Brendan the Navigator was the proposed title for the following piece, differing from the one given to it here in the text, within which the following was contained: A Brief Note on the Voyages of Saint Brendan the Navigator, Irish Monk, Seaman and Saint, as a Preface to a Minor Salute to Saint Patrick, and without any Pretenses to the Traditions of Hagiogrpahy in the West, and Since the Middle Ages . . . or so I had been informed, itself a formation of what I see, that is, understand, that is, stand under, hold up,. feel the weight upon me, as we do say when we do in the like way.
What then would it mean too say I have herein presented the text as it was written, verbatim, without alteration, emendation, revision, what else have we in words to say what it is we do when we do not present what we have acquired by way of text . . . a man considers the life of Saint Brendan as he has considered the lives of other saints, has considered the lives of the saints in way that has afforded him a great many opportunities to examine one or another text concerning this or that saint . . . now how many? would be the question, to examine or not to examine the genre of history, or of the kind biography popular in the middle ages, from when to when, hagiography . . . the lives, the actions, particularly the miracles of the saint in his lifetime . . . and particularly in the middle ages; yes, the hagiographies become invaluable records of local customs and traditions, the institution of the church as well as the local operations of the church, and present evidence of the cults of the saints at their inception and their development, as well as other cultic activities . . . sometimes an enormous store of ethnography is in them.
Compared with many of the quarters of Europe in the fourth and fifth centuries of the first millennium of the Christian Era, Ireland was a land of High Culture (as we used to say) . . . they were thus and nevertheless converted to Christianity by Patrick among others.
Of all the various forms of Christian life that could be adopted by anyone seeking to follow the New Testament way of living, monasticism seemed to flourish on the Emerald Isle, and one form of ascetic monasticism that seemed peculiar to Ireland was a lone Christian brother taking to the sea in a small frail boat; others found refuge from the world that beset a man with temptations in rock caves high in an outcropping of anchored crags on an island or peninsula, for which the coast of Ireland had, as it still does have, in plenty. But of the voyages of the Saints, those Irish monks, the Christian Irish Holy Men who took to the sea in small boats, sometimes of their own making, Brendan’s is the most cherished, although Brendan did not sail alone.
His story was most cherished by those who lived nearly in his own contemporaneity, but through the ensuing centuries as well. Of the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis (from the ninth century), there must have been in excess of a hundred, more like a hundred and twenty different texts, commanding a story as popular as those of Roland or Arthur later. However, of Saint Brendan the Navigator’s voyages, we today are sorely ignorant . . . yet the islands discovered in his voyage or voyages were part of the lore of sea-farers through the subsequent centuries after Brendan died sometime in the sixth century of the Christian Era, sometime around 577 or as late as 583.
His story remained steadfast in the consciousness of sailors through the great age of discovery we call the early modern period in the history of Europe. There were serious efforts made to locate Brendan’s islands well into the 18th century.
Today, March 17th, is a day we come together to remember a man of great faith and fortitude, someone who gives hope to anyone in need of driving out the snakes in his midst. The snakes of government, the snakes in our bureaus, the snakes in our schools, in our lives, anywhere anyone is beset by evil–and evil does exist. What is evil? It is simply put, the absence of good. I am not herein going to address the life ofPatrick, what is legendary, what is fact, what is or is not his biography in the manner of confession, and how much attributed to Patrick is from the life, perhaps, of another bishop sent to Ireland by the Pope at around the same time.
Beside Saint Patrick and Saint Brigit of Kildare, Saint Brendan is the most renowned, chiefly for his voyage to the Island of the Blessed. I do not have to tell you if I think Brendan’s island is a phantom island. It appears on maps in the fifteenth and sixteenth century and reported sitings of the island were made periodically through the 18th century. From the nineteenth century onwards, sitings of Brendan’s island have been fewer and fewer.
Antonin had told me, standing on a rock at the narrows of the beach under the cliffs of Shadmoor on the way to Ditch Plains, how he had walked with Saint Francis and how Il Poverello had told him how he, the Saint of Assisi, had walked beside his own path, and how he, the saint who was a man among other men, was also an eternal absent from his own self, waking in an ancient town, after his souls had left him . . . notice he said the saint had said souls.