This translation of the Nauigatio sancti Brendani abbatis began with Denis O’Donoghue’s translation in Brendaniana: St Brendan the Voyager in Story and Legend (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1893). The book is fully digitized on Google Books, here. I have, however, lightly modernized the translation, so what you see on this page is a hybrid of O’Donoghue’s work and my own.
The Dean of Canterbury Cathedral reads the whole story aloud, in three videos posted on the Cathedral site, here.
St Brendan, son of Finnlug and great-grandson of Atla, of the race of Eogen, was born in the marshy region of Munster. He was a man of great abstinence and many virtues, and was the spiritual father of nearly three thousand monks.
One night, while he was engaged in his spiritual warfare at a place called Brendan’s Meadow of Miracles, a monk named Barinthus, of the race of King Niall, came to see him. When Brendan questioned him, Barinthus could only weep, and throw himself prostrate on the ground, and continue praying; but Brendan raising him up, embraced him, saying: “Father, why should we be grieved on the occasion of your visit? Have you not come to give us comfort? You ought, indeed, to cheer up the brethren, so in God’s name, make known to us the divine secrets, and refresh our souls by telling us about the wonders you have seen upon the great ocean.”
Then Barinthus, in reply, told them about a particular island: “My dear son Mernoc, the steward of Christ’s poor, had fled away from me to become a hermit, and found, near a rocky mountain, an island full of delights. After some time I learned that he had many monks with him there, and that God had worked many miracles through him. So I went to visit him, and reached the island after a three days’ journey. He and some of his brothers hastened out to meet me, for God had revealed to him that I was coming. As we sailed unto the island the brethren came forth from their cells towards us, like a swarm of bees. They lived apart from each other physically, but they were joined spiritually, well grounded in faith, hope, and charity. They had one dining hall and one church for all, where they sang the divine offices. No food was served but fruits and nuts, roots and vegetables of other kinds. The brethren, after compline, passed the night in their respective cells until the cock-crow, or the bell tolled for prayer. When my dear son and I had traversed the island, he led me to the western shore, where there was a small boat, and he then said: “Father, enter this boat, and we will sail on to the west, towards the island called the Land of Promise of the Saints, which God will grant to those who succeed us in the latter days.”
“When we entered the boat and set sail, clouds over-shadowed us on every side, so dense that we could barely see the prow or the stern of the boat. After an hour or so, a great light shone around us, and land appeared, spacious and grassy, and bearing all manner of fruits. And when the boat touched the shore; we landed, and walked round about the island for fifteen days, yet could not reach the other shore. All the plants were flowering plants, and all the trees, fruit trees; the stones under our feet were precious gems. On the fifteenth day we discovered a river flowing from the west towards the east. We wanted to cross over the river, but did not know which way we should go, and we waited for God to show us what He wanted us to do. While we were thinking about things, there appeared suddenly before us a man, shining with a great light, who, calling us by our names, addressed us thus: ‘Welcome, worthy brothers, for the Lord has revealed to you the land He will grant unto His saints. There is one-half of the island up to this river, which you are not permitted to pass over; return, therefore, the way you came’.”
“When he had ceased to speak, we asked him his name, and whence he had come. But he said: ‘Why do you ask these questions? Shouldn’t you ask about this island instead? It has been exactly like this, from the beginning of the world. Do you need food or drink or clothing? You have been here for a year already, and you haven’t needed food or drink. Have you been weighed down by sleep, or shrouded in the darkness of the night? No, because here it is always daylight, without a shadow of darkness, for the Lord Jesus Christ is our light. If men had not transgressed the commandment of God, they would have lived in this land of delights forever’.”
“Hearing this we were moved to tears, and having rested awhile, we set out on our return journey, the man accompanying us to the shore, where our boat was moored. When we boarded the boat, this man disappeared from sight, and we went on into the thick darkness we had passed through before, and so unto the Island of Delights. But when the brethren there saw us, they were overjoyed by our return. They had been mourning our absence, and they said: ‘Why, O fathers, did you leave us, your little flock, to stray without a shepherd in the wilderness?’ We knew, indeed, that our abbot frequently departed somewhere from us, and remained away sometimes a month, sometimes a fortnight, or a week more or less.”
“When I heard this I tried to console them, and said: ‘Brethren, please don’t think badly of us. You are living at the very gates of Paradise. Not far away from you lies the island, called the Land of Promise of the Saints, where night never falls and day never ends. Your abbot, Mernoc, often goes there, and the angels of God watch over it. Can’t you tell, by the fragrance clinging to our clothing, that we have been in Paradise?’ They replied: ‘Yes, father, we knew well that you had been in Paradise, because we have often found this scent on the garments of our abbot, which lingered about us for nearly forty days.’ I then told them that I had stayed with my dear son for two weeks, without food or drink; yet, so complete was our bodily refreshment, that we would seem to others to have been filled to repletion. When forty days had passed, having received the blessings of the abbot and the brethren, I left with my companions, in order to return to my little cell, which I will go to tomorrow.”
Having heard all this, Brendan and his brethren threw themselves on the ground, giving glory to God in these words: “Righteous Thou art, O Lord, in all Thy ways, and holy in all Thy works, who hast revealed to Thy children so many and so great wonders; and blessed be Thou for Thy gifts, who hast this day refreshed, us all with this spiritual repast.” When these prayers were finished, St Brendan said: “Now let us take some refreshment, and carry out the new commandment.” The next morning, St Barinthus received the blessing of the brothers, and returned to his own cell.
Brendan soon after chose fourteen monks from the community. He took them with him into an oratory, where he addressed them in this way: “Dearly beloved fellow-soldiers of mine, I request your advice and assistance, for my heart and mind are firmly set upon one desire. I have resolved in my heart, so long as it is God’s holy will, to seek out the Land of Promise of the Saints, which Father Barinthus described to us. What do you think? What is your advice?” They replied, with one voice: “Father abbot, your will is our will also. Have we not left our parents? Have we not set aside our family prospects? Have we not put ourselves completely into your hands? We are ready to go with you, to life or to death, seeking only to do the will of God.”
Brendan and the chosen brothers then decided to make a series of three-day fasts, over forty days, and then to set up. When the forty days had passed, St Brendan, affectionately taking leave of his monks, commended them to the special care of the Prior of his monastery (this prior was afterwards Brendan’s successor). He sailed towards the west, with fourteen brothers, to the island St Enda lived, and remained there three days and three nights.
Having received the blessing of this holy father and all his monks, Brendan then went to the remotest part of his own country, where his parents lived. He did not want to visit them, but instead, went up to the top of the mountain there, which extends far into the ocean, to the place called St Brendan’s Seat. He set up a tent there, near a narrow creek, where a boat could enter. Then Brendan and his companions, using iron tools, prepared a light vessel, with wicker sides and ribs, such as is usually made in that country, and covered it with cow-hide, tanned in oak bark, tarring its joints. They put provisions for forty days on board, along with enough fat to treat the hides covering the boat, and all the tools and utensils they needed.
He then ordered the monks to board the ship, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
But while he stood on the shore and blessed the harbour, three more monks from his monastery came up, and threw themselves at his feet, saying: “O dearest father, allow us, for the love of Christ, to go with you on your voyage. Otherwise, we will die hereof hunger and thirst, for we are determined to go with you all the days of our lives.” When the man of God saw their great urgency, he ordered them aboard, saying: “As you will, my sons;” but adding, “I know why you have come here. One of you has acted well, and God will reward him with an excellent place; but the other two can expect harm and judgment.”
Brendan then stepped onto the ship, and they set sail towards the summer solstice. They had a fair wind, and therefore no work to do, apart from keeping the sails properly set. After twelve days, however, the wind fell to a dead calm, and they had to work at the oars until their strength was nearly exhausted. Then Brendan would encourage and exhort them: “Fear not, brothers, for our God will be a helper, a mariner, and a pilot for us. Take in the oars and keep the sails set, so that God may guide us, His servants and His little ship, as He wills.” They ate every evening, and sometimes a wind sprang up, but they did not know whence it blew, nor where it was taking them.
