Latin Navigatio, an English synopsis based on MS. Alençon

(--- My attempts at an English rendition are mainly based on the sources in this site. )

Jasconius, the friendly whale

On Latin Navigatio :

  The Latin Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis has been scattered across the whole Continent and the British Isles or his native country Ireland itself, in so many manuscripts(MSs) of which 125 MSs have been found so far.

  A satisfactory critical edition didn't appear until an American scholar Carl Selmer published his edition from the University of Notre Dame Press in 1959. All Brendanologists still owe their debt to his painstaking work, however, some aspects of it fall short in a number of ways of what is desirable(cf. see J. Carney's critic of Selmer's work, "Review : Selmer, Navigatio Sancti Brendani", from Medium Aevum, 32, 1963.)

  Below is a tentative version of English translation based on MS. Alençon (la Bibliothèque Municipale d'Alençon [Codex 14, f° 1 r à II v.])

Chapter 1  Story told by Saint Barinthus : Saint Brendan, son of Finloch, grand son of Altus, of the line of Eogène(Eogan), was born in the marshy tract of Mumenensiens. He was a man of a great abstinence and famous for his virtues, father of nearly three thousand monks. While he was engaged in spiritual fight in a place called 'the moor of the virtues of Brendan'(Cluain Ferta), it happened that one evening a father by the name of Barinthus, one of his disciples, came to visit him. Barinthus was asked on many things by the holy father, he started to cry, prostrate himself on the ground, where he remained extremely a long time in prayer. Saint Brendan lifted him to his feet and kissed him saying : 'Father, why does your arrival make us so sad when you came to comfort us ? Instead you should give joy to the brothers! Proclaim the word of God to us and refresh our hearts with all the many miracles you saw when at the ocean !'

  When Saint Brendan finished his speech, Saint Barinthus started to speak about a certain island, saying:

  'My godson Mernocatus, the steward of Christ's poor, fled from my sight to seek solitary. He discovered an island close to a rocky mountain, by the name of the Island of Delights ; many years later, I learned that he had many monks and that God showed His various wonders through him. So I went to see my godson. At the end of a three-day voyage, as I was approaching, he rushed out to meet me with his brothers, because the Lord had revealed my arrival to him. As we drew near, the brothers on the island, swarmed like bees to meet us from their various cells. Their dwellings were dispersed indeed but the monks lived together as one mind in hope, faith and charity, and sharing one common table. They ate nothing but apples, nuts and roots, and all kinds of grasses. Thus, after compline, each one went back to his own cell, and remained there until the cockcrow or the sound of the bell. However, having spent all night and wandered around the whole island, my godson led me to the occidental shore, where there was one boat, and said to me :

  "Father, get into the boat and sail to the Western land, towards the island called Promised Land of the Saints, which God will give our successors in a very short time". As we boarded and sailed away, we were covered with clouds so thick that we hardly could see the poop or the prow of the vessel. But after about one hour an immense light shone around us, and there appeared before us a wide, grassy land, bearing lots of apples. When the craft had landed, we alighted and began to walk around the island during fifteen days, without ever discovering the end of it. We did not see any grass which bore no flowers, nor trees without fruit. And also the stones of this island are precious ones. On the fifteenth day, we came to a river flowing from east to west. As we considered all that, it was not clear to us what we should do. We decided to cross the river, but we awaited the opinion from God. While pondering upon it, there suddenly appeared a man of a great splendour before us, who at once called us by our own names and greeted us, saying : "You superb, valorous brothers! Because the Lord revealed to you this land which he will give to his saints. The island is divided in half by this river. You may not cross the river to the other side, thus go back to whence you have come". When he had finished speaking, immediately I asked him about his origin and his name. The other replied : "Why do you ask me from where I came and what my name is, without asking me on this island. It has remained just as you see it now, in the same way thus since the beginning of the world, unchanged. Do you need any food, drink, or clothing? However you two have been in this island in whole one year, without any need for drink nor food! Never once did you feel drowsy, nor did the night fall, for daylight is never-ending here without any blindness of darkness. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself is the light here." We set out with the youth, and the man(came along with us to the shore where our boat was. When we embarked in it, however, he vanished from our eyes and we sailed back through the same fog) towards the Island of Delights. Thus, when the brothers caught sight of us, they were delighted with great joy by our arrival, and they cried over our such a long absence, saying : "Why, fathers, you left your ewes roaming without shepherd in this forest? We know that our abbot frequently sails away in some other place, sometimes a fortnight or a week or more or less." When I heard these complaints, I tried to comfort them : "Brothers, do not think of anything which is not good. You live beyond doubt in front of the gateway of Paradise. Nearby there is one island called the Promised Land of the Saints, where neither night falls nor day ends. It is the place where our abbot Mernocatus often pays his visit, and the Angel of the Lord guards. Do you not notice with the odour of our clothing that we had stayed in the Paradise of God?" Then the brothers answered, saying : "Father, we know of your stay in that Paradise in the open sea, but we do not know exactly where the Paradise is. Because often we could smell a sweet fragrance coming from our abbot's garment on his return after forty days. Over there(1), in fact, I remained two weeks with my godson, without eating nor drinking anything. But we felt so replete that we would have been full of new wine to others. After forty days we received the blessing of the brothers and the abbot, I set off on the journey home with my companions, in order to return to my cell --- where I will go tomorrow.'

Chapter 2  Saint Brendan thanks to God : When Holy Brendan had heard these words, he and all of his brothers, prostrated themselves, glorifying God and saying : 'the Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works, because he revealed to his servants so many and so great wonders, and that he is blessed for his gifts, for today he nourished us with such a spiritual tasting". When he completed his praise, holy Brendan added : "Let us go to repair our bodies and for the washing of our feet in accordance with the new commandment'. When the night was over, after receiving the blessing from the brothers in the morning, holy Barinthus set out for his own cell.

