St Brendan the Navigator - the "Other" Patron Saint of Ireland

Saint Brendan, the Navigator


Saint Brendan – In Time and Out

The man known as one of Ireland’s 12 Apostles is a Kerryman, to be sure. He was born about 489 near Tralee and spent a long life establishing monastic settlements around Ireland. But he also belongs to the Otherworld, time outside of time. In legend, Brendan is the hero of an Irish Imrama, a magical tale relating his allegorical voyage of Christian pilgrimage through the imagination of the Celtic Church.


Saint Brendan’s Martyrdom

The Irish saints were one tough bunch, known for their embrace of asceticism or practice of severe self-discipline to achieve spiritual goals. I have often wondered at this. Ireland is such a lush and magical landscape, did the early Christians feel that they had to punish themselves so severely lest they fall under the spell of the place? In any case, there were three types of martyrdom for Irish monastics. The Red Martyrdom, as you would expect, means to die for your faith. The Green Martyrs left behind life’s comforts to live in exile. The brothers living on Skellig Michael, off the West coast of Kerry, chose an especially harsh hermitage. And the White Martyrs abandoned themselves to God by pushing off to sea with no plan other than to go where the elements took them.


The Seven Spiral Journey of Saint Brendan

Such was the life of Brendan and it became the stuff of legend. Brendan’s journey is said to have taken seven years (the number of perfection) and he returned to many of the same points, having learned new lessons as he travelled. Some think he may have actually reached Newfoundland and that his story was an inspiration to Christopher Columbus. In 1976, a British navigation scholar built an Irish Currach and undertook Brendan’s voyage, just to see if it could be done. He encountered friendly whales, ice bergs (“towering crystals”), volcanic eruptions (“pelting with foul-smelling flaming rocks”) all of which might have been described in the story. There even seems to be archeological evidence of ancient Ogham script found in West Virginia that suggests a sixth century visitor from Ireland to our shores.


Brendan is the patron saint of boatmen, mariners, sailors, travelers and whales. We may be land-locked here in Weston (ever since the flood of 1881 shifted the Missouri a couple of miles away), but you can still call on Brendan to safely guide you for a visit. Be sure to make landfall at The Celtic Ranch. You’ll discover interesting treasures, friendly beasts and perhaps a little inspiration. You’re welcome to keep circling back as many times as it takes to get you on your way.

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