At the end of forty days, when they had exhausted all their provisions, a very rocky and steep island appeared towards the north. When they drew near it, they saw its cliffs upright like a wall, and many streams of water rushing down into the sea from the summit of the island; but they could not find a landing place for the boat. The brothers were sorely distressed with hunger and thirst, and so they got some vessels in which to catch the water from the streams as it fell. But Brendan scolded them: “Brothers! do not a foolish thing; God has not yet decided to show us a landing place. However, after three days, the Lord Jesus Christ will show His servants a secure harbour and resting place, and there you may refresh your wearied bodies.”
When they had sailed round the island for three days, they saw, on the third day, around the ninth hour, a small cove, where the boat could enter. Brendan arose and blessed this landing place, where the rocks stood on every side, sheer and steep like a wall. When everyone had disembarked and stood on the beach, Brendan told them to remove nothing from the boat. Then a dog appeared, approaching from a side path, and came to fuss around the saint, just as dogs do when fawning on their masters. “Has not the Lord,” said Brendan, “sent us a goodly messenger; let us follow him.” The brothers followed the dog until they came to a large mansion, in which they found a spacious hall, laid out with couches and seats, and water for washing their feet. When they had taken some rest, Brendan warned them, “Beware lest Satan lead you into temptation, for I can see him urging one of the three monks, who followed after us from the monastery, to commit a wicked theft. Pray for his soul, for his flesh is in Satan’s power.”
The mansion’s walls were hung with vessels made of various metals, with bridle-bits and drinking horns inlaid with silver. Brendan ordered the monk in charge of the food to prepare supper. The table was laid with napkins, and with white loaves and fish for each brother. When all had been laid out, St Brendan blessed the meal and the brethren: “Let us give praise to the God of heaven, who provides food for all His creatures.” Then the brethren ate the meal, giving thanks to the Lord, and they drank as much as they pleased. When the meal was finished and the Divine Office had been sung, Brendan said: “Go to your rest now; here you see beds nicely made up for each of you. You need to rest your limbs, because you have been exhausted by your labours during our voyage.”
When the brethren had gone to sleep, Brendan saw the devil, in the guise of a little Ethiopian boy, at his work. He had a silver necklace, and was dangling it in front of one of the monks. Brendan then rose from his couch, and remained all night in prayer.
When morning came the brethren hurried to perform the divine offices, wishing to get back on their boat again. They found the table laid for their meal, just as on the previous day; and so for three days and nights, God provided food for His servants.
Afterwards Brendan set out on his journey with the brothers, first warning them not to take away any property from the island. “God forbid,” said they, “that any of us should mar our journey with theft.” And then Brendan said, “Look, the brother of whom I spoke yesterday has hidden a silver necklace in his bosom, which the devil gave him last night.” When the brother in question heard this he threw away the necklace, and fell at the feet of the saint, crying aloud: “O father, I am guilty: forgive me, and pray that my soul may not be lost.” All the brothers cast themselves on the ground, begging the Lord to save their brother’s soul. When they rose from the ground, and Brendan had raised up the guilty brother, they all saw a little Ethiopian boy leap out of his breast, howling loudly: “Why, O man of God, are you expelling me from my home, where I have lived for seven years? Why are you driving me away, as a stranger, from my inheritance?” Then St Brendan said: “I command you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you injure no man until the day of judgment,” and turning to the penitent brother, he told him to prepare without delay to receive the body and blood of the Lord, because his soul would soon depart from his body, and he would be buried in this place. Brendan also said that the other brother, who accompanied the first one from the monastery, would be buried in hell. The brother received Communion and departed this life, and his soul was taken up to heaven by angels of light, as his brothers watched. They gave him Christian burial in that place.
Brendan and his brothers came to the shore where the boat was moored, and embarked at once. At that moment, a young man presented himself to them, carrying a basket full of loaves of bread and a large bottle of water, and said, “Accept this blessing from your servant, for you will have a long journey before you find what you seek; but this bread and water will not fail you from this day until Pentecost.” With this blessing they sailed out onto the open ocean, eating only every second day, while the boat was carried along in many different directions.
One day they came within view of an island, not far off, towards which they sailed with a favourable wind. When the boat touched a landing place, the man of God ordered everyone to disembark. He was the last to leave the boat. In making a circuit of the island, they saw great streams of water flowing from many fountains, full of all kinds of fish. Brendan said to the monks, “Let us perform the divine office here, and offer to God the spotless Lamb, because today is Maundy Thursday.” They remained there until Easter Saturday.
In the island they found many flocks of sheep, all pure white, so many that they blotted out the ground from view. Then the saint told the brothers to take from the flocks what was needed for the festival. They caught one sheep, which, being tied by the horns, followed at their heels, as if it were tame. He also told them to take one spotless lamb. When they had obeyed those orders, they prepared to celebrate the office of the next day; and there a man came to them with a basket of hearth-cakes and other provisions, which he laid at the feet of the man of God, prostrating himself three times, and saying, with tears: “Oh, precious pearl of God, how have I deserved this, that you should take food at this holy season from the labour of my hands.” Brendan, raising him up from the ground, said, “My Son, our Lord Jesus Christ has provided for us a suitable place where we may celebrate His holy resurrection.”
Afterwards the man began to wait on the servants of God, and to prepare what was needed for tomorrow’s festival. When the supply of provisions was taken into the boat, the man who brought them said to Brendan, “Your boat can carry no more now, but after eight days I will send you food and drink to last until Pentecost.” At that, the man of God said, “How can you know for certain where we will be after eight days ?” He replied, “This night you will spend on that island you see near you, and tomorrow also until noon; then you will sail on to the island not far from it towards the west, called the Paradise of Birds, and you will stay there until the octave of Pentecost.”
Brendan asked him why the sheep were so very large on that island, larger even than oxen; and he told him that they were so much huger there than in the lands known to Brendan because they were never milked, and did not feel the stress of winter, because there was abundant pasture all year round.
They then went on board their vessel, and having given and received parting blessings, they proceeded on their voyage.
When they drew close to the nearest island, the boat stopped before they reached a landing place, and the saint ordered the brothers to get out into the sea, and make the vessel fast, stem and stern, until they came to some harbour. There was no grass on the island, very little wood, and no sand on the shore. While the brothers spent the night in prayer outside the boat, the saint remained in it, because he knew what kind of island this was, but he did not want to tell the monks, in order not to frighten them.
When morning dawned, he told the priests to celebrate Mass, and after they had done so, and he himself had said Mass in the boat, the brothers took out some uncooked meat and fish they had brought from the other island, and put a cauldron on a fire to cook them, After they had placed more fuel on the fire, and the cauldron began to boil, the island began to heave about like a wave. They all rushed towards the boat, and implored the protection of their abbot, who, taking each one by the hand, pulled them all into the boat. Then, leaving behind the things they had taken to the island, they cast their boat loose, and the island at once sank into the ocean.
They could see the fire they had lit on the island still burning more than two miles off, and then Brendan explained what had happened. “Brothers, you wonder at what has happened to this island?” “Yes, father,” said they: “we wondered, and were seized with a great fear.” “Fear not, my children,” said the saint, “for God has last night revealed to me the mystery of all this. It was not an island you were on, but a fish, the largest of all that swim in the ocean. Its name is Iasconius.”
When they had sailed beside the island, where they had already been once before, for three days, and reached the end of it, they saw towards the west another island, not far off, across a narrow sound. This island was very grassy, well-wooded, and full of flowers; and they sailed towards its landing place. When they had sailed to the southern side of this island they found a rivulet flowing into the sea, and there they brought the boat to land. The saint ordered them to leave the boat, and to use ropes to tow it upstream. And so they towed it for a mile up to the source of the rivulet, the saint sitting on board the whole time.