Chapter 3  Council of Saint Brendan :  Thus Holy Brendan, having chosen fourteen brothers from his community, shut himself up in an oratory and said : 'My most beloved fellow-warriors, I look to you for advice and help, for my heart and all my thoughts are focused upon only one desire. So if it be God's will, I want to seek the Promised Land of the Saints of which Barinthus the father has spoken. How does this seem to you, or what advice would you give?' As soon as the brothers knew the holy father's intention, all said as it were with one voice : 'Father, your will is also ours. Haven't we left our parents? Haven't we scorned our heritage, and put ourselves in your hands? So we are ready to follow you to either death or life. The one thing we hope to seek, the will of God.'
  Then Saint Brendan decides to observe, with his brothers, a fast lasting forty days, taken every three days at a time and then to set out. Once this period was completed, after having taken leave and commended all the brothers to the prior of his monastery, who was his successor in the same place, he set out to the western direction, with fourteen brothers, towards the island of a saint father, named Ende and there remained three days and three nights.

Chapter 4  Construction of the boat :  After having received the blessing of the holy father and all the monks who were with him, Saint Brendan set out toward the furthest side of his country where his parents lived. However he did not wish to see them, but on the top of a mountain extending far into the ocean, in a place called 'Brendan's Seat'(2), he pitched a tent large enough to shelter the passage of a boat. Saint Brendan and his companions, took their tools and made a very light boat, ribbed and framed with wood as was used traditionally in these parts, and they entirely covered it with ox-hides tanned with the bark of oak. And they greased with fat all external joints of the hull, and then they placed two other plates made of other leathers inside the vessel, as well as food for forty days, fat to repair the skins for the sealing of the boat, and other things which are necessary for human life. Moreover, they placed and fixed a mast at the center of the vessel and a sail and all other things that are required for navigation. Then Saint Brendan ordered his brothers, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to enter the boat.
  While he was alone on the shore and blessed the harbour, three brothers came up from his own monastery, joined him here and immediately they fell at the feet of the holy father, saying : 'Father, let us come with you wherever you go, or we shall die in this place from hunger and thirst, for we indeed decided to be pilgrims for the rest of our lives.' And when the man of God saw their anguish, he ordered them to enter the boat, saying : 'Your will be done, my sons.' And he added : 'I know why you have come. One of you has done well. God has prepared a suitable place and shall raise him up.'
  Holy Brendan entered the boat, and spreading full sails, they began to sail directly towards the summer solstice. They had a favorable wind so they had no need to navigate except for trimming the sails.

Chapter 5  Brothers suffer difficulties and weariness :  After fifteen days the wind dropped and they set themselves to the oars until their strength failed. Straightaway Saint Brendan began to comfort and encourage them, saying : 'Brothers, do not fear, for God is our helper, our helmsman and our pilot, and he shall guide us. Pull in all the oars and the rudder. Just leave the sails spread, and let God do as he wishes with his servants and their boat.' Then they continued to refresh their strength until the evening, as long as the wind did not cease to blow. Still, they could not tell from which direction the wind came or in which direction the boat was carried. Forty days had passed and all food consumed, when an island appeared from the north to them, very rocky and high. As they approached its shore, they saw a very high cliff like a wall, and various brooks flowing down from the top of the island into the sea. Nevertheless it was difficult to find a landing-place where they could put in the boat. Moreover the brothers were greatly tormented by the hunger and thirst. Each one also took flasks, trying to catch a small portion of water. When Saint Brendan saw this, he called out : 'Do not do such a thing! What you are doing is foolish. As yet God does not want to show us a port to enter and you want to plunder it!   After three days The Lord Jesus Christ will show us a landing-place and a place to stay, so our weary bodies would be restored.'

Chapter 6  The uninhabited island :  And for three days they circled the island, until at the time of the third day, around the ninth hour, they discovered a harbour where only one boat might enter. At once Saint Brendan got to his feet and blessed the entry. Actually it was a cutting with rock of a marvellous height on each side, high up like a wall. And as all of them disembarked from the boat and stood outside on land, Saint Brendan prescribed not to take any luggage out of the boat. As they were making their way along the shore, there came a dog from a path and it went towards the feet of Saint Brendan as dogs are accustomed to coming to heel to their masters. Then Holy Brendan and his brothers followed the dog, leading them towards a castle. And as they entered into the castle, they saw a large court and a room furnished with beds and seats, and water to wash their feet. As they had sat down, however, Saint Brendan advised his companions, saying : 'Take care, brothers, lest Satan lead you into temptation, for I see him inciting one of the three brothers, who came from our monastery to follow us, to commit an ashamed larceny. Pray for his soul, for his flesh has been given over into the power of Satan.' The room where they were staying, was, as it were, embedded along the walls with a garland of suspended cups of various kinds of metal, along with bridles(3) and horns wrapped in silver. Then Holy Brendan called to his servant who usually placed bread before the brothers : 'Bring the meal that God has sent to us'.
  Immediately he stood up and found a table and linens and a bread for each of marvellous whiteness and fish. When all had been brought before him, Saint Brendan blessed the meal and said to his brothers: 'Let us praise the God of Heaven, who gives food to all flesh.' So the brothers sat back and glorified the Lord. Similarly they discovered as much drink as they wanted. When the meal was over and the compline said, the holy father said : 'Take rest now ; here is a well-made bed for each one of you. You need to rest. It is necessary that you rest your limbs exhausted by too much toil.' But as the brothers had fallen sound asleep, Saint Brendan saw the work of the Devil, namely an Ethiopian child, holding a bridle in his hand and giggling in front of the monk. Immediately Saint Brendan got up and started to pray for all the night until dawn. And in the morning, the brothers quickly said the service of God and then after divine office, as they made their way to their boat, all of a sudden appeared the table laid out just as the day before. So for three days and three nights, God prepared a meal for his servants.

Chapter 7  The bridle stolen :  Then Saint Brendan with his companions set out again, saying to his brothers : 'You must be sure not to take away any substantial things from this island'. They all replied : 'Father, any theft spoiling our journey is far from our way'.
  Then Saint Brendan said : 'Look, just as I predicted yesterday, our brother has a silver bridle hidden in his breast given to him last night by the Devil'. As he said these words, the brother flung the bridle away from his breast and fell down in at the feet of the man of God, saying : 'I have sinned, Father; forgive me and pray for my soul so that it may not perish!'
  Immediately the brothers threw themselves to the ground, beseeching the Lord for their brother's soul.
  As they rose from the ground and the holy father raised up the brother, all of the sudden an Ethiopian boy jumped out of his bosom, shouting in full voice and saying : 'Why, man of God, do you drive me out from my dwelling where I have lived seven years, and make me depart from my inheritance? '. But Saint Brendan replied to this voice : 'I command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, not to harm any man from now till the Day of Judgement.'
  Turning again to the brother, he said : 'Receive the body and the blood of the Lord, for your soul is now going to leave your body. Here shall be your burial place, but your brother who followed you from the monastery, has his burial place in Hell.'
  Thus having received the Eucharist, the soul of the brother left his body, supported by the angels of light, before the gaze of the monks. And his body was buried in this place by the holy father.

