Saint Brendan the Navigator

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Brendan the Navigator, date unknown, artist unknown; church of Saint James, Glenleigh, Kerry, Ireland; photographed on 9 September 2012 by Andreas F. Borchert; swiped from Wikimedia Commons

Heroes. The history of the Catholic Church is chock full of them. Some of these heroes were pretty ordinary men, who with the grace of God wound up doing great heroic deeds. And others, well, their adventures  just beg for retelling, and with each telling many have grown into stories so grand that they just might seem too hard to believe. Saint Brendan is at the center of one such tale. Some will swear to its’ authenticity while others will just roll their eyes and scoff at such a fantastic journey… Of course we can all agree, that God is the Author of all things and sometimes, even things that seem impossible are possible when it is the Lord who sets your sail…and navigates your journey…

Saint Brendan the Navigator


Saint Brendan was an Irish monk who was born in County Kerry in 484. He studied and was ordained by Bishop Erc in 512. For the next twenty years or so, he worked establishing monasteries in Ardfert and Shanakeel near the foot of Brandon Hill. He also spent much of his time building ships and sailing around the northwest parts of Europe founding monasteries… large ones…Legend has it that the community in County Galway, housed at least three thousand monks… with the rules of the monastery being dictated to Brendan by an angel…




Brendan and his brothers traveled over the Atlantic Ocean, stopping at every island they encountered to evangelize the inhabitants. It is even rumored that these sailing monks reached the Americas in the 6th century. In fact, in West Virginia, there were stone carvings discovered that have been dated back to between 500 and 1000 A.D. and they were written in old Irish using the same alphabet that Saint Brendan and his brother monks would have used.

As this saint’s tale continues, he journeyed for seven years; at one point even coming upon a small island just in time to celebrate Easter Mass. Lighting the Easter fire, they discovered that the ‘island’ they had landed on is not an island after all, but a giant whale!


Many of the ancient maps from the time of Columbus often include an island named Saint Brendan’s isle which was located in the western Atlantic ocean. The exact location wasn’t known, but it was thought to have been west of Europe.

Whether or not the grande tale of this sailing monk celebrating Mass on the back of a whale is true or not, it is recorded that he finally returned home to Ireland , concerning himself with charitable works in his homeland. Founding several more churches and  establishing yet another monastery before his death at the age of 93.








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