After some consideration, Brendan said to them: “Behold, my brothers, God has provided a suitable place for us to stay during the Easter season. If we had no other provisions, this fountain would, I believe, serve for food as well as drink.” The fountain was, in truth, a very wonderful one. Over it hung a large tree of marvellous width, but no great height, covered over with snow-white birds, so that they hid its boughs and leaves entirely. When the man of God saw this, he wondered why this immense number of birds had been brought together; and the question bothered him so much that, in tears, he prayed to God on his bended knees, saying, “O God, who knows what is unknown, and reveals what is hidden, you see the anxious distress of my heart; therefore I beseech you that you, in your great mercy, would reveal to me the secret in what I see here before me. I ask, not out of any sense of my own worthiness, but only because of your clemency.”
At that, one of the birds flew off the tree, his wings making a tinkling sound like little bells, and flew over to the boat where the man of God was seated. Perching on the prow, the bird spread out its wings as a sign of joy, and looked placidly towards Brendan. Then the man of God, realizing that his prayer had been granted, spoke to the bird. “If you are a messenger from God, tell me where have those birds come from, and why are they gathered here?” The bird at once answered: “We are fallen angels, sharing in the great ruin of the ancient enemy, having sinned in approving the sin of Lucifer. Soon after our creation, the fall of Lucifer and his followers resulted in our ruin too. Almighty God, who is righteous and true, has doomed us to stay in this place. Here we suffer no pain, and we can partially see the divine presence, but we must remain apart from the spirits who were faithful. We wander about the world, in the air, and earth, and sky, like the other spirits on their missions; but on festival days we take the shapes you see, spend time here, and sing the praises of our Creator. You and your brothers have been on your voyage for a year now, and six more years’ journeying awaits you. Where you celebrated your Easter this year, there will you celebrate it every year, until you find what you have set your hearts upon, the Land of Promise of the Saints.” When it had spoken in this way, the bird arose from the prow of the vessel, and flew back to the other birds.
As the hour of vespers approached, all the birds, in unison, clapping their wings, began to sing a hymn, “You, O Lord, are praised in Sion, and a vow shall be paid to you in Jerusalem”; and they alternately chanted the same psalm for an hour. The melody of their warbling and the accompanying clapping of their wings, sounded like a delightful harmony of great sweetness.
Then Brendan said to the monks: “Take bodily refreshment now, for the Lord has nourished your souls with the joys of his divine resurrection.” When supper was ended, and the divine office had been sung, the man of God and his companions retired to rest until the third hour of the night, when he woke them all from sleep, chanting the verse: “You, O Lord, will open my lips.” All the birds, with voice and wing, warbled in response, “Praise the Lord, all his angels, praise him all his virtues.” They sang like this for an hour, and when morning dawned, they chanted, “May the splendour of the Lord God be upon us,” in the same melody and measures as before. Again, at terce, they sang, “Sing to our God, sing; sing to our king, sing wisely;” at sext, “The Lord has caused the light of his countenance to shine upon us, and may his have mercy on us;” and at none they sang, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity.” In this way, day and night those birds gave praise to God. Brendan, seeing all this, thanked the Lord for all his wonderful works, and the brothers were thus regaled with such spiritual refreshment through the eight days of the Easter festival.
When the feast days had come to a close, Brendan said, “Up until now, we have used the water of this fountain only to wash our hands and feet. Now we should use it for drinking as well.” No sooner had he said this, than the man with whom they had been three days before Easter, who had supplied them with provisions for the Easter season, came to them with his boat full of food and drink. He laid everything before the holy father, and said, “My brothers, you have enough here to last until Pentecost. Do not drink from that fountain. Although it seems to have the taste and quality of ordinary water, anyone drinking that water falls asleep instantly, and cannot awaken for twenty-four hours.”
After this, having received the blessing of Brendan, he returned to his own place.
Brendan remained where he was with his brothers until Pentecost, the singing of the birds being a constant delight to them. On the feast of Pentecost, when Brendan and the priests had celebrated Mass, their steward brought enough food for the festival, and when they had sat down together at their meal, he said to them, “My brothers, you still have a long journey before you. Take vessels full of water from this fountain, and dry bread that may keep for another year, and I will supply as much as your boat can carry.” He then left with a blessing from all, and Brendan, eight days later, got the boat laden with the provisions brought by this man, and all the vessels filled with water from the fountain.
When they had brought everything down to the shore, the bird that had spoken to Brendan before flew towards them, and alighted on the prow of the boat. The saint, understanding that it wanted to tell him something, stood still where he was. Then the bird, in a human voice, spoke to him: “You have celebrated the Easter season with us this year; you will celebrate it with us also next year. And you will celebrate Maundy Thursday in the same place as you did this year. Similarly, you will celebrate Easter Eve as you did before, on the back of the great fish Iasconius. After eight months, you will find the island of St Ailbe, where you will celebrate Christmas.” Having spoken thus, the bird returned to its place on the tree. The monks got the boat ready, and set sail into the ocean, while all the birds sang together, “Hear us, O God our saviour, the hope of all the ends of the earth, and of those that remain in the broad sea.”
After this Brendan and his brothers were tossed about to and fro on the waves of the ocean for three months, during which they could see nothing but sea and sky. They ate only every second day. One day, however, an island came into view, not far off; but when they drew near the shore the wind drove them aside, and thus for four days they sailed round about the island without finding a landing place. The monks begged the Lord, with tears, to help them, because their strength was almost exhausted , thanks to their great fatigue. When they had persisted in frequent prayer for three days, and in fasting as well, at last they found a narrow creek just big enough to receive one boat, and beside it two fountains, one clear and the other muddy. The monks hastened to take some of the water, but the man of God said to them, “My sons, do nothing that may be unlawful. Take nothing here without the leave of the elders who are on this island. They will give us freely give what you are trying to take by stealth.”
When they had all landed and were trying to decide what direction to take, an old man came to them, wasted from extreme old age, whose hair was white as snow and his face clear like glass. He prostrated himself three times, before he went to embrace the man of God, who, lifting him up from the ground, embraced him, as did all the monks. Then this old man, taking the holy father by the hand, led him to the monastery, about a furlong away. Brendan stood at the entrance and asked his guide whose monastery this was, and who was its superior. He put to him various questions in this way, but could get no reply, only manual signs, indicating silence with much gentleness. As soon as the holy father recognized that silence was the rule of the place, he cautioned his brothers: “Restrain your tongues from much talking, so as not to scandalize the monks here with your foolish speeches.”
After this, eleven monks came out to meet them, in their habits and crosses, chanting the versicle: “Arise, you holy ones from your dwellings, and come forth to meet us; sanctify this place; bless this people, and guard us, your servants, in peace.” When the verse ended, the abbot embraced Brendan and his companions in turn, and his monks embraced the brethren of the holy man. When the kiss of peace was thus mutually given and received, they conducted them into the monastery, according to the custom in western countries; and the abbot and his monks proceeded to wash the feet of their guests, and to chant the new commandment.