Chapter 8  The steward :  Then the brothers went with Saint Brendan to the shore of the island where their boat was moored. As they entered the boat, a young man(4)arrived, carrying a basket full of breads and an amphora of water. And he said to them : 'Receive the blessing from the hand of your brother. Because a long journey lies ahead of you until you find consolation. Nevertheless, neither the bread nor the water will fail you until Easter'. Having accepted the blessing, they began to sail out into the Ocean, partaking food or water every two days. And so their boat was borne through various places in the ocean.

Chapter 9  The Island of Sheep :  One day, they caught sight of an island not far from them. As they began to steer towards it, a favorable wind came to their aid so that they did not exert themselves more than their strength could manage. When their vessel stood to at the harbour, the man of God ordered them to disembark. He himself got out after them.
  When they began to go around the island, they found out many springs, which formed gushing streams full of fish. Holy Brendan called to his brothers : 'Let us carry out the Divine Office here. Let us sacrifice the Spotless Victim to God, for today is Maundy Thursday.' And they remained there until the Holy Saturday. Walking around the island, they discovered various flocks of ewe, all of one color, white, and which were so numerous that they could not see the ground at all. Holy Brendan gathered the brothers and said to them : 'Take what you need for the feastday from the flock.' Then the brothers, harrying according to the command of the man of God to the flock, took one from it. And when they had fastened it by its horns, the ewe followed the brother holding its tether in his hand as if it were tame, to the place where the man of God was standing. Again the man of God spoke to one of the brothers : 'Take a spotless lamb from the flock.' The brother hurried and did as what he had been enjoined.
  As they all had prepared for the service of the following day, here a man appeared to them carrying a basket full of breads baked under ash and all that was necessary. When he had placed these before the man of God, he fell prone on his face three times at the feet of the Holy Father, saying : 'How have I deserved, Pearl of God, you celebrated Holy Resurrection in these holy days, receiving the work of my hands?'.
  Saint Brendan raised him from the ground, embraced him and said : 'Son, our Lord Jesus Christ has shown us a place where we can celebrate his holy Resurrection'. The man replied : 'Father, here you will celebrate Holy Saturday. Tomorrow, however, God ordained you to celebrate the vigils and the Masses of his Resurrection in that island you see nearby.' While he said these words, he started to prepare the service of the servants of God and all that was necessary for the following day. (5)
  When all was ready and had been taken down to the boat, the man said to Saint Brendan : 'Your boat cannot carry anymore. But I shall bring to you whatever food and drink you will need until Pentecost.' Holy Brendan replied : 'How do you know where we shall be after eight days?' The man answered to him : 'By tonight you shall be in the island that you see nearby, and there remain until the sext. Then you will sail westward to another island not far away from the first one, called The Paradise of the Birds. There you will remain until the octive of Pentecost.' Saint Brendan also questioned him on how the ewes could be so big as one saw here. Indeed they were larger than cow. He said to him: "Nobody collects milk from these ewes in this island; nor the winter does not slim them down, but, on pastures, always they remain day and night. Therefore they are larger here than in the parts you come from.'

Chapter 10  Jasconius[1]:  And they set out for the boat, having blessed each other. But when they arrived the other island, their boat began to ground before they could reach its landing-place. Saint Brendan ordered the brothers to disembark from the boat, which they did. They held the boat on both sides with the ropes until they came to the landing-place. However the island was rocky without any grass, only occasional trees to be seen, and there was no sand on its shore. While the brothers left the boat and spent the night in prayers and vigils, the man of God remained sitting inside in the boat.

Chapter 11  Jasconius[2]:  But Saint Brendan knew the nature of the island, though he did not want to tell them about it, lest they were not terrified.
  Then, in the morning, he ordered the priests to sing his Mass, which they did. While Holy Brendan also sang his Mass in the boat, the brothers began to carry the raw meat out of the boat to cover it with salt, and also fish that they had brought with them from the other island. When they had done this, they put a cauldron on fire. When, however, they fed the fire with wood, and the cauldron began to boil, the island started to be in motion like a wave. Then the brothers rushed to the boat, begging the holy father for his protection. He drew each one of them into the boat by his hand. Having left everything they had brought on this island, they started to sail. The island moved away to sea. They could see the fire burning over two miles away.
  Saint Brendan told the brothers what it was, saying : 'Brothers, are you amazed at what this island has done?' They said : 'Indeed we are, and it really fills us with great terror.' He said to them : 'My dear sons, do not be afraid, for last night God revealed to me in a vision the secret of this thing. It was not an island where we were, but a fish ---- the formost of all that swim in the ocean. He always seeks to make his tail and head meet, but he cannot so because of his length. His name is Jasconius(6).'

