, the Voyage or Wandering of St.
Brendan, but there is no historical proof of this journey. Brendan is said to
have sailed in search of a fabled Paradise with a company of monks, the number
of which is variously stated as from 18 to 150. After a long voyage of seven
years they reached the
Terra Repromissionis, or Paradise, a most beautiful
land with luxuriant vegetation. The narrative offers a wide range for the
interpretation of the geographical position of this land and with it of the
scene of the legend of St. Brendan. On the Catalonian chart (1375) it is placed
not very far west of the southern part of Ireland. On other charts, however, it
is identified with the
Fortunate Isles of the ancients and is placed towards
the south. Thus it is put among the Canary Islands on the Herford chart of the
world (beginning of the fourteenth century); it is substituted for the island of
Madeira on the chart of the Pizzigani (1367), on the Weimar chart (1424), and on
the chart of Beccario (1435). As the increase in knowledge of this region proved
the former belief to be false the island was pushed further out into the ocean.
It is found 60 degrees west of the first meridian and very near the equator on
Martin Behaim's globe. The inhabitants of Ferro, Gomera, Madeira, and the Azores
positively declared to Columbus that they had often seen the island and
continued to make the assertion up to a far later period. At the end of the
sixteenth century the failure to find the island led the cartographers Apianus
and Ortelius to place it once more in the ocean west of Ireland; finally, in the
early part of the nineteenth century belief in the existence of the island was
completely abandoned. But soon a new theory arose, maintained by thos scholars
who claim for the Irish the glory of discovering America, namely, MacCarthy,
Rafn, Beamish, O'Hanlon, Beauvois, Gafarel, etc. They rest this claim on the
account of the Northmen who found a region south of Vinland and the Chesapeake
Hvitramamaland (Land of the White Men) or
Irland ed mikla
(Greater Ireland), and on the tradition of the Shawano (Shawnee) Indians that in
earlier times Florida was inhabited by a white tribe which had iron implements.
In regard to Brendan himself the point is made that he could only have gained a
knowledge of foreign animals and plants, such as are described in the legend, by
visiting the western continent. On the other hand, doubt was very early
expressed as to the value of the narrative for the history of discovery.
Honorius of Augsburg declared that the island had vanished; Vincent of Beauvais
denied the authenticity of the entire pilgrimage, and the Bollandists do not
recognize it. Among the geographers, Alexander von Humboldt, Peschel, Ruge, and
Kretschmer, place the story among geographical legends, which are of interest
for the history of civilization but which can lay no claim to serious
consideration from the point of view of geography. The oldest account of the
legend is in Latin,
Navigatio Sancti Brendani, and belongs to the tenth or
eleventh century; the first French translation dates from 1125; since the
thirteenth century the legend has appeared in the literatures of the Netherlands,
Germany, and England. A list of the numerous manuscripts is given by Hardy,
Descriptive Catalogue of Materials Relating to the History of Great Britain and
Ireland (London, 1862), I, 159 sqq. Editions have been issued by : Jubinal,
Legende latine de S. Brandaines avec une traduction inedite en prose et en
poésie romanes (Paris, 1836); Wright,
St. Brandan, a Medieval Legend of the
Sea, in English Verse, and Prose (London, 1844); C. Schroder,
ein latinischer und drei deutsche Texte (Erlangen, 1871); Brill,
Brandane (Gronningen, 1871); Francisque Michel,
Les Voyages merveilleux de
Saint Brandan a la recherche du paradis terrestre (Paris, 1878); Fr. Novati,
La Navigatio Sancti Brandani in antico Veneziano (Bergamo, 1892); E.
Van Sente Brandane (Amsterdam, 1894); Carl Wahland gives a list of
the rich literature on the subject and the old French prose translation of
Brendan's voyage (Upsala, 1900), XXXVI-XC.
Beamish, The Discovery of America (1881), 210-211; O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints (Dublin, 1875), V, 389; Peschel, Abhandlungen zur Erd- und Völkerkunde (Leipzig, 1877), I, 20-28; Gaffarel, Les Voyages de Saint Brandan et des Pap dans l'Atlantique au moyen age in Bulletin de la Societé de Géographie de Rochefort (1880-1881), II, 5; Ruge, Geschichte des Zeitalters der Entdeckungen (Leipzig, 1881); Schirmer, Zur Brendanus Legende (Leipzig, 1888); Zimmer, Keltische Beiträge in Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum und deutsche Litteratur (1888-89), 33; Idem, Die frühesten Berührungen der Iren mit den Nordgermanen in Berichte der Akademie der Wissenschaft (Berlin, 1891); Kretschmer, Die Entdeckung Amerikas (Berlin, 1892, Calmund, 1902), 186-195; Brittain, The History of North America (Philadelphia, 1907), I, 10; Rafn, Ant. Amer., XXXVII, and 447-450; Avezac, Les Iles fantastiques de l'océan occidental in Nouv. An. des voyages et de science geogr., (1845), I, 293; MacCarthy, The voyage of St. Brendan, in Dublin University Magazine (Jan. 1848), 89 sqq.
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