Brendan, a saint of adventure

By  Shona Assang, The Catholic Register
  • June 10, 2010

BrendanBrendan: The Remarkable Life and Voyage of Brendan of Clonfert, One of the most Beloved Irish Saints by Morgan Llywelyn (New York, Tom Doherty Associates, 303 pages, $29.99.)

Saints stand out as great role models for youth and if they haven’t already added St. Brendan to their list of heroes, it’s probable they will after reading Brendan: The Remarkable Life and Voyage of Brendan of Clonfert, One of the most Beloved Irish Saints by Morgan Llywelyn.

Brendan is a telling tale of the legendary life of St. Brendan of Clonfert, or St. Brendan the Navigator, one of the greatest Irish saints. In reading the novel, the reader will develop a mental picture of who St. Brendan was — a man of great faith, knowledge and love for God.

This book depicts the life of St. Brendan as a young child, born into the Celtic race of Gael and called Braon-finn, put into foster care and raised by a nun named Sr. Ita in a nunnery in the Meadow of Deep Soil called Cill Ide (Ita’s Church). It follows his growth into adulthood from the time he leaves Cill Ide to become a novice in preparation of priesthood, and is christened as Brendan, and eventually becomes an abbott. This book is of Brendan’s journey to find his purpose in life, as well as chronicling his voyage to find paradise.

Llywelyn shows great care in describing the settings of Ireland, the development and beauty of churches and the country’s spiritual history. The story takes place after St. Patrick had spread Christianity throughout the country, slowly winning a war against paganism, and threatening the life of Druids, the shamans of the land, who try to keep their magical history alive. “In his journal Brendan wrote: ‘Insular Ireland had avoided the iron fist of imperial Rome, but would not escape the softer hand of Christianity.’”

The novel interchanges between three different scenarios: St. Brendan’s youth, his adult voyage to Paradise, and that of his older self, reflecting back on past events. For some this may become a little confusing. Despite the fact that it’s a long read (303 pages), it will take the reader on a great journey, not only of his voyage to find the Oasis of God, but through his trials and tribulations as a young novice, priest, bishop, Abbott and eventually as the successor of Bishop Erc.

The storyline shows how Christianity was spread to those who worshipped and sacrificed to pagan gods. It also gives great detail of the hardships St. Patrick went through to bring God to Ireland, as well as the conversions of pagan festivals, healing wells and sacred ground into Christian ones.

Each of the characters are introduced as people who made a great impact on Brendan’s life, and demonstrated how he impacted on their view of Christianity. A patient reader will be able to get through the story with ease; but for those less patient, the story may drag on.

Even though it describes the country’s spiritual history in great detail, the book will help readers understand the setting and where the story takes place in this time in Ireland. If the reader can get through the historical context, they will learn many interesting things about Ireland’s religious history.

All in all, this book is great for people of all ages to learn more about the Christian faith, Ireland’s religion at this time, and of course, the remarkable life of St. Brendan, a man who was born for the sea and put his complete trust in God while others were doubtful. Everyone can find in Brendan a part of themselves and will be able to easily enter into this story, as well as enjoy it.

(Assang, 17, is a Grade 12 student attending Francis Libermann Catholic High School.)

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