Chapter 12  The island of birds[1]:  Now as they were sailing close to the island, where they had stayed previously during three days, with its summit coming into view on the western tip, they caught sight of another island, close to them, almost joining to it - but a vast sea arm separated them - grassy, covered with trees and a lot of flowers, they started circling, looking for a landing-place. As they sailed facing the southern expanse of this island, they discovered a river pouring into the sea, and they drew the boat in to land. When they disembarked Saint Brendan ordered them to draw the boat with ropes upstream as hard as they could. The river was as broad as the width of the boat. The holy father was sitting in the boat and so they carried on for about a mile, until they arrived at the source of the same river. Saint Brendan said : 'Our lord Jesus Christ has given us a place in which to stay and celebrate his Holy Ressurection.' And he added : 'If we did not have other food except this source, I believe it would be alone enough for food and drink, I believe'
  And overhanging it a tree with marvellous branches in circle, not extreme height, covered with very white birds. They covered it so much that its leaves and its branches were hardly visible. When the man of God saw this, he began to think himself, and to wonder what it was or for what reason such a great multitude of birds there could be collected together. He was so tormented about this that he threw himself into ground in tears, and he implored God, saying : 'God, who knows all that is unknown and who reveals all that is hidden, you know the anguish of my heart. I beseech by your majesty that you deign to me a sinner, through your great mercy, to reveal your secret that I see before me. I rely not upon my dignity or of my merit, but your pity.'
  Immediately the man of God realised God listened to this prayer within his heart, and spoke to the bird : 'If you are the envoy of God, tell me where these birds come from, or for what reason they are congregated here?' It immediately replied : 'We come from the great ruin of the ancient enemy. Because as soon as we were created, we did not say our entire refusal to his sin, the fall with his followers also caused our ruin. But our God is just and true. By his great justice that we were sent to this here. We endure no sufferings, and we can see the presence of God. Thus we are separated from those bumptious by his mercy. We also wander through the multiple parts of the air, the firmament and the grounds, like the other spirits which are sent. But in the holy days and Sundays, we receive bodies(7)such as you see now, and we remain here and praise our Creator. You with your brothers have now spent one year on your journey. Six years remain. The place where you celebrated Easter today, there you will celebrate it every year, and later you will find what you cherish in your heart, that is the Promised Land of the Saints.'

Chapter 13  Psalms sung by the birds :  When it had spoken, the bird lifted off from the prow and flew to the other birds. As the evening hour approached, all birds which on the tree began to sing, as if with a single voice beating their wings against their sides and saying : 'Praise is due to thee, O God in Sion, and a vow shall paid to you in Jerusalem.(Ps 65:2)' They kept repeating the same versicle for about the space of one hour, and to the man of God and his companions this modulating sound of beating wings seemed as a song of lament in its sweetness. Then Saint Brendan said to his brothers : 'Repair your bodies, for today our souls are refreshed with divine food.' Once their meal was over they performed the divine service. When all had finished, the man of God and his companions gave repose to their body until the third hour of the night. Waking, the man of God began to wake up his brothers for the vigil of the holy night, with this verse ; 'Lord, open my lips(Ps 51:17).' As soon as the man of God had finished praying, the birds responded with their wing and mouth, saying : 'Praise the Lord, all his angels, praise him, all his virtues(Ps 148:2).' Thus they continued to sing for the space of an hour, just as they had at vespers.
  When dawn broke with shining beams the birds began to sing : 'And may the rediance of our Lord Jesus Christ come upon us.(Ps 90:17)' with the same rythme and the same legth of the chant for matins. Likewise at the terce, they sang this verse : 'Sing Psalms to our God(Ps 47:7).' etc. At sext : 'Let thy face, O Lord, shine upon us and have mercy on us(Ps 67:2).' At nones they sang : 'Behold how good and pleasant it is for brothers to live in unity(Ps 133:1).' And so, day and night, the birds praised the Lord. Thus Holy Brendan refreshed his brothers with the joys of Easter until the octive day. Thus, at the end of these feast days he said : 'Let us take supplies from this spring, for so far it has served only for washing our hands and our feet.' On these words, suddenly came the man, with whom they had spent three days before Easter, and who had given them their Easter food, with his boat full of food and drink. Once he had unloaded everything before the holy father, he spoke to them, saying : 'Men, brothers, you will have enough until the holy day of Pentecost here, and do not drink this source, for it is strong(8)to drink. I will tell you its nature : whoever drinks it shall fall into deep sleep and shall not awake for twenty-four hours. Only when it has been taken from the spring the power of it became dormant and turned the quality of water(9). Once he had received the blessing of the holy father, he returned home.
  Then Saint Brendan remained in the same place until the octave of Pentecost. For their comfort was the song of the birds. On the day of Pentecost, however, as the holy father began to sing with his brothers, the Steward arrived, carrying all that was necessary for the service of the feast day. Now, as they had sat down together for the meal, this same man of God spoke to them,saying : 'There remains to you a long journey, Fill your flasks from this spring(10)and take dry bread, which you can keep until next year. I shall give you as much as your boat can carry.'

Chapter 14  The bird's prophesy :  When all this had been completed, he received the holy father's blessing and returned to his own place. Then Holy Brendan, after eight days, had the boat loaded with all that the man had brought to him, and had all flasks filled from the spring. When all arrived at the shore, the same bird with speedy flight flew down and settled on the prow of the boat once again.The man of God recognised that the bird wanted to tell him something. Then, in a human voice, the bird spoke : 'Next year you will celebrate the holy day of Easter with us and the same period which had passed. And where you were this year for the Last Supper of the Lord, there you will be next year on that festive day. Similarly you will celebrate the vigil of Easter Sunday where you celebrated it before, on the back of Jasconius. After eight months(11) you will also find an island called the Island of the Family of Albe, and there you will celebrate the Nativity of the Lord.' When it had said these words, it flew back to her own place. Then the brothers began to spread the sails(12) and to steered out into the ocean, and the birds sang as if with one voice : 'Hear us, God, our Saviour, hope of all the boundaries of the earth and in the distant seas(Ps 65:6).' Therefore the holy father with his community, was driven hither and thither over the vast space of the ocean during three months and they could see nothing but the sky and the sea. They ate always every second or third day.

Chapter 15  The isle of Albe and temptation of the springs :  One day there appeared to them an island not far away. And as they approached to the shore, a wind drew them away from harbour(13). For forty days, therefore, they sailed around the island and still could not find a landing-place. Then the brothers in the boat implored God with tears to give them help, for their strength almost had failed because of extreme exhaustion. But after three days in constant prayer and abstinence, a narrow inlet, just wide enough to receive a single boat only, appeared to them, and there appeared to them also two springs, one muddy and the other clear. Then the brothers with flasks hastened to scoop the water. The man of God, watching them, said : 'Sons, do not follow these forbidden things without the permission of the elders who live in the island, for they will freely grant to you the water that you now want to drink in stealth.'

Chapter 16  The reception by the elder :  When they disembarked and wondering in which direction they should go, an elderly and very dignified man with brilliant snow-white hair as well as with shinning face. He prostrated himself three times on the ground before embracing the man of God, then Holy Brendan and those with him raised him from the ground. After embracing each other, the old man took the hand of the Holy father and went along with him to a distance of about two hundred yards to his monastery.

