A Book of Saints and Wonders/Brendan
His Vision of the Land of Promise
It is a monk going through hardship Blessed Brendan was, that was born in Ciarraige Luachra of a good father and mother. It was on Slieve Daidche beside the sea he was one time, and he saw in a vision a beautiful island with angels serving upon it. And an angel of God came to him in his sleep and said "I will be with you from this out through the length of your lifetime, and it is I will teach you to find that island you have seen and have a mind to come to." When Brendan heard those words from the angel he cried with the dint of joy, and gave great thanks to God, and he went back to the thousand brothers that were his people.
The News of the Hidden Country
It happened now there was a young man by name Mernoke that was a brother in another house, and that went out in a ship looking for some lonely place where he might serve God at will. And he came to an island that is convenient to the Mountain of Stones, and he liked it well and stopped there a good while, himself and his people. But after that he put out his ship again and sailed on eastward through the length of three days. And it seemed to him on a sudden that a cloud came around them, the way they were in darkness the whole of the day, till by the will of our dear Lord the cloud passed away and they saw before them a shining lovely island. There was enough of joy and of rejoicing in that island, and every herb was full of blossom and every tree was full of fruit; and as for the ground it was shining with precious stones on every side, and heaven itself could hardly be better. There came to them then a very comely young man, that called every one of them by name and gave them a pleasant welcome; and he said to them "It would be right for you to give good thanks to Jesus Christ that is showing you this hidden place, for this is the country be will give to his darlings upon earth at the world's end, and it is to this place He himself will come. And there is another island besides this one" be said; "but you have not leave to go on to it or to have sight of it at all. And you have been here through the length of half a year" he said "without meat or drink or closing your eyes in sleep." They thought now they had not been the length of half an hour in that place, they had been so happy and so content. And he told them that was the first dwelling place of Adam and Eve, and there never came darkness there, and the name of it was the Earthly Paradise. Then he brought them back to their ship again and when they were come to it he vanished out of their sight, and they did not know where was it he went.
Then they set out over the sea again, and where they came to land was the place where Brendan was and his brothers, and they questioned Mernoke's people as to where they had been. "We have been" they said "before the gates of Paradise, in the Land of Promise, and we had every sort of joy there and of feasting, and there is always day in it and no night at all." And their clothes had the sweetness of that place about them yet and the brothers said "We are certain indeed you have been in that place, by the happy smile of you." And when Brendan heard all these tidings he stood still for a while thinking with himself; and after that he went about among the brothers and chose out twelve of them that he thought more of than of all the rest; and he consulted 'them and asked an advice of them. "Dear Father" they said "we have left our own will and our friends and all our goods, and have come as children to you; and whatever you think well to do" they said "we will do it."
The Beginning of Brendan's Search
So with that Brendan made his mind up to search out that place by the help of God; and he fasted forty days and did hard penance. And he made a very large ship having strong hides nailed over it, and pitch over the hides, that the water would not come in. And he took his own twelve with him' and took his leave of the brothers and bade them good-bye. And those he left after him were sorry everyone, and two among them came when he was in the ship and begged hard to go with him. And Brendan said "You have leave to sail with me; but one of you will be sorry that he asked to come." But for all that they would go with him. Then they rowed out into the great sea of the ocean in the name of our Lord and were no way daunted at all. And the sea and the wind drove the ship at will, so that on the morning of the morrow they were out of sight of land. And so they went on through forty days and the wind driving them eastward.
The Very Comely Hound
And at the last they saw to the north a very large island having hard rocks on every side, and they sailed around it for three days before they could come near any place of landing; but at the last they found a little harbour, and landed every one. Then there came of a sudden a very comely hound and it fell down at Brendan's feet and bade him welcome in its own way. "Good brothers" said Brendan "there is nothing for us to be in dread of, for I know this is a Messenger to lead us into a right place." Then the hound brought them into a great hall where there was a table having a cloth upon it, and bread and fish; and there was not one of them but was glad of that, and they sat down and eat and drank; and after their supper they found beds ready for them and they took their fill of sleep.
