Saint Brendan the Navigator from Ireland to Canada (+578) & Tim Severin – The Brendan Voyage (1976–1977)


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Saint Brendan the Navigator

from Ireland to North America (+578)

“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.”

Psalm 107:23-24

St Brendan, The Navigator was born in Fenit Co. Kerry in 484. Educated by Bishop Erc in Kerry, set his skills to developing his knowledge to the art of ship building and the rules of the seas around Fenit Island. Building a simple boat made out of wood and leather, St Brendan set sail and discovered America in search of the Promised Land of the Saints. His journey and adventures were outlined in his journal the Navigatio Sancti Brendani which even inspired the Great Christopher Columbus himself on his voyage of discovery many years later.

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Our father among the saints Brendan was born about 484 AD to an Irish family near the present city of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland. At a very young age he began his education in the priesthood and studied under St. Ita at Killeedy. Later he completed his studies under St. Erc, who ordained him in 512 AD.

During the next twenty years of his life, St. Brendan sailed all around the Islands surrounding Erie (Ireland), spreading the word of God and founding monastery after monastery. The most notable of these is Clonfert in Galway, which he founded around 557 AD, and which lasted well into the 1600s. St. Brendan died around 578 AD and his feast day is marked on May 16th.

Brendan’s first voyage took him to the Arran Islands, where he founded a monastery, and to many other islands which he only visited, including Hynba Island off Scotland, where he is said to have met Columcille (Columba). On this voyage he also traveled to Wales, and finally to Brittany, on the northern coast of France.

The event that St. Brendan is most celebrated for, however, is his voyage to the “Land of Promise”. Sometime in his early journeys, St. Brendan heard from another monk the story of a land far to the west, which the Irish claimed was a land of plenty.

He and a small group of monks including, possibly, St. Machutus, fasted for forty days, then set sail for this land in order to investigate and ‘convert’ the inhabitants. Altogether the journey took seven years.

In the ninth century, an Irish monk wrote an account of the voyage in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani (Voyage of St. Brendan). This book remained popular throughout the entire Middle Ages, and made Brendan famous as a voyager.

The account is characterized by a great deal of literary license and contains references to hell where “great demons threw down lumps of fiery slag from an island with rivers of gold fire” and “great crystal pillars”. Many now believe these to be references to the volcanic activity around Iceland, and to icebergs.

Upon reaching their destination, they engaged a guide who took them around the land. They went inland but were prevented from going further by a great river. Soon after this, St. Brendan, and the remainder of his colleagues sailed back to Ireland. Only a few survived the journey.

In modern times the story was dismissed as pure fabrication, but in the 1970′s a man named Tim Severin became fascinated with the story and decided to replicate St. Brendan’s journey. Severin built a boat made of hides tanned with oak bark just like the one described in the ancient text. The hides were sewn together over a bent frame of ash wood and the seams were sealed with animal fat and grease. With a group of volunteers he set sail for America and made his way to Newfoundland. His journey is covered in “The Brendan Voyage: Across the Atlantic in a Leather Boat”.



Tim Severin – The Brendan Voyage (1976–1977)

It is theorized by some scholars, that the Latin texts of Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis (The Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot) dating back to at least 800 AD tell the story of Brendan’s (c. 489–583) seven-year voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to a new land and his return. Convinced that the “Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis (The Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot)” was based in historical truth, in 1976 Severin built a replica of Brendan’s currach. Handcrafted using traditional tools, the 36-foot (11 m), two masted boat was built of Irish ash and oak, hand-lashed together with nearly two miles (3 km) of leather thong, wrapped with 49 traditionally tanned ox hides, and sealed with wool grease.

Between May 1976 and June 1977, Severin and his crew sailed the Brendan 4,500 miles (7,200 km) from Ireland to Peckford Island, Newfoundland, stopping at the Hebrides and Iceland en route. He considered that his recreation of the voyage helped to identify the bases for many of the legendary elements of the story: the “Island of Sheep”, the “Paradise of Birds”, “pillars of crystal”, “mountains that hurled rocks at voyagers”, and the “Promised Land”. Severin’s account of the expedition, The Brendan Voyage, became an international best seller, translated into 16 languages.

The boat is now featured at the Craggaunowen open-air museum in County Clare, Ireland.

Source: Wikipedia






Video – Iceland landscapes timelapse

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Orthodox Iceland



It is a little-known fact that Iceland is the only country in the world to have been uninhabited until its discovery and settlement by Orthodox Christian monks. For the first inhabitants of Iceland were Irish hermits at some time in the late eighth century. How did this happen?

Orthodox Christianity was first brought to Ireland from the monasteries of south Wales. Welsh monasticism had in turn come from Gaul, brought from Egypt and Palestine, where it had developed from the example of St John the Baptist and the Gospel. However, Irish monasticism was unique, for it was based not only on withdrawal from the world, but also on penitential exile.

This brought Irish monks to travel all over the known, and unknown, world. It brought them to live on isolated rocks off the Irish coast or make long voyages to the lonely islands of the North Atlantic, sailing in simple boats, made of skins stretched over a wooden framework, the so-called curach or coracle. The most famous example of this is, of course, St Brendan, called ‘the Voyager’. In primitive but seaworthy craft they voyaged to the Hebrides and Orkneys, then sailed on to Shetland, the Faeroes and Iceland, and finally, perhaps, even further, to Greenland and Vinland (North America). The extent of their voyages can be seen from the occurrence of place-names in Pap on these Atlantic islands, and, in some instances, from the traces of their habitation in caves and cell-like houses.