Chapter 17  The reception at the monastery of silence :   Now Saint Brendan with his brothers stood in front of the door of the monastery and said to the elderly : 'Whose monastery is this? Who Who is in charge of it? Where so those who live here come from?' Thus the holy father questioned by various words, but he could obtain no response out of him, but only with an ultimately thoughtfulness the man indicated they also should obey. As soon as the holy father had recognized the rule of that place, he warned his brothers, saying : 'Keep your mouths from speaking, lest these brothers be not disturbed by our ridiculous attitude.' At this interdict, here eleven brothers came to meet them with reliquaries, crosses and songs, saying this versicle : "O saints, Rise up from your abode and set out on the path of the truth. Sanctify the place, bless the people and deign to keep us your servants in peace(14).' When the versicle was finished, the father of the monastery embraced Saint Brendan and his companions in order. In the same way his priests kissed the family of the holy man. After this exchange of peace, they led them to the monastery as it is usual in the western parts to conduct the brothers in prayers. Afterwards the abbot of the monastery with his monks, began washing the feet of the guests and singing this refrain : 'I give you this new commandment(love one another)(15).'

Chapter 18 Meal in the monastery :   When this was done, the abbot led them to the refectory in great silence, and with the sound of the bell, after having washed the hands, all sat down. Again at another sound of bell, one of the brothers of the father of the monastery got up and began serving the table of breads of an astonishing whiteness and certain roots of an incredible savour. Meanwhile, the brothers and their hosts had sat with each other alternatively. And a whole bread was served between every two brothers.On the sound of the bell, the same servant gave the brothers drink. The abbot also urged on them with a great joy, saying to the brothers: 'Now drink in due joy and respect of the Lord, of the water from the spring you wanted to drink today in stealth. The brothers wash their feet in the other, muddy source which you saw every day, because it is always hot. But the loaves which thus you see, we do not know where they are prepared, nor which brings them to our larder. But we do know that, according to the great alms of God, they have been provided for his servants by some dependant creature. We are twenty-four brothers here. Every day we have twelve loaves. The feastdays and Sundays, God added a whole loaf to each brother, so that there is enough leftover for dinner. And now, with your arrival, we have received double supply.Thus Christ has fed us since the time of saint Patrick and Saint Albe(16), our father for eighty years. Yet old age nor weakness spreads in our limbs. On this island, we need nothing to eat which is prepared by fire. Neither cold nor heat ever kills us. But when the moment of the Masses or the vigils come, the candles in our church we brought from our own country by the divine predestination are lit, and burn until the day, and none of these candles diminished'.

Chapter 19 The fiery arrow :   And after they had drunk three times, the abbot sounded the bell according to his custom, and the brothers together, in great silence and ponderosity, got up from the table, preceding the fathers towards the church. Behind them, walked Saint Brendan and the father of the monastery. As they entered into the church, here twelve other brothers, who met them on their way out, genuflecting joyfully. When Saint Brendan saw them, he says: "Abbot, why did these not eat along with us?' The father replied: 'Because of you our table cannot all receive us in only one sitting. Soon they will refresh their forces and they will miss nothing. Let us now, however, sing vespers in the church so that our brothers who are eating now can sing vespers after us in good time.' When they completed their service of the evening, Saint Brendan began to reflect uopn of the way the church had been built. Indeed, it was square, of the same length as breadth, and had seven candles, three before the altar in the middle and two before each of the other altars. The altars were cut out of crystal in a square, similarly the sacred vessels were of crystal, namely patens, chalices, cruets and other vessels required for liturgy, and the twenty four seats positioned around the church(17). A place was reserved where the abbot sat down between the two choirs. One choir began to sing after the aboot and ended with him, as did the other similarly. Nobody in either group dared to intone a verse but the abbot. No one in the monastery spoke or made any sound. If a brother needed anything, he went before the abbot, knelting before him, and asked within his heart for what he needed. At once the holy father taking a shelf and a stylus, wrote down what God revealed to him, and gave it to the brother who asked his advice. As Saint Brendan considered all these things within himself, the abbot said to him: 'Father, now it is time for us to go back to the refectory so that we may do everything in daylight.' And thus did they go to have the evening meal as they had done at noon. When all being completed according to the order of the day's course, they all hurried with great eagerness to compline. Then the abbot began the following versicle: 'God, come to my rescue(18)', when they gave honour to the Trinity: 'We have acted wrongly, we have done evil. You, Lord, who are our pious father, spare us. I shall sleep and rest in peace therefore, for you, Lord, have placed me, in particular, in hope.' Then they sang the office of the hour.
  When the round of the Psalms were completed, all brothers went out of the church to their respective cells, taking their guests with them. But the abbot with Holy Brendan remained in the church awaiting the coming of the light. Then the blessed Brendan inquired of the holy father about their silence and on their life, asking how this could be thus in a human flesh. Then the father with an immense respect and humility, replied: 'Abbot, in the presence of our beloved Christ, I confess it to you; it is eighty years since we came on this island. We hear no human voice, except when we sing praise to God. All twenty four of us never made noise except by way of a signal with a finger or the eyes, only by the elders. None of us has suffered the weakness of flesh or spirits(19) that visit the human race, since we came here.'
  Holy Brendan said: 'May we too stay here now?' The abbot replied to him: 'You may not, because it is not the will of God. Why do you ask me father? Has not God revealed to you what you must do before you came here to us? You must return to your own country with your fourteen brothers. There God prepared the place of your burial. Of the two remaining brothers, one will be on a pilgrimage in the island of the anchorites. The other one will be condemned by a shameful death to Hell.'
  As they were thus conversing a fiery arrow shot across the window before their very eyes and lit all the candles before the altars, then the burning arrow sped outside. But the prescious light remained on the lamps. Again Blessed Brendan asked: 'Who will put out the lamps in the morning?' The holy father replied: 'Come and see the wonder of this miracle. Here you notice the burning candles in the middle of the lampstands. However nothing burns away so that they might get smaller or reduce in size and no ash will be left in the morning, for the light is spiritual.' Holy Brendan asked: 'How can an incorporeal light burn corporeally in a embodied thing?' The elder replied: 'Have you not read the burning bush on the Mount Sinai? Yet the bush itself was not consumed by fire(20).'
  And after the whole night vigil kept until the morning, Saint Brendan asked leave to set out on his journey. The elder said to him: "No, father. You must celebrate the Nativity of the Lord with us, until the octave of the Epiphany.' The holy father, therefore, with his company stayed during that time, with the twenty-four fathers, on the island called that of the family of Albe.
  When the feast days were over, Blessed Brendan and his followers received both the provisions and blessing from the holy men, hoisted the sail of his boat, and sailed out tn the Ocean, as fast as he could, and either by the oar or by the sail, the boat was carried to many defferent places until the beginning of the Lent.