The Island of Sheep
And on the morrow they went back to their ship and they sailed a long time on the sea before they could see any land. And at last they saw before them a very green island, and when they landed and looked about them they saw sheep on every side the whitest and the finest that ever were seen, for every sheep was the size of an ox. There came to them then a very well-looking old man and he gave them a kind welcome and he said "This place you are come to is the Land of Sheep, and there is never winter here but lasting summer, and that is why the sheep are so large and so white, for the grass and the herbs are the best to be found in any place at all. And go on" he said "till you come by the Grace of God to a place that is called the Paradise of Birds; and it is there you will keep your Easter."
Jasconye the Fish
Then they went into the ship again and it was driven by storms till they saw before them another little island, and the brothers went to land on it but Brendan stopped in the ship. And they put fish in a cauldron and lighted a fire to boil it, and no sooner was the fire hot and the fish beginning to boil, than the island began to quake and to move like a living thing, and there was great fear on the brothers and they went back into the ship leaving the food and the cauldron after them, and they saw what they took to be an island going fast through the sea, and they could notice the fire burning a long way off, that they were astonished. They asked Brendan then did he know what was that great wonder, and Brendan comforted them and he said "It is a great fish, the biggest of the fishes of the world, Jascönye his name is, and he is labouring day and night to put his tail into his mouth, and he cannot do it because of his great bulk."
The Paradise of Birds
They went on then to the westward through the length of three days, and very downhearted they were seeing no land. But not long after by the will of God they saw a beautiful island full of flowers and herbs and trees, and they were glad enough to see it and they went on land and gave thanks to God. And they went a long way through that lovely country, till they came to a very good well and a tree beside it full of branches and on every branch were beautiful white birds, so many of them there were that not a leaf hardly could be seen. And it was well for them to be looking at such a tree, and the happy singing of the birds was like the noise of Heaven. And Brendan cried for joy and he kneeled down and bade the Lord to tell him the meaning of the birds and their case. Then a little bird of the birds flew towards him from the tree and with the flickering of his wings he made a very merry noise like a fiddle, and it seemed to Brendan never to have heard such joyful music. Then the little bird looked at him and Brendan said "If you are a Messenger tell me out your estate and why you sing to happily." And it is what the bird said: "One time we were every one of us angels, but when our master Lucifer fell from heaven for his high pride we fell along with him, some higher and some lower. And because our offence was but a little one" he said "our Lord has put us here without pain in great joy and merriment to serve what way we can upon that tree. And on the Sunday that is a day of rest" he said "we are made as white as any snow that we may praise him the better. And it is twelve months" he said "since you left your own place, and at the end of seven years there will be an end to your desire. And through these seven years" he said "it is here you will be keeping your Easter until you will come into the Land of Promise." Then the bird took his leave of them and went back to his fellows upon the tree. It was upon an Easter Day now all this happened. Then all the birds began to sing the Vespers, and there could be no merrier music if God himself was among them. And after supper Blessed Brendan and his comrades went to bed; and they rose up on the morning of the morrow and the birds sang the matins and said the verses of the psalms, and sang all the Hours as is the habit with Christian men. And Brendan and his people stopped there for eight weeks till after the Pentecost; and they sailed back again to the Island of the Sheep, and there they got good provision and took their leave of the old man their Helper, and went back into their ship.