Then he led them all into the dining hall, in strict silence; and when they had washed their hands he gave them a signal to take their seats. One of the monks, in response to a signal, stood up and supplied the table with loaves of bread of marvellous whiteness, and root vegetables of delicious flavour. The monks had taken places at table alternately with their guests, in due order, and between each pair a whole loaf was served, when the ministering brother set before them also some drink. The abbot very cheerfully urged his guests, saying “Brothers, from the fountain, out of which today you wished to drink stealthily, make now a loving cup in gladness and in the fear of the Lord. From the other fountain of foul water, which you saw, are the feet of the brethren washed, for it is always tepid. We do not know where those loaves of bread which you see before you are prepared, nor do we know who brings them to our cellar. We do know that they are given to us as a gift by God, brought to us by some obedient creature of his. In this way the words of divine truth are fulfilled: ‘Those who fear God want for nothing.’ Here we are twenty-four brothers, having each day twelve loaves for our support, one loaf for two brothers. On Sundays and great festivals the Lord allows us a full loaf for each brother, so that of what remains we may have a supper. Now, on your arrival, we have a double supply. Christ has been feeding us like this for eighty years now, from the days of St Patrick and St Ailbe, our patriarchs. What is more, neither old age nor bodily infirmities bother us here. We don’t need cooked food. We are not oppressed with heat, or distressed with cold; but we live here, as it were, in the paradise of God. When the hours for the divine office and for Mass arrive, the lamps in our church, which, under God’s guidance, we brought with us from our own country, are set alight, and burn always without growing less.”
When the meal was over, and they had drunk three times, the abbot gave the usual signal, and all the brothers, in great silence, rose from table, giving thanks to God, and preceded the fathers to the church, at the door of which they met twelve other monks, who bent the knee as they passed. Then Brendan said, “Father abbot, why have not those monks dined with us?” “For your sakes,” said the abbot, “as our table could not seat us all together. They will now take their meal, for through God’s holy will they shall want for nothing. We will now enter the church and sing vespers, so that the brothers who are now dining, may sing the office afterwards in proper time.” When vespers had concluded, Brendan tnoticed the structure of the church. It was a perfect square of equal length and breadth, and in it were seven lamps, so arranged that three of them hung before the central altar, and two before each of the side altars. All the altars were crystal, and the chalices, patens, cruets, and the other vessels used in the divine service were also crystal. There were twenty-four benches around the church, with the abbot’s seat between the two choirs of monks in rows on either side. No monk from either choir was allowed to intone the chant of the office, except the abbot; and throughout the monastery no voice was heard, nor any sound whatever; but if a brother needed anything, he went to the abbot, and on his knees made signs that he wanted something, and then the father wrote on a tablet what God revealed that the brother needed.
Brendan thought about all these things for a while, and then said to the abbot: “Father, it is now time to return to the refectory, so that we can eat in the daylight. For it is written: ‘He who walks in the light, stumbles not’.” So it was done, and when all things were completed in due order of the daily routine, all hurried eagerly to compline. Then the abbot intoned the versicle: “O Lord, make hast to help us,” invoking at the same time the Most Holy Trinity. The monks sang the antiphon: “We have sinned; we have acted unrighteously; we have worked iniquity; you, O Lord Christ, who are all mercy, have pity on us. I will sleep and take my rest.”
They proceed to chant the office of compline.
When the office had concluded, the brethren went to their cells, taking their guests with them; but the abbot remained with Brendan, in the church, to await the lighting of the lamps. The saint asked the father about about the rule of silence they observed; how such a mode of intercourse in a community was possible to flesh and blood. The abbot, with much reverence and humility, replied: “Holy father, I declare before the Lord, that during the eighty years that have passed since we came to this island, none of us has heard from the other the sound of the human voice, save only when we sing the praises of God. Amongst us twenty-four brothers, no voice is raised; but signs are made by the fingers or the eyes; and this is permitted only to the elder monks. None of us, since we came here, have suffered any infirmity of body or mind, such as may be fatal to mankind.” In response to this Brendan said ,with many tears, “I beg you, father abbot, let us know whether we are permitted to stay here.” The abbot answered, “You are not permitted, for such is not the will of God; but why do you ask me, when God had revealed to you, before you came to us, what you must do? You must return to your own country, where God has prepared for you, as well as for your fourteen companions, your burial place. Of the other two monks, one will journey to the Island of the Anchorites; but the other will suffer the worst of all deaths, in hell.” And these events did indeed come to pass.
While they were speaking, behold, as they watched, a flaming arrow passed in through a window, lit all the lamps that hung before the altars, and, going out through the same window, left the lamps burning. Then Brendan asked who would extinguish those lamps in the morning, and the abbot replied, “Come, and see the secret of all this. You see those candles burning in the vases? None of them is consumed, and they never burn lower, and there are never any ashes in the morning, because the light is spiritual.” “How,” said Brendan, “can a spiritual flame burn in a material substance?” “Have you not read,” said the abbot, “of the burning bush, near Mount Sinai, which remained unconsumed by the burning?” “Yes,” said the saint, “I have read of this; but what analogy has it to this case?”
When they had remained on watch until morning, Brendan asked permission to depart from the island, but the abbot replied, “No, O man of God, you must celebrate Christmas with us, and give us the joy of your company until the Octave of Epiphany.” The holy father, therefore, with his brethren, remained until that time on this Island of St Ailbe.
When those festival days had passed, Brendan, with the blessing of the abbot and all his monks, and with a supply of the necessary provisions, set sail into the ocean. There the boat, without the use of oar or sail, drifted about in various directions, until the beginning of Lent. One day they saw an island not far off, and quickly sailed towards it, for they were tormented with hunger and thirst, their store of food and water having been exhausted three days before. When Brendan had blessed the landing place, and all had landed, they found a spring of clear water, and herbs and vegetables of many kinds around it, and many sorts of fish in the stream that flowed from it to the sea. Then Brendan said, “Brothers, God has surely given us comfort, after our wearisome labours. Take enough of those fish for your meal, and dress them on the fire, and gather those herbs and roots which God has provided.”
When this was done, they poured out some of the water to drink; but the man of God warned them “Be careful, brothers, to use this water in moderation.” But some of the monks did not pay attention to the warning, because while some drank only one cup of the water, others drank two cups, and others again drank three of them. Some of them fell into a sudden stupor, which lasted for three days and three nights. Others slept only for one day and night. Brendan prayed without ceasing to God for all of them, as they had incurred this great danger through ignorance.
When three days had passed, the father said to his companions, “Let us, my children, hasten away from this fatal place, so that greater evil will not befall you. The Lord had given you refreshment, but you have turned it to your harm. Go away from this island, taking with you as much fish as you may want for a meal on every third day, until Maundy Thursday. Take also one cup of this water for each man, and a suitable supply of the vegetables.” Having loaded the boat with those provisions, as the man of God directed, they set sail into the ocean in a northerly course.
After three days and nights the wind stopped, and the sea became like a thick curdled mass, so great was the calm. Then the holy father said, “Take in your oars, and cast loose the sails, for the Lord will guide our boat wherever he wills.” In this way the boat was kept in motion for about twenty days, until eventually God sent a favourable wind. They hoisted their sails and rowed as well, heading east and eating every three days.
One day an island came into view, like a cloud, at a distance. Brendan asked the brothers whether they recognised it. When they said they did not, the holy father said to them, “I know it well, my sons, for we were on it last year, on Maundy Thursday, and that is where our good steward lives.” Hearing this the monks, in great joy, plied their oars vigorously, using all their strength; but the man of God said to them, “You’re foolish to tire out your limbs this way. Is not the Almighty God the pilot of our vessel? Leave her, therefore, in his hands, for he will guide her course as he wills.”
When they drew near to the island, their steward came out to meet them; and, giving glory to God, led them to the same landing place where they had landed the year before, where he embraced the feet of Brendan and all the brothers, saying, “Wonderful is God in His saints.” Having finished the versicle, and once everything had been removed from the boat, he set up a tent, and prepared a bath for them, for it was Maundy Thursday. He gave new clothing to all the brethren, as well as to Brendan, performing all other services to them as he usually did. The brothers then celebrated with great diligence the festival of the Passion of our Lord, until Holy Saturday. When all the offices and ceremonies of the day had ended, the steward said to them, “Go now to your boat, in order that you may celebrate the vigil of Easter, where you celebrated it last year. Stay until the sixth hour, and then sail on to the Paradise of Birds, where you stayed last year from Easter until the octave of Pentecost. Take whatever food and drink you need, and I will visit you on next Sunday week.” And the brethren acted accordingly. Brendan, giving his blessing to this good brother, embarked with all his monks, and set sail to another island.
