|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Biographies|
Brendan the Navigator, Clonfert, Ireland
A first approach to the indigenous Orthodox Saints and Martyrs of the Ancient Church who lived and who propagated the Faith in the British Isles and Ireland during the first millennium of Christianity and prior to the Great Schism is being attempted in our website in our desire to inform our readers, who may not be aware of the history, the labours or the martyrdom of this host of Orthodox Saints of the original One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of our Lord."The Church in The British Isles will only begin to grow when she begins to venerate her own Saints" (Saint Arsenios of Paros †1877)
SAINT BRENDAN was born in 484 in Ciarraighe Luachra 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. For five years he was educated under Saint Ita, "the Brigid of Munster", and he completed his studies under Saint Erc, who ordained him priest in 512. Between the years 512 and 530 St Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert, and, at the foot of Mount Brandon, Shanakeel— Seana Cill, usually translated as "the old church"— also called Baalynevinoorach.
From here he is supposed to have set out on his famous seven years voyage for Paradise. The old Irish Calendars assigned a special feast for the "Egressio familiae S. Brendani", on March 22; and St Aengus the Culdee, in his Litany composed at the close of the eighth century, invokes "the sixty who accompanied St. Brendan in his quest for the Land of Promise".
(Saint Brendan was an early Irish abbot who sailed westward with his band of sailor monks in a square-rigged curragh, made of leather over a basketry frame. They were probably searching for a reputed earthly paradise in the "Isles of the Blessed." They had astonishing adventures; they reported seeing flaming mountains, most likely the volcanoes of Iceland. Continuing westward, they found other landings, one of which was probably Newfoundland - which would make them among the earliest discoverers of America. Although the prevailing winds were against them, they managed to return to Ireland. Saint Brendan lived to be 93 and founded several more monasteries.)
Hagiographers know of Brendan chiefly from four sources- the Irish Lives, the Latin Lives, the Latin Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis and many vernacular versions of his voyage in the emerging languages of Europe, collectively known as the Voyage of Brendan. We also know of Brendan from the frequent mentions of him in the lives of other saints and in many calendars and martyrologies that have survived in Ireland and in Scotland.
There is, however, very little secure information concerning his life, although at least the approximate dates of his birth and death, and accounts of some events in his life, are found in the Irish annals and genealogies. The principle works devoted to the saint and his legend are a ‘Life of Brendan’ in several Latin and Irish versions (Vita Brendani / Betha Brenainn) and the better known ‘Voyage of Saint Brendan the abbot’ (Navigatio sancti Brendani abbatis). Unfortunately, the Lives and the Voyage provide little reliable accounts of his life and travels; they do, however, attest to the development of his cult in the centuries after his death. An additional problem is that the precise relationship between the Vita and the Navigatio traditions is uncertain.
Just when the Vita tradition began is uncertain. The surviving copies are not earlier than the end of the twelfth century, but scholars suggest that a version of the Life was composed before the year 1000. The Navigatio was probably written earlier than the Vita, perhaps in the second half of the eighth century.
Any attempt to reconstruct the details of the life of the real Brendan or to understand the nature of the Brendan legend has to be based principally on the Irish annals and genealogies and on the various versions of the Vita Brendani.
St Brendan is chiefly renowned for his legendary journey to The Isle of the Blessed as described in the ninth century Voyage of St Brendan the Navigator. Many versions exist, that tell of how he set out onto the Atlantic Ocean with sixty pilgrims (other versions have fourteen, plus three unbelievers who join at the last minute) searching for the Garden of Eden. One of these companions is said to have been Saint Malo, the namesake of Saint-Malo. If it happened, this would have occurred sometime between 512-530 AD, before his travel to the island of Great Britain. On his trip, Brendan is supposed to have seen St. Brendan's Island, a blessed island covered with vegetation. He also encountered a sea monster, an adventure he shared with his contemporary St. Columba.
Brendan travelled to Wales and the holy island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland; returning to Ireland, he founded a monastery at Annaghdown, where he spent the rest of his days. He also founded a convent at Annaghdown for his sister Briga. He was recognized as a saint by the Irish Church, and his feast day was celebrated on May 16. Having established the bishopric of Ardfert, St. Brendan proceeded to Thomond, and founded a monastery at Inis-da-druim (now Coney Island), in the present parish of Killadysert, County Clare, about the year 550. He then journeyed to Wales, and thence to Iona, for he is said to have left traces of his apostolic zeal at Kil-brandon (near Oban) and Kil-brennan Sound. After a three years' mission in Britain he returned to Ireland, and did more proselytizing in various parts of Leinster, especially at Dysart (County Kilkenny), Killiney (Tubberboe), and Brandon Hill. He established churches at Inchiquin, County Galway and at Inishglora, County Mayo. He died c. 577 at Annaghdown, while visiting his sister Briga. Fearing that after his death his devotees might try to make off with his remains, Brendan had arranged before dying to have his body carried back to Clonfert secretly, concealed in a luggage cart bound for the monastery. He was buried in Clonfert cathedral.
St. Brendan's activities as a churchman, however, were developed in Western Ireland, where his most important foundations are found, i.e. Ardfert (Co. Kerry), Inishdadroum (Co. Clare), Annaghdown (Co. Galway), and Clonfert (Co. Galway). His name is perpetuated in numerous place names and landmarks along the Irish coast (e.g. Brandon Hill, Brandon Point, Mount Brendan, Brandon Well, Brandon Bay, Brandon Head).
Saint Brendan's most celebrated foundation was Clonfert Cathedral, in the year 563, over which he appointed St. Moinenn as Prior and Head Master. St Brendan was interred in Clonfert.
The group of ecclesiastical remains at Ardfert is one of the most interesting and instructive now existing in Ireland. The ruins of the ancient Cathedral of St. Brendan, and of its annexed chantries and detached chapels, form a very complete reliquary of Irish ecclesiastical architecture, in its various orders and ages, from the plain but solid Danhliag of the seventh or eighth century to some late and most ornate examples of medieval Gothic. The cathedral, as it now stands, or rather as it stood before it was finally dismantled in A.D. 1641.
Article published in English on: 2-9-2009.
Last update: 2-9-2009.