The Silent Brotherhood
Then the bird of the tree came to them again and he said "You will sail from this to an island where there are four and twenty brothers and you will spend your Christmas with those holy men;" and with that he flew back again to his comrades. Then Brendan and his people went out again into the ocean in the name of God; and the winds hurled them up and down, that they were in great danger and tired of their lives. And they were tossed about through the length of four months and they had nothing to be looking at but the sky and the waves. And at the last they saw an island that was a good way off, and they cried to Jesus Christ to bring them there; but the waves rose about them another forty days and they were loath to go on living. They came then to a little harbour and it was too narrow for the ship to go into it, so they cast the anchor and they themselves reached to the land. And they went searching the island and they found two wells, and the water of the one was bright and clear but the water of the other was as if stirred and muddy. And some of them were going to drink from the wells but Brendan bade them not to do it without leave. Then a comely old man came to them and gave them a fair enough welcome, and he kissed Brendan and he led them by many good wells till they came to a great Abbey. And there were in it to welcome them four and twenty brothers having royal cloaks woven of threads of gold, and a royal crown before them and candles on every side. And the Abbot came and kissed Brendan very humbly and bade him and his people welcome; and he led them into a beautiful hail and mixed them there among his own people. Then there came one that served them by the will of God and gave them plenty of meat and drink and set a good white loaf between every two, and white well-tasting roots and herbs, but ~they did not know what roots those were, and they drank the water of the good clear well they had first seen. Then the Abbot came and heartened them and bade them to eat and to drink their fill. "For every day" he said "our meat and drink is brought to our cellar by a strong man; and we do not know where it is brought from but that it is sent to us through God. And we have never provided meat or drink for ourselves" he said; "four and twenty brothers we are, and every day of the week He sends us twelve loaves, and on every Sunday and on the day of Saint Patrick twenty-four loaves, and the bread that we do not use at dinner we use it at supper-time. And now at your coming our Lord has sent us forty-eight loaves that we may be merry together. And always twelve of us go to dinner" he said "while another twelve of us serve the quire; and we are here these fourscore years and in this country there is no sickness or bad weather. And there are seven wax tapers in the quire" he said "that have never been lighted by any man's hand, and that bum day and night at every hour of prayers and that have never wastened or lessened through these fourscore years." After that Brendan went to the church with the Abbot, and they said the evening prayers together very devoutly. And Brendan saw beautiful woven stuffs, and chalices of clear crystal, and in the quire were twenty-four seats for the twenty-four brothers and a seat for the Abbot in the middle of them all. And Brendan asked the Abbot how long it was they had kept silence so well that no one of them spoke to the others, and the Abbot said "Our Lord knows no one of us has spoken to another these fourscore years." And when Brendan heard that he cried for joy and "Dear Father" he said "for the love of God let me stop along with you here." "You know well" said the Abbot "you have no leave to do that, for has not our Lord showed you what you have to do, and that you will turn back to Ireland in the end?" And as Brendan was kneeling in the church he saw a bright angel that came in by the window and that lighted all the candles in the church, and went out by the window again to Heaven. "There is wonder on me" said Brendan "those candles to burn the way they do and never to waste." "Did you never hear" said the Abbot "how in the old time Moses saw a bush that was burning from the top to the ground, and the more it burned the greener were the leaves? And let you not wonder" he said "the power of the Lord to be as great now as ever it was."
The Feast of the Resurrection
And when Brendan had stopped there through Christmas and for Little Christmas, he bade good-bye to the Abbot and the brothers and went back to the ship with his people. And the sea tumbled them up and down that they were sorry enough until Palm Sunday, and with its coming they êame again to the Island of Sheep, and they met there with the same old man as before, and he welcomed them a second time. And on Holy Thursday after supper he washed their feet and kissed them, and they stayed in that place till Easter Eve; and then at his bidding they set out and sailed to the place where the fish Jasconye was lying. And they found upon his back the cauldron they had left there a year ago, and they kept the Feast of the Resurrection there upon the fish's back. And they sang there their Matins and their Vespers and all their Masses, and the great beast stayed as still as any stone.
The Bird's Foretelling
And when they had kept their Easter with great honour they went on to the island having the tree of birds. And the little bird gave them a good welcome and it is lively was the sound of his song. So they stopped there from Easter to Candlemas the same as the year before, very happy and content, listening to the merry service that was sung upon the tree. Then the bird told Blessed Brendan he should go back again for Christmas to the Island of the Abbey, and at Easter he should come hither again and the rest of the year he should be labouring in the great sea in trouble and in danger. "And so it will be with you from year to year to the end of forty years" be said "and then you will reach to the Land of Promise; and then through forty days you will have your fill of joy. And after that you will return to your own country" he said "quite easily and without any annoy, and there you will end your life." Then the Angel that was their helper brought all sorts of provision and loaded the ship and made all ready. So they thanked our Lord for his great goodness that he had showed them so often in their great need, and they sailed out into the sea among great storms.