When they drew near to the landing place they found the cauldron, which in their flight the year before they had left on the back of Iasconius. Then Brendan, going on land, sand the “Hymn of the Three Children” all the way through, and warned the monks: “Watch and pray, my sons, that you do not enter into temptation. Consider well, how Almighty God has placed under us, without difficulty, this greatest monster of the deep.” The brothers made their vigils here and there over the island, until the morning watch, when all the priests said their masses until the hour of terce; but Brendan, getting into the boat, with the monks, there offered to God the holy sacrifice of the Immaculate Lamb, saying: “Last year we celebrated here our Lord’s resurrection; and I wish, if it be God’s holy will, to celebrate it here also this year.”
Then they journeyed on, and came to the island called the Paradise of Birds. When they reached the landing place, all the birds sang together “Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb;” and, again, “The Lord is God, and he has shone upon us; appoint a solemn day, with shady boughs, even to the horn of the altar.” So with voice and wing they warbled, until Brendan and his companions were settled in their tents, where they passed the Paschal time, until the octave of Pentecost. The steward came to them, as he had promised, on the first Sunday after Easter, bringing what was needed for their sustenance; and in mutual joy all gave thanks to God.
When they were seated at their meal, behold! the bird who had spoken to them before, perched on the prow of the boat, spreading out and clapping its wings with a loud sound, like a great organ, and Brendan knew that it wanted to give him this message: “The Almighty and merciful God has mapped out four places for you, for each of the four different seasons of the year, where you will still until your pilgrimage is over. You will spend every Maundy Thursday with your steward; the Easter vigil you will celebrate on the back of the great whale; you will spend the Easter season, until the octave of Pentecost, here with us; and you will spend Christmas on the island of St Ailbe, until the festival of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After those seven years, through many dangers, you will find the Land of Promise of the Saints which you are seeking, and there you will stay for forty days. Then will God guide you back to the land of your birth.”
When Brendan had heard this, he, with many tears, cast himself prostrate, as did the monks, giving thanks and praises to the great Creator of all things. The bird then flew back to its place on the tree, and when the meal was over, the steward said: “I will, with God’s help, come to you again on Pentecost Sunday with provisions.” And with a blessing from all, he took his departure.
The venerable father remained here for the appointed time, and then ordered the brothers to get the boat ready, and to fill all the water vessels from the fountain. When the boat was launched, the steward met them in his boat laden with provisions, which he quickly transferred into the boat of the man of God; and, with a parting embrace, returned whence he had come.
The saint sailed forth into the ocean, and the boat was carried along for forty days. One day an enormous fish appeared, swimming after the boat, spouting foam from its nostrils, and ploughing through the waves in rapid pursuit to devour them. Then the monks cried out to the Lord, “O Lord, who made us, deliver us, your servants.” To Brendan they cried out, “Help, O father, help us,” and the saint prayed to the Lord to deliver his servants, so that this monster might not devour them. He also tried to give courage to the brothers in these words: “Fear not, you of little faith, for God, who is always our protector, will deliver us from the jaws of this monster, and from every other danger.”
When the monster was drawing near, huge waves rushed on before it, right up to the gunwale of the boat, which caused the monks to fear more and more, but Brendan, with hands upraised to heaven, earnestly prayed, “Deliver, O Lord, your servants, as you delivered David from the hands of the giant Goliath, and Jonas from the power of the great whale.”
When these prayers were uttered, a great monster came into view from the west, and rushing against the other, spouting flame from its mouth, at once attacked it. Then Brendan said, “Behold, my sons, the wonderful work of our Saviour; see here the obedience of the creature to its Creator. Await now the end in safety, for this conflict will bring no evil to us, but only greater glory to God.”
Thereupon the rueful wretched monster that had pursued the servants of God was killed, and cut up in their presence into three parts, and the other, victorious monster returned whence it came. Next day they saw at a distance a wide island, full of trees. When they drew near it, and were about to land, they found the rear quarters of the monster that had been slain. “Look,” said Brendan, “at the beast that wanted to eat you. You can now eat it, instead: fill yourselves abundantly with its flesh, for you will have a long stay upon this island. Draw the boat higher up on the land, and seek out a suitable place for our tent.” When the father had selected a site for their tent, and the brothers had, in compliance with his directions, set it up and stored their gear, Brendan said to them: “Take now enough of this monster’s flesh to last for three months, because tonight its carcass will be eaten by the great fishes of the sea.”
The brothers did as he said, and took as much of the meat as was needed. but they said to Brendan: “Holy father, how can we live here without water to drink?” “Is it more difficult,” said the saint, “for the Almighty to give us water than to give us food? Go to the southern side of the island, and there you will find a spring of clear, sparkling water, along with an abundance of herbs and roots, from which you will take a supply sufficient for your wants.” And they found everything as the man of God had told them.
Brendan remained on this island for three months, because there were violent storms at sea and terrible weather, including hail and rain. The brothers went to see what had become of the remains of the great monster, of which the saint had spoken; and they found, where its carcass had been, only its bones, as the father had told them. When they mentioned this to him, he said, “If you needed to test the truth of my words, I will give you another sign. Tonight a large part of a fish, breaking loose from a fisher’s net, will be cast ashore here, and tomorrow it will be a meal for you.” The next day they went to the place indicated, and finding there what the man of God had foretold, brought away as much fish as they could carry. The venerable father then said to them: “Keep this carefully, and salt it, for it will be much needed, as the Lord will grant calm weather today and tomorrow. On the third day, when the turbulence of the sea and the waves have subsided, we will leave this island.”
When those days had passed, Brendan ordered them to load their boat with the skins and water vessels filled from the fountain, and with a supply of herbs and roots also. The saint, from the time he had been ordained a priest, ate nothing which had held the breath of life. Having thus loaded the boat, they set sail to the north.
One day they saw an island afar off, when St Brendan said to his brothers: “On that island you can see, there are three classes of people: boys, young men, and elders. One of our brothers will make his pilgrimage there.” The brothers asked him which of them it was, but he did not want to say. When they pressed him, and seemed sad at not being told, he said, pointing, “This is the brother who is to remain on this island.” He was one of the three monks who had come after the saint from his own monastery, about whom he had made a prediction when they set out from their own country. They then drew near to the island, until the boat touched the shore.
The island was remarkably flat, almost level with the sea, without a tree or anything that waved in the wind; but it was wide, and covered over with white and purple flowers. Here, as the man of God had said, were three troops of monks, standing apart, about a stone’s throw from each other, and keeping at this distance apart when they moved in any direction. One choir chanted “The saints shall advance from virtue to virtue; God shall be manifest in Sion”; and then another choir took up the same chant; and thus they chanted unceasingly. The first choir was of boys, robed in snow-white garments; the second was of young men, dressed in violet; and the third of the elder men, in purple dalmatics.
When the boat reached the landing place it was the fourth hour; and at the hour of sext, all the choirs of monks sung together the Psalm “May God have mercy on us, and bless us, to the end”; and “Incline unto my aid, O Lord”; and also the psalm, “I have believed, therefore have I spoken, with the proper prayer.” At none they chanted three other psalms: “Out of the depths I have cried to you, O Lord”; “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”; and “Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise you God, O Sion.” Again, at Vespers, they sang the psalms “A hymn, O Lord, becomes you in Sion”; “Bless the Lord, O my soul”; and “Praise the Lord, you children; praise the name of the Lord.” And then they chanted, when seated, the fifteen gradual psalms.
