American Saint, St. Brendan the Navigator

In an effort to focus more on Christ, I’m celebrating Dependence Day – I am dependant on Christ alone.

And to that end I would like to offer you the story of an amazing American Saint who also depended on Christ alone and reached remarkable heights.

If you took a trip to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, you would find a huge stained glass window commemorating the achievements of Saint Brendan the Navigator. Saint Brendan led a remarkable and long life. He founded dozens of monasteries all around northern Europe and had, some estimate, thousands of monks under his guidance, which came from an angel.

In the 6th century, on one of his voyages, which is recorded in the book “Brendan’s Voyage”, Brendan and a group of monks reached North America. Along the way they encountered many incredible sites. They saw a whale so large that they first thought it was an island! They told of sea monsters so large that they rose up on the backs of them while still in their boat! Brendan talked of seeing what he called “crystal palaces that rose up to the sky.”

When they finally landed in North America they called it the “Promised Land of the Saints.” It was a beautiful place which seemed to make their seven year journey to get there and back, quite worth it. As the manuscript of Saint Brendan’s journey was passed throughout Europe people knew and understood that there was a land, referred to as Saint Brendan’s Isle, which laid to the West of Europe.

This knowledge of Saint Brendan’s Isle inspired many explorers, including Columbus. Many people however were very doubtful that the journey could have taken place and chalked it up to simple folklore especially since the very detailed description of the boat and it’s construction given in “Brendan’s Voyage” seemed too flimsy to make such a journey.

In 1976 a British scholar named Tim Severin decided he could prove whether or not such a boat could have made the journey. He reconstructed every detail of Brendan’s ship, including the wooden frame, tanned cow hides and animal fat to keep out the water. Tim sailed the same route described in the manuscript.

What he discovered was remarkable. Many of the whales in the area were highly intelligent and playful accounting for the “sea monsters” which would raise the ship up on their backs that Brendan had described. The modern crew encountered large icebergs, volcanoes and other extreme phenomenon that would explain the odd descriptions of crystals that reached the sky and raining fire that are found in Brendan’s tale.

Severin’s mission was a success as he landed in Newfoundland, or the “Promised Land of the Saints.” Thus proving that Saint Brendan and other Irishmen at the time, 900 years before the Age of Exploration, were very accomplished shipmen and navigators.

Adding to Severin’s experience, Christian writings written in the Old Irish alphabet have been found carved into stone in the state of West Virginia. The carving dates back to between 500-1000 AD. Upon further investigation it was found that sailing home from North America, to Europe, was much more difficult than sailing to North America from Europe because of the change in winds. Perhaps during Brendan’s journey, or at another point, some Irish monks had been unable to return home and made their way to West Virginia.

Happy Dependence Day!