ST BRENDAN THE NAVIGATOR Rev. FPF +27 September 2011
Brandon of Ardfert was born in 484 A.D. in a small village near Tralee in County Kerry. He became a monk and was ordained a priest in 512 A.D. by Bishop Erc of Tralee. He had a very fruitful apostolic life founding several monasteries and building a Cathedral. He traveled with some of his monks to Iona, an Island near Scotland, and also to Wales.
He is a recognized saint of the Catholic Church as Brendan the Navigator, whose feast is celebrated on 16 May, and is the patron of several parishes, for example, in San Francisco of California.
His greatest claim to fame stems from a legend, first noted in the eighth century and found written in manuscripts that date back to the ninth century. He is said to have sailed in a Coracle ( a boat made of ox-skins) out into the Atlantic in search of Paradise. Some accounts say that he sailed with 60 monks but that seems unlikely in view of the size of the boats at that time in Ireland; other accounts, more reasonable, say with 14 monks.
The voyage, according to the legend, took 7 years and when he returned he told of having found a lush island far to the West.
Attempts to identify his landfalls have been fruitless; principally because during the centuries the account has been heavily overlain with improbable events that are clearly imaginary. In early days the Canary Islands were considered, later, Iceland, etc. By the eighteenth century most scholars have written off the account as purely fabulous.
However, my thesis is that there really was such a trip and that St. Brendan may well have been the first European of record to see North America.
Evidence: here I give information culled from Prescott’s “Conquest of Mexico” re-published by Henry Holt Company in 1922; Timothy Severin’s 1976 book about his trip from Ireland to Newfoundland in a Coracle; and Warren Carroll’s 1983 book about Our Lady of Guadalupe published by Christendom Press.
The Shawnee Indians of the Ohio Valley in the early times of the United States had a memory of a “white Indian” tribe on the coast near Florida who used iron tools. Other accounts by Indian tribes — especially the Toltec Indians of Mexico, tell of a white man who came in a skin boat and stayed with a tribe of Indians on the Atlantic Coast of North America. He taught them many things including agriculture. The American Indians, like all primitive Mongolians, were hunters and gatherers that traveled in relatively small communities. Because they followed game they were essentially migratory. When they enter our history during the period of exploration by Europeans in the 15th and subsequent centuries, many of the tribes had agricultural skills, growing yucca, tomatoes, squash, maize and other plants.
He also taught them that unmarried people were to live in communities and practice the strictest chastity. He taught them about the Creator who abhorred human sacrifice and punishes evil and rewards the good. He taught these communities to be under the direction of “priests” who dressed in black. There are Indian Heiroglyphics extant that show this man using instruments to practice severe penance for the people.
There is also a legend that the Shamans were very jealous and tried to get rid of this man. The method they used is so typical of the Christian world that, considering all the evidence, it is difficult not to ascribe this man as a Catholic. The Shamans had a banquet at which they got him drunk and then introduced a woman into his tent. When he woke up the next morning he announced that he had to leave. He and some of his men sailed away in a skin boat and he predicted that others like him would come who would teach them more about the Creator and what he wants of them.
The Toltec Indians migrated around North America and finally settled in what is now the State of Hidalgo in Mexico. They had this legent and they called this man “Quetzalcoatl”. In their language a Queztal is a bird and Coatl means a snake. The sign and symbol of Quetzacoatl was a feathered serpent.
The intervening centuries had clouded his memory, but they still had a priesthood that dressed in black and single people lived in communities and practiced chastity. They had strict rules against human sacrifice. However, they did build pyramids with temples on top in honor of Quetzalcoatl, whom they honored as a god.
It is easy to see the reality of a Catholic Monk behind these legends. If one were to trace a cross for an unlettered Indian who did not know the complete story; the Indian would see a serpent with wings: hence the “feathered serpent”. Also, “Quetzal” is the nearest they would be able to pronounce the word: “Christ”. The fact that the word sounds like their word for a bird is the reason for this identification. But, also, the fact is that the word “Coatl” in the Indian language of Mesoamerica, has other meanings besides “snake” and one of the principal homonyms is “Brother”.
Thus the voyager from Christian lands is remembered in the Indian way of saying “Christs’s Brother”. Since the Cross is the symbol that identifies the Catholic Monk, and even in the 10th Century the Toltecs were living in a chaste environment wholly unknown to the pagan Indians, the identification of ST. Brendan the Navigator with Quetzacoatl is undoubted.
Brendan’s voyage took place some time after 530. Some scholars say around 550
And St. Brendan died in 577 A.D.
The tribe of Indians that settled in what is now Hidalgo, had a contiuous tradition of these teachings that are clearly Christian even in the year 987. At that time they still had a priesthood that wore black and lived in community much like our monks and worshiped Quezalcoatl who despised human sacrifice. Around that year the head of that community in Tula was one “Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl” who taught that the True God was the Creator who forbad human sacrifice.
His name means : “Our Prince born in the year 1-reed”. He was the leader of the communities and taught the enlightend moral concepts of his namesake Quetzalcoatl. About that time the Toltec people merged with the Aztecs who had settled on islands in the lake of Mexico. Their religious leaders wanted to offer sacrifice to their gods and, apparently, Ce Acatl Topilitzin was driven out of Tula and then out of Chochula, where he had taken refuge. He eventually was driven out of Central Mexico and crossed the Gulf ot Campeche to the Yucatan Peninsula where he dwelt among the Mayans until he died. He left Central Mexico about the year 987 of the Christian Calendar.
There was a prophecy that he would return on a year of his name to reclaim his people.
In Palenque, an ancient city of Mesoamerica, thre are ruins of temples that ceased to be used around 800 AD, according to some archeologists. These ruins are of particular interest because they form a complex of temple buidings whose walls are adorned with carvings of the Cross. As far a we know this is the only place ourside of the Christian world where this sign is found.
Some believe these structures corroborate the story of Ce Acatl Topilitzin. Palenque is in the state of Chiapas at the lower part of the Ycatan Peninsula and is in the area of the Maya.
In the Mexican calendar the year 1519 of the Christian era was a 1 reed year.
Also, Cortez landed at what is now Vera Cruz and met the ambassafors of Montezuma on Good Friday, 1519. In honor of the death of the Savior, Cortez wore black.
All this suggested to Montezuma and his councilors that Cortez was Quetzalcoatl, returned to retake his empire and to usher in a new age. This idea paralyzed the Aztecs and after a few encounters, 600 spaniards with 10,000 Indian allies marched through Mexico, a country that could muster one million seasoned warriers, to the city built on islands in the lake of Mexico. They marched into the city and took Montezuma prisoner and thus began the amazing story of the conquest.
This could never had taken place where it not for the Quetzalcoatl legend and the prophesies of his return.
Thus you see, Brendan the Navigator was not only in all likeliehood the first Europaen of record to see North America and return to tell the story; but he was responsible for the conquest of the most powerful and well-organized Indian Country and its subsequent convesion to the Catholicv faith.
I think that we should take this story to heart because we are always being asked by God to walk in paths we do not understand and to undergo situations and trials that are incomprehensible to us. However, you can see how what seems to us as a random phenomenon is really part of God’s great Plan of the formation of the Kingdom.
The Irish Monk, Brendan, when he went in search of paradise on the cold and foggy North Atlantic, had not the slightest notion that God was planning to use his strange experience in such a remarkable and important way.
We have no possible way of understanding the Creator and his intentions; however if we have faith, trust in Him and do his will without questioning, we will see that he will use our weak efforts to do unexpectedly great things in the salvation of souls.
Thus: trust the Creator and never doubt his love for us. Do his will for love of him and He will bring us to Glory.