After they had finished this chanting, a cloud of marvellous brightness overshadowed the island, so that they could not see what had been visible before. But they heard the voices singing without ceasing, in the same chant until the morning. They sange the psalms: “Praise the Lord from the heavens”; “Sing unto the Lord”; and “Praise the Lord in his saints”; and then twelve psalms in order, as far as the psalm “The fool says in his heart.” At dawn, this cloud passed away from the island, and then the choirs chanted the three psalms: “Have mercy on me, O Lord”; “The Lord is my refuge”; and, “O God, my God.” Again, at the hour of terce, they sang three other psalms: “Oh, clap your hands, all you nations”; “Save me, O God, by your name”; and, “I have loved, because the Lord will hear the voice of my prayer,” with the Alleluia. Then they offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Immaculate Lamb, and all received the Holy Communion with the words: “This Sacred Body of the Lord and the Blood of our Saviour receive unto life everlasting.”
When the mass had ended, two members of the choir of the young men brought a basket full of purple grapes, and placed it in the boat of the man of God, saying: “Partake of the fruit of the isle of the Strong Men. Give us our chosen brother, then depart in peace.” Brendan then called this brother to him, and said, “Give the kiss of peace to your brothers, and go with those who are inviting you. Your mother conceived you in a happy hour, because you have been found worthy of living with so holy a community.” Brendan then, with many tears, gave him the kiss of peace, as did also the brothers, and said to him: “Remember, my dear son, the special favours which God has given you in this life. Go your way, and pray for us.” Bidding them all farewell, the brother quickly followed the two young men to the companies of the saints, who, on seeing him, sang the verse, “Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”; and in a higher key intoned the Te Deum laudamus (“We praise Thee, O God”); and then, when all had embraced him, he was admitted into their society.
Brendan set sail from the island, and when meal time had come, he told the monks to refresh themselves with the grapes they got on the island. Taking up one of them, and. seeing its great size, and how full of juice it was, he said, in wonder: “Never have I seen or read of grapes so large.” They were all of equal size, like a large ball, and when the juice of one was pressed into a vessel, it yielded a pound weight. This juice the father divided into twelve parts, giving a part every day to each of the brothers, and so for twelve days, one grape was enough to sustain each brother, in whose mouth it always tasted like honey.
When those days had passed, Brendan ordered a fast for three days, after which a magnificent bird flew towards the boat, bearing in its beak a branch of an unknown tree, on which there was a cluster of very red grapes. It dropped the branch near the man of God, and flew away. Then Brendan said to the monks, “Enjoy this feast the Lord has sent us;” and the grapes being as large as apples, he gave some to each of them; and thus they had food enough for four days, after which they resumed their previous fasting.
Three days later, they saw near at hand an island covered all over with trees, thickly set, and laden with such grapes as those, in surprising abundance, so that all the branches were weighed down to the ground, with fruit of the same quality and colour. No tree was without fruit, and there was no tree of a different kind in the whole island. The brothers then drew up to the landing place, and Brendan, leaving the boat, walked about the island, where the fragrance was like that of a house stored with pomegranates. The brothers remained in the boat waiting for him to return, and the wind laden with those odours blew towards them, and so refreshed them with its fragrance, that they were not bothered by their long fast. The venerable father found six fountains on the island, watering the greenest plants and vegetables of many kinds. He then returned to the brothers, bringing with him some samples, as first fruits of the island. He said to them, “Leave the boat now, and put up your tent here; be of good cheer, and enjoy the excellent fruits of this land which God has shown to us.” And so for forty days they fasted on the grapes, and herbs, and vegetables watered by those fountains. After that period, they embarked again, taking with them some of the fruits of the island, and sailed along as the winds shaped their course.
Suddenly there appeared, flying towards them, the bird called Gryphon. When the monks saw it, they cried out to the holy father: “Help us, O father, for this monster comes to devour us.” But the man of God told them to fear it not, for God was their helper. And then another great bird came into view, and in rapid flight flew against the Gryphon, engaging it in a combat. At first it seemed uncertain who would win, but at last, tearing out its eyes, the bird vanquished and slew the Gryphon, and the carcass fell into the sea, in the sight of all the monks. They gave thanks and praise to God and the bird which gained the victory flew back whence it had come.
They went to the island of St Ailbe to celebrate Christmas, and afterwards, taking leave of the abbot, with mutual blessings, they sailed around on the ocean for a long time, resting only at Easter and Christmas on the islands already mentioned.
One day, when Brendan was celebrating the festival of St Peter in the boat, they found the sea so clear that they could plainly see what was at the bottom. They saw various monsters of the deep below them, and the water was so clear that it seemed as if they could touch with their hands its greatest depths. The fishes were visible in great shoals, like flocks of sheep in the pastures, swimming around, heads to tails. The monks entreated the man of God to say Mass in a low voice, in case those monsters of the deep, hearing a strange voice, might be irritated and attack them, but the saint said, “I am amazed at your foolishness. Why are you afraid of those monsters? Is not the largest of them all already devoured? Have you not sat down on the back of one of these monsters, and chanted Psalms, and chopped wood, and set a fire, and cooked food? Why, therefore, should you fear those monsters? Our God is the Lord Jesus, Christ, who can tame all living things.”
Having said these things, Brendan proceeded to sing the Mass in a louder voice, as the monks were still gazing at the large fishes; and these, when they heard the voice of the man of God, rose up from the depths, and swam around the boat in such numbers, that the monks could see nothing but the swimming fishes. But these did not come close to the boat, but instead swam around at some distance, until the Mass was ended, and then they swam away from them in many directions, out of the view of the monks. For eight days, even with a favourable wind, and all sails set, they were scarcely able to pass out of this pellucid sea.
One day, on which three Masses had been said, they saw a column in the sea, which seemed not far off, yet they could not reach it for three days. When they drew near it Brendan looked towards its summit, but could not see it, because of its great height, which seemed to pierce the skies. It was covered over with a rare canopy of an unknown material; but it had the colour of silver and was hard as marble, while the column itself was of the clearest crystal.
Brendan ordered the brothers to take in their oars, and to lower the sails and mast, and told some of them to hold onto the fringes of the canopy, which extended about a mile from the column, and about the same depth into the sea. When this had been done, Brendan said: “Run the boat in now through that opening, so we may get a closer view of the wonderful works of God.” And when they had passed through the opening, and looked around them, the sea seemed to be transparent like glass, so that they could plainly see everything beneath them, even the base of the column, and the skirts of the canopy lying on the ground, for the sun shone as brightly inside the canopy as on the open sea.
Brendan measured the four openings in the canopy, which he found to be four cubits on every side. When they had sailed along all day by one side of the column, they could always feel the shade as well as the heat of the sun, beyond the ninth hour; and after thus sailing about the column for four days, they found the measurement of each side to be four hundred cubits. On the fourth day, they discovered on the south side, a chalice of the same material as the canopy, and a paten like that of the column, which Brendan at once took up, saying, “The Lord Jesus Christ has displayed to us this great marvel, and has given to us two gifts, so that the truth of our travels will be believed. He then told the brethren to perform the divine office, and afterwards to take refreshment, for they had taken none since they came in sight of the column. Next day they rowed towards the north, and having passed out through an opening, they set up the mast, and unfurled the sails again, while some of them held on by the fringes, or skirts of the canopy, until all was right in the boat. When they had set sail, a favourable wind came on in the rear, so that they had no occasion to use the oars, but only to hold the ropes and the tiller. And thus for eight days were they borne along towards the north.
When those days had passed, they came within view of an island, which was very rugged and rocky, covered over with slag, without trees or greenery, but full of smiths’ forges. Brendan said to the monks, “I am very worried about this island. I don’t want to enter it or even to approach it, but the wind is driving us directly towards it.”