The Dangers of the Sea
And soon there came after them a horrible great fish that was following their ship and that was casting up such great spouts of water out of his mouth that they had like to be drowned, and he was coming so fast that he had all but reached to them. Then they cried on Jesus Christ to help them in that great danger. And with that there came another fish bigger than the first out of the west, and made an attack on him and beat him and at the last made three halves of him and went away again as he came, and they were very glad and gave thanks to Jesus Christ. And after that again they were very downhearted through hunger, for all their food was spent. And there came to them then a little bird having with him a great branch of red grapes, and they lived by them through fourteen days and had their fill. And when that failed them they came to a little island that was full of beautiful trees, and fruit on every bough of them. And Brendan landed out of the ship and gathered as much of that fruit would last them through forty days, and they went sailing and ever sailing through storm and through wind. And of a sudden there came sailing towards them a great monster and it made an attack upon them and on their ship and had like to have destroyed them, and at that they cried pitifully and thought themselves as good as dead. And then the little bird that had spoken with them from the tree at Easter time came at the monster and struck out one of his eyes with the first attack and the other eye with the second and made an end of him that he fell into the sea; and it is well pleased Brendan was when he saw that bird coming. Then they gave thanks to God, and they went on sailing until Saint Peter's Day, and they sang the service in honour of the Feast. And in that place the water was so clear that they could see to the bottom, and it was all as if covered with a great heap of fishes. And the brothers were in dread at the sight of all the fishes and they advised Brendan to speak softly and not to waken the fishes for fear they might break the ship. And Brendan said "Why would you that have these two years kept the Feast of the Resurrection upon the great fish's back be in dread of these little fishes?" And with that he made ready for the Mass and sang louder than before. And the fishes awoke and started up and came all around the ship in a heap, that they could hardly see the water for fishes. But when the Mass was ended each one of them turned himself and swam away, and they saw them no more.
A Border of Hell
For seven days now they were going on through that clear water, and there came a south wind that drove them on and they did not know where were they going. And at the end of eight days they saw far away in the north a dark country full of stench and of smoke; and as the ship drew near it they heard great blowing and blasting of bellows, and a noise of blows and a noise like thunder, the way they were all afeared and blessed themselves. And soon after there came one starting out all burning, and he turned away again and gave out a cry that could be heard a long way off. And with that there came demons thick about them on every side, with tongs and with fiery hammers, and followed after them till it seemed all the sea to be one fire; but by the will of God they had no power to hurt them. And then the demons began to roar and cry, and threw their tongs at them and their hammers, and then they turned from the ship with a sorrowful cry and went back to the place they came from. "What are you thinking?" said Brendan "was this a merry happening? And we will come here no more" he said "for that was a border of hell, and the devil had great hopes of us but he was hindered by Jesus Christ." Then the south wind drove them farther again into the north, and they saw a hill all on fire and like as ii walled in with fire, and clouds upon it, and if there was much smoke in that other place, there was more again in this. Then one of the brothers began to cry and to moan and to say his time was come and that he could stay in the ship no longer, and with that he made a leap out of the ship into the sea and he cried and moaned so dolefully that it was a pity to hear him. "My grief" he said "my wretched life; for now I see my end and I have been with you in happiness and I may go with you no more forever!"
A Most Wretched Ghost
Then the wind turned and drove the ship southward through seven days, and they came to a great rock in the sea, and the sea breaking over it. And on the rock was sitting a wretched ghost, naked and in great misery and pain, for the waves of the sea had so beaten his body that all the flesh was gone from it and nothing was left but sinews and bare bones. And there was a cloth tied to his chin and two tongues of oxen with it, and when the wind blew, the cloth beat against his body, and the waves of the sea beat him before and behind, the way no one could find in any place a more wretched ghost. And Brendan bade him tell who was he in the name of God, and what he had done against God and why he was sitting there. "I am a doleful shadow" he said "that wretched Judas that sold our Lord for pence and I am sitting here most wretchedly; and this is not my right place" he said "for my right place is in burning hell, but by our Lord's Grace I am brought here at certain times of the year, for I am here every Sunday and from the evening of Saturday, and from Christmas to Little Christmas and from Easter to the Feast of Pentecost and on every feast day of Our Lady; for he is full of mercy. But at other times I am lying in burning fire with Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas; and I am cursing and ever cursing the time when I was born. And I bid you for the love of God" he said "to keep me from the devils that will be coming after me." And Brendan said "With the help of God we will protect you through the night. And tell me what is that cloth that is hanging from your head" he said. "It is a cloth I gave to a leper when I was on earth, and because it was given for the love of God, it is hanging before me. But because it was not with my own pence I bought it but with what belonged to our Lord and his brothers" he said "it is more harmful to me than helpful, beating very hard in my eyes. And those tongues that you see hanging" he said "I gave to the priests upon earth and so they are here and are some ease to me, because the fishes of the sea gnaw upon them and spare me. And this stone that I am sitting upon" he said "I found it lying in a desolate place where there was no use for it, and I took it and laid it in a boggy path where it was a great comfort to those that passed that way; and because of that it comforts me now, and there are but few good deeds I have to tell of" he said. On the evening now of the Sunday there came a great troop of devils blasting and roaring and they said to Brendan "Go from this, God's man, you have nothing to do here, and let us have our comrade and bring him back to hell for we dare not face our master and he not with us." "I will not give you leave to do your master's orders" said Brendan "but I charge you by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to leave him here this night until tomorrow." "Would you dare" said the devils "to help him that betrayed his master and sold him to death and to great shame?" But Brendan laid orders on them not to annoy him that night, and they cried horribly and went away, and with that Judas thanked Blessed Brendan so mournfully that it was a pity to hear him. And on the morning of the morrow the devils came again and cried out and scolded at Brendan. "Away with you" they said "for our master the great devil tormented us heavily through the night because we had not brought him with us; and we will avenge it on him" they said "and he will get double pains for the six days to come." And then they turned and took away with them that wretched one, quailing and trembling as he went.