In Norse a hermit of this kind was called papi, in Irish pap, pupa (cf. pobba), from the Greek papas, meaning ‘father’. From the Hebrides in the south, to Iceland in the north, there is a whole series of place-names which has this word as an element. Very often such names refer to smaller islands, inaccessible places away from regular routes: Pabbey in the Outer Hebrides, Papa Vestray, one of the remotest and loneliest of the Orkneys, Papa Stour in Shetland and Papey off Alftafjordr, on the east coast of Iceland, an island with precipitous cliffs where landing is difficult. This last was just the sort of place to which the Irish hermits were drawn. Other names in Iceland also bear witness to their isolated dwellings, usually in caves or rock-clefts.

References are made to these anchorites in the Icelandic chronicles, the Islendingabok and the Landnamabok. Here it is recorded that when Norsemen first landed in Iceland, they found Christians, ‘whom the Norsemen call papar, but they went away because they would not stay here and share with heathen men’. It goes on to say that they ‘left behind them Irish books, bells and croziers; from this one could understand that they were Irish’.

However, the earliest reference to them comes from about the year 825, when the Irish monk Dicuil, then living in France, wrote a book called De mensura orbis terrae. Here, speaking of the islands north of Scotland and the location of Thule, he refers to Irish monks in Iceland. Thirty years before, in c. 795, when Dicuil was probably still in Ireland, monks had given him an account of their experiences in the far North. Hermits told him of an island in the North Atlantic. They told him that they had been on the island from late January to late July and that the summer nights there were remarkably light; the sun went down but only as if it were hiding behind a hill. It did not get dark, and one could see to work just as well as if it were bright daylight. One may imagine, he continued, that if one went up onto the highest mountain, one would perhaps see that the sun never disappeared at this time. They related further, he says, that there was open sea around the country but that north of the island, a day’s sail away, they had met the frozen sea. This is the earliest account of Iceland and it confirms what later Icelandic literary sources tell us about Irish anchorites there.

We also find other early traces of Christianity in Iceland. A number of the first Norse colonists came from Norse areas in Ireland and the Hebrides and some of them had been instructed in the Christian faith of the Celtic population among whom they had lived. One of them was Helgi the Lean, the forefather of all the most distinguished families in and around Eyjafjordr, who called his farmstead Christian – Eyjafjordr Kristnes.

Another is a man called Orlygr Hrappsson. According to the account in the Landnamabok, he was a Norwegian who had been brought up by an Irish bishop in the Hebrides. When he decided to go to Iceland, the bishop gave him consecrated earth, an iron bell, a service-book and other things, and described to him the place where he should build both his farm and a church dedicated to St Columba. Orlygr was blown off course and first made land in the Vestfirbir. From there he sailed south and on Kjalarnes, below Mount Esja, he found the place he was seeking. There he built his home and a church dedicated to St Columba in accordance with his instructions. The text says that Orlygr and his kinsmen put their faith in St Columba, and a later tradition added that the treasures from his first church, the bell and the book, were still in existence in the thirteenth century.

Yet another settler of the heathen age, Asolfr Alskik, appears to have attempted to introduce Irish Christianity into Iceland. The account of him in the Landnamabok is unfortunately not entirely clear. It seems that on account of his faith, the heathen shunned him and drove him from one place to another in the south of the country. He seems to have been a quiet, peace-loving man, one who would rather give way than fight. Finally, he settled on Akranes and ended his days there as a hermit, taken care of by a friend who was also a Christian.

More details concerning these first Christians in Iceland and others like them could be given from literary sources. In conclusion it can be said that these hermits must have been influential in some areas, especially in the south and just north of Reykjavik. However, their Faith was not sufficient to make headway against organized pagan cults and the social order associated with them. It was to be only in 999 (traditionally, though incorrectly, 1000), under pressure from King Olaf Tryggvason in Norway, that Christianity was officially accepted in Iceland. King Olaf, brought up in Russia, baptised in the Isles of Scilly off the Cornish coast and confirmed at Andover in southern England in 994 or 995 by the future St Alphege, insisted that all his people become Christian. Thus, in June 999, ‘one hundred and thirty years after the slaying of Edmund’, the Althing or Icelandic popular assembly, met and officially accepted the demands of the Norse King.

It is then the glory of Iceland that it is the only country in the world whose first inhabitants were Orthodox Christian monks. However, it is also the tragedy of Iceland that it only officially came to the Orthodox Faith at the beginning of the Second Millennium, just as that Faith was changing course and so drying up in Western Europe. However, today, at the beginning of the Third Millennium, a Russian Orthodox church is planned for Reykjavik. It remains to be seen whether Icelanders will be able to see into Russian emigrant Orthodoxy and find there the same spirit which enthused the first settlers of Iceland, the Irish monks of the First Millennium. The spirit of St Columba and St Seraphim are indeed one. If Icelanders do come to this understanding, then they will find their Orthodox roots and thus spiritual renewal.

Holy Columba and Seraphim, pray to God for the Icelandic Folk!