When they had passed on further, about a stone’s throw, they heard the noise of bellows blowing like thunder, and the beating of hammers on the anvils and iron. Then Brendan crossed himself, saying, “O Lord Jesus Christ, deliver us from this evil island.” Soon after one of the inhabitants came forth to do some work. He was all hairy and hideous, begrimed with fire and smoke. When he saw the servants of Christ near the island, he withdrew into his forge, crying aloud: “Woe! Woe! Woe!”
Brendan again crossed himself, and said to the monks: “Put on more sail, and row more briskly, so that we can get away from this island.” Hearing this, the savage man rushed down to the shore, bearing in his hand a pair of tongs with a burning mass of molten slag, of great size and intense heat, which he flung at once after the servants of Christ. It did not hurt them, because they were protected by the sign of the Cross. It passed them at a furlong’s distance, and where it fell into the sea, it fumed up like a heap of burning coals, and a great smoke arose as if from a fiery furnace.
When they had passed on about a mile beyond the spot where this burning mass had fallen, all the inhabitants of the island crowded down to the shore, each carrying a large mass of burning slag, which they flung after the servants of God, and then they returned to their forges, which they blew up into mighty flames, so that the whole island seemed like one globe of fire, and the sea on every side boiled up and foamed, like a cauldron set on a fire well supplied with fuel. All the day the monks, even when they were no longer within view of the island, heard a loud wailing from the inhabitants, and a foul stench was perceptible at a great distance. Then Brendan tried to raise the courage of the monks, saying: “Soldiers of Christ, be strong in faith unfeigned and in the armour of the Spirit, for we are now at hell’s gates; watch, therefore, and act manfully.”
The next day, a large and high mountain in the ocean, not far off, came into view towards the north, with misty clouds about it, and a great smoke issuing from its summit, when suddenly the wind drove the boat rapidly towards the island until it almost touched the shore. The cliffs were so high they could scarce see the top, were black as coal, and upright like a wall. Here the last monk who remained of the three who had followed Brendan from his monastery, leaped from the boat, and made his way to the foot of the cliff, wailing and crying aloud: “Woe is me! father, for I am forcibly torn away from you, and cannot return.” But the brothers, seized with a great fear, quickly drew off from the shore; and, lamenting loudly, cried unto the Lord: “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us!” Brendan plainly saw how the wretched man was carried off by a multitude of demons, and was already burning amongst them, and he exclaimed: “Woe is yours, unhappy man, who has made you so evil an end of your life.”
Afterwards a favourable breeze caught the boat, and drove them southwards; and as they looked back, they saw the peak of the mountain unclouded, and shooting up flames into the sky, which it drew back again to itself, so that the mountain seemed a burning pyre.
After this dreadful sight, they sailed for seven days towards the south, and then Brendan observed a very dense cloud, on approaching which there came into view the shape of a man, sitting on a rock, with a veil before him as large as a sack, hanging between two iron prongs, and he was tossed about like a small boat in a storm. When the brothers saw this, some thought it was a bird, others, that it was a boat; but the man of God told them to cease the discussion, and to steer directly for the place, where, on his arrival, he finds the waves all around motionless, as if frozen over. They found a man sitting on a rugged and shapeless rock, with the waves on every side, which in their flowing beat upon him, even to the top of his head, and in their ebbing exposed the bare rock on which the wretched man was sitting; and the cloth which hung before him, as the winds tossed it about, struck him on the eyes and on the forehead.
When the saint asked him who he was, for what crime he was sent there, and how he had deserved to suffer so great a punishment, he answered: “I am that most unhappy Judas, the most wicked of all traffickers; not for any deserving of mine, but through the unspeakable mercy of Jesus Christ; am I placed here. I expect no place for repentance; but through the forbearance and mercy of the redeemer of the world, and in honour of his Resurrection, I have this cooling relief, as it is now the Lord’s Day. While I sit here, I seem to myself to be in a paradise of delights, considering the agony of the torments that are in store for me afterwards, for when I am in my punishments, I burn like a mass of molten lead, day and night, in the heart of that mountain you have seen. There Leviathan and his satellites dwell, and there was I when it swallowed down your lost brother, for which all hell rejoiced, and belched forth great flames, as it always does, when it devours the souls of the reprobate.”
“But that you may know the boundless mercy of God, I will tell you of the refreshing coolness I have here every Sunday from the first vespers to the second; from Christmas Day to the Epiphany; from Easter to Pentecost; on the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and on the festival of her Assumption. On all other days I am in torment with Herod and Pilate, with Annas and Caiphas; and, therefore, I urge you, through the Redeemer of the world, to intercede for me with the Lord Jesus, that I may remain here until sunrise tomorrow, and that the demons, because of your coming here, may not torment me, nor sooner drag me off to my heritage of pain, which I purchased at an evil price.”
The saint then said, “The will of the Lord be done; you will not be taken away by the demons until tomorrow.” And he asked him what the cloth in front of him meant. Judas replied, “I once gave this cloth to a leper, when I was the purse-bearer of the Lord; but as it was not my own, I find no relief from it, but rather hurt. Those iron prongs on which it hangs, I once gave to the priests for supporting their cauldrons; and the stone on which I am sitting, I placed in a gutter on a public road before I became a disciple of the Lord’s.”
When evening came, a multitude of demons gathered around in a circle, shouting: “Depart from us, O man of God, for we cannot come near our comrade unless you step away from him, and we dare not see the face of our prince until we bring back to him his pet victim; give us therefore, our prey, and keep it not from us this night.” The saint then said, “I am not protecting him, but the Lord Jesus Christ has permitted him to remain here this night.”
The demons cried out, “How could you invoke the name of the Lord on behalf of him who had betrayed Him?” The man of God then commanded them in the name of Jesus Christ to do him no hurt until morning.
When the night had passed, at early dawn, when Brendan was proceeding on his way, a countless multitude of demons covered the face of the deep, uttering dreadful cries: “O man of God, accursed be your coming and your going, for our chief has this night scourged us with cruel stripes, because we had not brought back his wretched captive.” “Not on us,” said the saint, “but on yourselves shall those curses be; for blessed is he whom you curse, and accursed is he whom you bless.” The demons shouted: “He will suffer double punishment for the next six days, because you saved him from his punishment last night.” But the man of God warned them, “You have no power, neither has your chief, only whatever power God may give you; and I command you in the name of the Lord, that you increase not his torments beyond those you inflicted before.” “Are you,” said they, “the Lord of all, that we should thus obey your command ?” “No,” rejoined the saint, “but I am the servant of the Lord of all; and whatever I command in His name, it is done, and I am His minister only in what He grants to me.” In this way they pursued him with their blasphemies until he was far away from Judas; and they bore off this wretched soul with great rushing and howling.
Brendan afterwards made sail for some time towards the south, in all things giving the glory to God. On the third day a small island appeared at a distance, towards which as the brethren plied their oars briskly, the saint said to them, “Do not, brothers, thus exhaust your strength. Seven years will have passed at next Easter, since we left our country, and now on this island you will see a holy hermit, called Paul the Spiritual, who has dwelt there for sixty years without corporal food, and who for twenty years previously received his food from a certain animal.”
When they drew near the shore, they could find no place to land, so steep was the coast. The island was small and circular, about a furlong in circumference, and on its summit there was no soil, the rock being quite bare. When they sailed around it, they found a small creek, which scarcely admitted the prow of their boat, and from which the ascent was very difficult. Brendan told the brethren to wait there until he returned to them, for they should not enter the island without the leave of the man of God who dwells there. ‘When the saint had ascended to the highest part of the island, he saw, on its eastern side, two caves opening opposite each other, and a small cup-like spring of water gurgling up from the rock, at the mouth of the cave in which the soldier of Christ dwelt. As Brendan approached the opening of one of the caves, the venerable hermit came forth from the other to meet him, greeting him with the words: “Behold how good and how pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity.’” And then he directed Brendan to summon all the brothers from the boat. When they came he gave each of them the kiss of peace, calling him by his proper name, at which they all marvelled much, because of the prophetic spirit thus shown. They also wondered at his dress, for he was covered all over from head to foot with the hair of his body, which was white as snow from old age, and he wore no other clothing.