Paul the Hermit
Then Brendan and his people sailed through the length of three days and three nights, and on the Friday they saw before them an island. And when Brendan saw it he began to sigh and to cry. "Paul the hermit is in that island" he said "and there he has been without meat or drink these forty days." And when they had come to land that old hermit came to them and humbly welcomed them, and his body was bare, but for his hair and his beard that covered it. And when Brendan saw him he cried and he said "Now I see one that lives the life of an angel rather than a man." But Paul said "You yourself are better than myself, for God has showed you more of his hidden things than tar any other." And he told them his own story and how he had been fed by an otter through forty years by the grace of God. And then the two blessed men parted from one another and there was sorrow enough in that parting.
A Lucky Journey
Then they went back to the ship and they were driven towards the south by a great wind through the forty days of Lent. And on Easter Eve they reached to their good Helper and he gave them good treatment as he had done before. And then he led them to the great fish and it was upon his back they said their Matins and their Mass. And when the Mass was ended the fish began to move and he swam out very far into the sea and there was great terror on the brothers when he did that and they being on his back, for it was a great wonder to see a beast that was the size of a whole country going so fast through the seas. But by the will of God the fish set them down in the Paradise of Birds sound and whole and left them there and went from them. And they were well pleased to be in that place and they spent their time there till after the Trinity as they had done before.
The Land of Promise
And after that they took their ship and sailed through forty days eastward. And at the end of the forty days there came a great shower of hail and then a dark mist came about them, and they were in it for a long time. Then their Helper came to them and said "Let you be glad now and hearten yourselves for you are come to the Land of Promise." Then they came out of the dark mist and they saw to the east the loveliest country that any one could see. Clear it was and lightsome, and there was enough in it of joy, and the trees were full of fruit on every bough, and the apples were as ripe as at harvest time. And they were going about that country through forty days and could see no end to it, and it was always day there and never night, and the air neither hot nor cold but always in the one way, and the delight that they found there could never be told. Then they came to a river that they could not cross but they could see beyond it the country that had no bounds to its beauty. Then there came to them a young man the comeliest that could be, and he gave them all a welcome, and to Brendan he showed great honour and took him by the hand and said to him "Here is the country you have been in search of, but it is our Lord's will you should go back again and make no delay, and he will show you more of his hidden things when you will come again into the great sea. And charge your ship with the fruit of this country" he said; "and you will soon be out of the world for your life is near its end. And this river you see here is the mering" he said "that divides the worlds, for no man may come to the other side of it while he is in life; and when our Lord will have drawn every man to him, and when every man will know him and be under his law, it is then there will be leave to see this country, towards the world's end." Then Brendan and his comrades did not fast from the fruit, but brought away what they could of it and of precious stones, and put them in their ship and went away homewards, and sorry enough they were to go.
And they sailed home in their ship to Ireland and it is glad the brothers they had left after them were to see them come home out of such great dangers. And as to Brendan he was from that time as if he did not belong to this world at all, but his mind and his joy were in the delight of heaven. And it is in Ireland he died and was buried; and that God may bring us to the same joy his blessed soul returned to!