Chapter 20  The soporific water:   One day they saw an island towards the horizon not far from them. When the brothers saw it they began to row fervently, as they were deeply exhausted in hunger and thirst. In effect, three days before their food and drink had failed. Now, when the holy father had blessed the harbour and that all had disembarked from the boat, they discovered a very clear spring, a variety of grasses and roots around the spring, and various types of fish swimming along the water bed towards the sea. Then Saint Brendan said to his brothers: 'God has given us here a comfort after our toil. Catch fish enough to supply our meal and cook them on fire, and gather the grasses and roots that the Lord prepared for his servants.'
  So they did. When they scooped out some water to drink, the man of God added: 'Brothers, take care that you do not use too much of these waters, lest they damage your bodies seriously.'
  But the brothers took the prescription the man of God differently, thus some of them drank one cupful, others two, and the rest three; on the first group fell a sleep of three days and three nights, on the others also a sleep of two days, on the rest finally a sleep of day and night. Nevertheless the holy father prayed unceasingly to the Lord for his brothers because their ignorance brought such danger to them.
  When the three days were over, the holy father spoke to his brothers: 'Brothers, let us free of this death lest something worse happen to us. Indeed, the Lord gave us some food, but you have lost them. Leave this island then, taking the provisions of fish and prepare for one meal for every third day up to Maundy Thursday. Likewise for the water, a single cup for each brother each day, and equally for the roots.' Then, loading the boat with all that the man of God had recommended, they stretched the sails and began to set out to the ocean, heading for the northern direction. Then, after three days and three nights, the wind dropped and the sea looked as if it began to be coagulated, on account of the great calm. The holy father said: 'Ship the oars and let down the sails. Wherever God wants to direct our boat, let him do it.' Thus the boat was carried by the numerous places of the ocean, about for twenty days. Afterwards God raised a favourable wind for them from west to east. Then they began to hoist the sails and sped on. Meanwhile they ate every three days.

Chapter 21  The celebration of the Lord's Supper and Easter again(21):   And one day an island appeared to them in the distance like a cloud, and Saint Brendan said; 'Sons, do you recognise that island?.' 'No, not at all.', they replied. He said: 'I recognise it. That is precisely the island where we were last year on the Last Supper of the Lord, and our good steward lives.' Then the brothers began to row with eagerness for joy, as fast as their strength could support. Seeing this, the man of God had to speak up: 'Do not tire your limbs foolishly, my children. Is not the all-poerful God the pilot or navigator of our boat? Leave it to him, for he himself directs our way just as he wishes.' When they came near the shore of the island, however, the steward came to meet them in a boat, and he led them into the harbour where they had dissembarked the previous year. He parised God and kissed each of their feet beginning from the holy father to the last, saying, 'God is wonderful in his holy works,' right through to ' Blessed be God.(22)' When the versicle was over and everything was taken out of the boat, he put up a tent and prepared a bath. And for it was Maundy Thursday, he dressed them in new garments, and served them for three days. The brothers for their part celebrated the Passion of the Lord with great zeal until Holy Saturday.
  When they had completed the ceremonies of holy saturday, spiritual victims offered and the Last Supper finished, the same steward said to Saint Brendan and his companions: 'Set out again and embark so that you may celebrate the holy night of Sunday of Resurrection where you celebrated it last year, remaining there until the sixth hour. Afterwards, sail for the island which is called the Paradise of Birds, where you were last year from Easter until the octive of Pentecost, taking with you all the food and drink that are necessary. I shall come and visit you next Sunday.' Thus they did. The steward loaded the boat with loaves and drink and flesh and other good things, as much as the boat could take. Saint Brendan gae his blessings and then set out, and they set sail immeadiately for the other island.
  When they came near the spot where they should disembark from the boat, they saw the cauldron they had left behind in the year before. Then Saint Brendan disembarking from the boat with his brothers chanted the Hymn of Three Youngsters(23) right to the end. When the hymn was finished, the man of God warned his brothers, saying: 'Sons, watch and pray so that you do not enter into temptations(24). Reflect upon how God subjected the very wonderful beast under us without any difficulties.
  The brothers, then, stayed up scattered around the island until matins. Then, each of the priests offered Mass till the third hour. Then Saint Brendan sacrificed the immaculate lamb to God and said to the brothers: 'Last year I celebrated the Resurrection of the Lord here. I wish to do the same this year.'
  Then they set out for the island of the birds. As they were approaching the landing-place, all the birds began to sing, as if saying with one voice; 'Salvation belongs to our God sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb(25).' And again: 'The Lord, our God has shone upon us. Appoint a Holy day, with procession to the horn of the altar(26).' The birds' singing voices as well as the flappings of their winds resounded for a long time --- almost half an hour --- until the holy father and his companions and everything in the boat landed and the holy father settled himself in his tent. And when he had celebrated the feast of Easter there with his companions, the steward came to them as he told them beforehand, on the first Sunday after Easter, carrying with him all the food needed for human life. When they sat down to table, the same bird again sat on the prow of the boat, stretching its wings and making sounds as if coming from a great organ. The man of God then recognised that she wished to convey a revelation. Indeed, the same bird pronounced these words: 'The mighty God has appointed for you four points of call for four periods until the seven years of your voyage, so Maundy Thursday with your steward who present every year; you will celebrate Easter on the back of the Beast; Easter festivals until the octave of Pentecost with us; Nativity of the Lord you will celebrate with the Ailbe's Family. Then, at the end of seven years and after great and various trials you will find the promised Land of the Saints that you seek. There you will live for forty days and afterwards God will bring you back to the land of your birth.' When the holy father heard this, he prostrated himself on the ground with his brothers, giving thanks and praise to his Savior.