Brendan, observing this, was moved to grief, and heaving many sighs, said to himself, “Woe is me, a poor sinner, who wear a monk’s habit, and who rule over many monks, when I see here a man of angelic condition, dwelling still in the flesh, yet unmolested by the vices of the flesh.” To this, the man of God said, “Venerable father, what great and wonderful things God has shown you, which he has not revealed to our saintly predecessors! and yet, you say in your heart that you are not worthy to wear the habit of a monk. I say to you, that you are greater than any monk, for the monk is fed and clothed by the labour of his own hands, while God has fed and clothed you and all your brethren for seven years in His own mysterious ways. I, wretch that I am, sit here upon this rock, without any covering, save the hair of my body.” Then Brendan asked him about how he came to this island – where he came from, and how long he had led this manner of life. The man of God replied, “For forty years I lived in the monastery of St Patrick, and had the care of the cemetery. One day when the prior had pointed out to me the place for the burial of a deceased brother, there appeared before me an old man, whom I knew not, who said: ‘Do not, brother, make the grave there, for that is the burial-place of another’.” I said ‘Who are you, father?’ ‘Do you not know me?’ said he. ‘Am I not your abbot?’ ‘St Patrick is my abbot,’ I said. ‘I am he,’ he said; ‘and yesterday I departed this life and this is my burial-place.’ He then pointed out to me another place, saying: ‘Here you will bury our deceased brother; but tell no one what I have said to you. Go down on tomorrow to the shore, and there you will find a boat that will bear you to that place where you shall await the day of your death.’ Next morning, in obedience to the directions of the abbot, I went to the place appointed, and found what he had promised. I entered the boat, and rowed along for three days and nights, and then I allowed the boat to drift whither the wind drove it. On the seventh day, this rock appeared, upon which I at once landed, and I pushed off the boat with my foot, that it may return whence it had come, when it cut through the waves in a rapid course to the land it had left.”
“On the day of my arrival here, about the hour of none, a certain animal, walking on its hind legs, brought to me in its fore paws a fish for my dinner, and a bundle of dry brushwood to make a fire, and having set these before me, went away as it came. I struck fire with a flint and steel, and cooked the fish for my meal; and thus, for thirty years, the same provider brought every third day the same quantity of food, one fish at a time, so that I felt no want of food or of drink either; for, thanks to God, every Sunday there flowed from the rock water enough to slake my thirst and to wash myself.”
“After those thirty years I discovered these two caves and this spring, on the waters of which I have lived for sixty years, without any other nourishment whatsoever. For ninety years, therefore, I have dwelt on this island, subsisting for thirty years of these on fish, and for sixty years on the water of this spring. I had already lived fifty years in my own country, so that all the years of my life are now one hundred and forty; and for what may remain, I have to await here in the flesh the day of my judgment. Proceed now on your voyage, and carry with you water skins full from this fountain, for you will want it during the forty days’ journey remaining before Easter Saturday. That festival of Easter, and all the Paschal holidays, you will celebrate where you have celebrated them for the past six years, and afterwards, with a blessing from your steward, you shall proceed to that land you seek, the most holy of all lands. You will stay there for forty days, after which the Lord your God will guide you safely back to the land of your birth.”
Brendan and his brothers, having received the blessing of the man of God, and having given mutually the kiss of peace in Christ, sailed away towards the south during Lent, and the boat drifted about to and fro, their sustenance all the time being the water brought from the island, with which they refreshed themselves every third day, and were glad, as they felt neither hunger nor thirst. On Holy Saturday they reached the island of their former steward, who came to meet them at the landing place, and lifted everyone of them out of the boat in his arms. As soon as the divine offices of the day were duly performed, he set a meal before them.
In the evening they again entered their boat with this man, and they soon discovered, in the usual place, the great whale, upon whose back they proceeded to sing the praises of the Lord all the night, and to say their Masses in the morning. When the Masses had concluded, Iasconius moved away, all of them being still on its back; and the brethren cried aloud to the Lord, “Hear us, O Lord, the God of our salvation.” But Brendan encouraged them, asking “Why are you alarmed? Fear not, for no evil shall befall us, as we have here only a helper on our journey.”
The great whale swam in a direct course towards the shore of the Paradise of Birds, where it landed them all unharmed, and on this island they sojourned until the octave of Pentecost. When that solemn season had passed, their steward, who was still with them, said to Brendan: “Embark now in your boat, and fill all the water skins from the fountain. I will be the companion and the conductor of your journey from now on, for without my guidance you could not find the land you seek, the Land of Promise of the Saints.” Then, while they were embarking, all the birds of the island, as soon as they saw Brendan, sung together in concert, “May a happy voyage under his guidance bring you safely to the island of your steward.”
They took with them provisions for forty days, as their course lay to the west for that space of time; during which the steward went on before them, guiding their way. At the end of forty days, towards evening, a dense cloud overshadowed them, so dark that they could barely see one another. Then the steward said to Brendan, “Do you know, father, what this darkness is?” And the saint replied that he did not. “This darkness,” said he, “surrounds the island you have sought for seven years; you will soon see that it is the entrance to it.” After an hour had passed, a great light shone around them, and the boat stood by the shore.
When they had disembarked, they saw a land, extensive and thickly set with trees, laden with fruits, as in the autumn season. All the time they were crossing that land, during their stay in it, it was never night. A light shone all the time, like the light of the sun in the meridian, and for the forty days they viewed the land in various directions, they could not find its limits. One day, however, they came to a large river flowing towards the middle of the land, which they could not by any means cross over. Brendan then said to the brothers, “We cannot cross over this river, and so we must remain ignorant of the size of this country.” While they were considering this matter, a young man of resplendent features, and very handsome aspect, came to them, and joyfully embracing and addressing each of them by his own name, said, “Peace be with you, brothers, and with all who practise the peace of Christ. Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord; they shall praise you for ever and ever.”
He then said to Brendan: “This is the land you have sought after for so long. Up to now, you could not find it, because Christ our Lord first wished to show you his many mysteries in this immense ocean. Return now to the land of your birth, bearing with you as much of those fruits and of those precious stones, as your boat can carry; for the days of your earthly pilgrimage must draw to a close, when you may rest in peace among your saintly brothers. After many years this land will be made manifest to those who come after you, when days of tribulation may come upon the people of Christ. The great river you see here divides this land into two parts; and just as it appears now, teeming with ripe fruits, so does it ever remain, without any blight or shadow whatever, for unfailing light shines on it always.”
When Brendan inquired when this land would be revealed unto men, the young man replied, “When the Most High Creator will have brought all nations under subjection, then will this land be made known to all his elect.” Soon after, Brendan, having received the blessing of this man, prepared for his return to his own country. He gathered some of the fruits of the land, and various kinds of precious stones; and having taken a last farewell of the good steward who had each year provided food for him and his brethren, he embarked once more and sailed back through the darkness again.
When they had passed through the darkness, they reached the Island of Delights, where they remained for three days, as guests in the monastery. Then Brendan, with the abbot’s parting blessing, set sail in a direct course, under God’s guidance, and arrived at his own monastery, where all his monks gave glory to God for the safe return of their holy patron, and learned from him the wonderful works of God, which he had seen or heard during his voyage.
Afterwards he ended in peace the days of his life, on the nones of July, our Lord Jesus Christ reigning, whose kingdom and empire endure for ever and ever. Amen!
The manuscript images on this page come from Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc 173. You can access all the available images here. The Bodleian makes these images available through a CC BY-NC 4.0 license.