Chapter 22  The Steward's promise:   When the venerable elder had finished his prayers, the bird returned to its own place. Then at the end of the meal, the steward said: 'With the help of God I shall return to you, on the day of the coming of Holy Spirit on the Apostles, with your food.' Having received the blessing of the holy father and all of his companions, the steward returned home. Then the venerable father remained here the number of the days indicated. When the feast days were over, Saint Brendan instructed his brothers to prepare the boat for sail and to fill the flasks from the spring. Once the boat was pulled out to sea, here came their friend, the steward, with his boat laden full with food. When he had placed the provisions in the boatof the holy man, he embraced them all and then went bavk to hisown place. Then the venerable father with his companions sailed out into the ocean and their boat was carried along during forty days.

Chapter 23  The attack from the devouring sea monster, and the prophet of Saint Brendan :   Then one day there appeared to them a beast(27) of immense size following them at a distance, spouting foam from its nostrils and ploghing through the waves at high speed(28) as if coming to devour them. when the brothers saw it, they raised a shout to the Lord, saying: 'Deliver us, Lord, so that this monster does not devour us!' Saint Brendan comforted them, saying: 'Do not be afraid, you men of little faith(29). God, who is always our defender, shall deliver us from the jaws of this beast and other perils.' And indeed, as the monster drew near to them, it sent waves of great hight right up against the boat so that the brothers were more and more afraid. The venerable elder raised his hands to heaven and said: 'Lord, deliver your servants, as you delivered David from the hand of Goliath, the giant. Lord, deliver us, as you delivered Daniel from the den of lions. Lord, deliver us, as you delivered Jonas from the belly of the great whale(30).'
  After these three pleas, a mighty monster appearing from the west, crossed the waves and passed near them, going to encounter the other beast. Immediately it attacked it, spitting fire from its mouth. The elder spoke to his brothers: 'Look, my sons, at the wonders of our Redeemer. See how the beasts obey their creator. Wait for the outcome of this affair. This battle will cause no damage to us, but it will boost the glory of God.' On these words, the malevolent monster that pursued the servants of Christ was killed and cut into three pieces very before their eyes. The other monster went back, after its victory, to where it had come from.
  Then another day they saw a fine-looking island at a distance covered densely with trees. While they were approaching near its shore and disembarking from the boat, they saw the rear portion of the beast that had been killed. Saint Brendan said: 'See what wished to devour us. Now it is you who devour it, for we shall stay here in this island for a long while. So drag your boat higher onto the shore and look for a place on this island where your tent can be put up.' The holy father himself chose the place where they would live. When they had carried out the order of the man of God and had put all the utensils in the tent, Saint Brendan said to his brothers: 'Take your provisions from this monster enough for three months, for tonight the carcass will be devoured by animals.' Then they were engaged until vespers in carrying some meat as much as they needed it, as they were instructed by the holy father. Then they had finished all this, they said: 'Father, how can we live here without water?' He sid to them: 'Is it more difficult for God to offer water for you than food? Now go to the shore of the southern parts of the island, and you will find a clearest spring with many plants and roots. Bring me a reasonable supply from them.' And they discovered all that the man of God had foreseen. Here therefore Saint Brendan remaind three months, for there were storm at sea and a very violent wind and foul weather with rain and hail. Meanwhile the brothers went to see what the man of God told about the beast. When they came to the place where the carcass was before, however, they found nothing but its bones. They hurried back to the man of God and saying: 'Father, it has just happened as you told.'
  He replied to them: 'I know, son, that you wish to test me, to see if what I said was true or not.I shall tell you another sign: Tonight a portion of a fish shall be washed up, and tomorrow you will be refreshed(31).' On the following day they went out to the place indicated and found the fish as the man of God had predicted. And they took it as much as they could carry it, however, the venerable father said to them: 'Keep this provision and preserve it carefully, for you will have need of it, because the Lord will make the weather fine today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow(32), and will cease the waves from the turbulence of the sea. Afterwards we shall leave this island.'

Chapter 24  The island of the three choirs :   When the forecast days were over, Saint Brendan ordered his brothers to load the boat, and to fill the flasks and other vessels and gather herbs and roots for his own use. For the father sinse his ordination to the priesthood, had tasted nothing in flesh from which he drew his breath of life. And when the boat was loaded, they hoisted the sail and set out in a northery direction. But one day, when they saw an island far from them, and Saint Brendan said: 'Do you see the island?' They said: 'We see.' And he said: 'There are three kinds of people who live on that island: one of boys, another of youths, and the third of elders. And one of your bothers shall remain on pilgrimage there.' Then the brothers asked him on which of them it was. As they were preoccupied by the thought and he saw they looked sad, he said: 'this is he who will remain here!' It was one of the three brothers who followed after Saint Brendan from his monastery. On that matter he made a prediction when they had embarked in the boat in their fatherland. Now they drew nigh the island until their boat were put aground on its shore. The island was extraordinarily flat, so much so that it seemed to them to be scarcely higher than the sea level, without trees or anything blown by the wind. It was so brilliant indeed, and covered with white and purple scalta vegitation(33). And there they saw the three choirs as the man of God had foretold. Each one of them standing roughly about the throw of a stone by a sling, they moved continously here and there and stopped at on eplace and sang: 'The saints will go from strength to strength and they will see the God of gods in Zion(34)'. While one choir came to the end of this versicle, another stopped and took the same song up again, and so they did without any intermission. The first group was of boys in pure white garments, and the second one in green clothing and the third in the purple tunics.
  It was the fourth hour(=ten o'clock)when they put in at the landing-place on the island. Then the sixth hour(=midday)came, the groups started to sing together, saying: 'May God be merciful to us(35)' to the end of the psalm(36), 'O God, come to my aid', and likewise the third psalm: 'I keep my faith(37)', followed by the prayer as above. Likewise at the nones(=three o'clock in the afternoon)they chanted other three psalms: 'From the depths(38)', 'Behold how good and joyful it is that brothers live together(39)' and 'Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem(40)'. And at vespers they sang: 'A praise is due to thee, O God in Zion(41)', 'Bless the Lord, O my soul(42)', and the third of the psalms(43): 'Praise the Lord, O children'. They then chanted while seated, the fifteen gradual psalms.
  When they had finished the singing, a cloud of astonishing brightness enveloped the island, so dense that they could no longer see what they had seen before. Nevertheless they could still hear the voices of those singing without any break until matins. Then the choir began to sing, saying: 'Praise the Lord from the heavens(44)', 'Sing to the Lord a new song(45)', 'Praise the Lord in the saints(46)'. After that they sang the tewlve psalms according to the order of the psalter.
  As dawn came the thick cloud lifted from the island, immediately they sang the six psalms: 'Have mercy on me, O God(47)', O God, my God, will I seek thee(48)'. 'Lord, you have been our refuge(49)'. 'Clap your hands, all you people(50)', 'God, in your name(51)', 'I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice(52)', with Alleluia. Then they offered the Immaculate Lamb and all came to communion, saying, 'Take this holy body and the blood of the Saviour for eternal life(53)'.
  When the sacrifice was over, two of the group of youths carried a basket full of the crimson 'scalta' fruits and placed it in the boat, saying: 'Accept the produce from the Island of Strong Men(54), let our brother return yo us, and set forth in peace.'
  Then Saint Brendan called the brother to him, saying: 'Embrace your brothers and go with those who summon you. It was blessed day your mother conceived you, for you have deserved to live with such a community!' When thebrother had embraced all, including the holy father, Saint Brendan said to him: 'Son, remember the great favours God has granted you in this life. Go, and pray for us.' Immediately he followed the two youths to their group.
  The venerable father began to set sail with his helpers. At the ninth hour(=three o'clock in the afternoon), he ordered his brothers to refresh their bodies with the scalta from the Island of Strong Men. The man of God took one of the fruits. Seeing its size and that it was full of juice, he was astonished and said: 'I have never seen or gathered any scalta fruit of such large size.' They were, indeed, of size equal to that of a large ball. Then the man of God asked that a flask be brought to him. He squeezed one of these fruits and got a pound of juice from it. Then the holy father divided it into twelve ounces and giving one to each of the brothers(55). Thus during the twelve days one scalta fruit fed one brother so that he always kept the taste of the honey in his mouth.

Chapter 25  The island of grapes :   When these days were over, Saint Brendan prescribed a fast for three days. After the three days passed, suddenly a large bird flew toward the boat, carrying a branch of some unknown tree. At the tip of it was a large bunch of grapes of extraordinarily redness. The bird dropped the branch from its beak onto the chest of the holy man. Then Saint Brendan called his brothers and said: 'Look at the meal that God has sent you. Take it.'Grapes of this bunch were as big as the size of apples. The man of God divided them, one each among the brothers, so they had food until the twelfth day.
  Again the man of God renewed the same fast for three days with his brothers. Now on the third day, they saw an island nat far from them, completely covered with densely planted trees bearing the crop of the same fruit of such incredibly abundance that all the trees were bent, almost touching the ground, in the same size and the same colour. No tree was barren, nor was there a tree of any other kind on this island. Then the brothers put into the harbour. The man of God disembarked and began to walk around the island. The island had a perfume like that of a house full of Punic apples(56). Meanwhile the brothers remained in the boat until the man of God should return to them. All the while the breeze brought to them so sweet fragrance that they almost sought after the smell. Now the venerable father found six springs soaking the green herbs and some roots. After this discovery he returned to his brothers carrying with him the first fruits of the island's produce, and said: 'Disembark, pitch the tent and refresh yourselves with the fruit of this island, which the Lord has shown to us.' Thus for forty days they regained their strength with the fruits, herbs and roots the well nourished.

Chapter 26  The combat of the birds:   Now after this period, the blessed Saint Brendan and his beloved companions embraked and bringing with them as much of the fruits as their craft could carry. when they were all aboard, they spread the sail to steer where the wind directed. As they had sailed, a bird called Griphon appeared to them, flying from the distance to meet them. As the brothers saw it, they said to Saint Brendan: 'This bird is coming to devour us!' And he said to them: 'Do not afraid, god is our helper, who shall save us this time too.' The bird stretched out her talons to seize the servants of God. Just then, suddenly the bird who had brought them the branche with the fruits on the earlier ocaasion, flew very swiftly to the Gryphon to devour her. The Gryphon defended herself however, the bird overcame and tore out her eyes. Then the gryphon sored high up into the sky so that the brothers could scarcely see her. But her killer did not give up her pursuit until she killed her. for her carcass fell down into the sea near the boat before the eyes of the brothers. Then the other bird returned to her own place.
  Then shortly after Saint Brendan and his sailors saw the island of the Ailbe's family. He celedrated the Nativity of the Lord with his brothers. When the feast days were over, the venerable father received the blessing from the abbot of his disciples and then sailed around the ocean for a long time, except for the feasts, that is Easter and Christmas. During these days he rested in the places mentioned.

Chapter 27  The transparent sea:   On one occasion when Saint Brendan had celebrated the feast of Saint Peter the Apostle(57)in his boat, they found the sea so clear that they could see whatever was underneath them. When they looked down into the depth they saw various kinds of creatures lying on the sand. It seemed to them also as they could have touched them hand, because of the extreme clarity of this sea. They were like flocks lying on pastures. They were so numerous that they looked as if a city of creatures touching their heads their tails in a circle(58). The brothers asked the venerable father that he should celebrate his mass in silence, for fear that the animals should hear and come up to pursue them. The holy father smiled and said to them: 'I am astonished at your foolishness. 'Why are you afraid of these beasts when you were not afraid of the one who devours all the creatures of the sea and was the master, sitting and singing the psalms many times on his back? Indeed you cut wood and cooked meat. Why then are you afraid of those? Is not the God of all animals our lord Jesus Christ, who can subdue all the living things?' With those words, he began to sing at the top of his voice. Other of the brothers kept their eyes on the beasts all the time. When the animals had heard him singing, they rose up and began to swim all around the boat, in such a way that the brothers could not see beyond the creatures anywhere, so great was the multitude of the creatures swimming. Still they did not approach the craft but swam to and fro, and thus they kept swimming here and there in a distance until the man of God finished Mass. After this, as if in escape, all the beasts, taking along different paths of the ocean, swam away from the servant of God. Then, with all a favouring wind in the sail extended to the full, Saint Brendan took eight days to cross the transparent sea.

--- continued on the next page(the link is the icon below)---

← Back Top Next→
go back to Irish immrama return to HOME go on to the Navigatio2.