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Ch. 10: The Celtic Hermits

It is not necessary to enter into the vexed question whether any Christianity ever existed in these islands of an earlier and purer type than that which was professed and practised by the saintly disciples of St. Antony. It is at least certain that the earliest historic figures which emerge from the haze of barbarous antiquity in both the Britains and in Ireland, are those of hermits, who, in celibacy and poverty, gather round them disciples, found a convent, convert and baptize the heathen, and often, like Antony and Hilarion, escape from the bustle and toil of the world into their beloved desert. They work the same miracles, see the same visions, and live in the same intimacy with the wild animals, as the hermits of Egypt, or of Roman Gaul: but their history, owing to the wild imagination and (as the legends themselves prove) the gross barbarism of the tribes among whom they dwell, are so involved in fable and legend, that it is all but impossible to separate fact from fiction; all but impossible, often, to fix the time at which they lived.

Their mode of life, it must always be remembered, is said to be copied from that of the Roman hermits of Gaul. St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland, seems to have been of Roman or Roman British lineage. In his famous "Confession" (which many learned antiquaries consider as genuine) he calls his father, Calphurnius a deacon; his grandfather, Potitus a priest--both of these names being Roman. He is said to have visited, at some period of his life, the monastery of St. Martin at Tours; to have studied with St. Germanus at Auxerre; and to have gone to one of the islands of the Tuscan sea, probably Lerins itself; and, whether or not we believe the story that he was consecrated bishop by Pope Celestine at Rome, we can hardly doubt that he was a member of that great spiritual succession of ascetics who counted St. Antony as their father.

Such another must that Palladius have been, who was sent, says Prosper of Aquitaine, by Pope Celestine to convert the Irish Scots, and who (according to another story) was cast on shore on the north- east coast of Scotland, founded the church of Fordun, in Kincardineshire, and became a great saint among the Pictish folk.

Another primaeval figure, almost as shadowy as St. Patrick, is St. Ninian, a monk of North Wales, who (according to Bede) first attempted the conversion of the Southern Picts, and built himself, at Whithorn in Galloway, the Candida Casa, or White House, a little church of stone,--a wonder in those days of "creel houses" and wooden stockades. He too, according to Bede, who lived some 250 years after his time, went to Rome; and he is said to have visited and corresponded with St. Martin of Tours.

Dubricius, again, whom legend makes the contemporary both of St. Patrick and of King Arthur, appears in Wales, as bishop and abbot of Llandaff. He too is ordained by a Roman bishop, St. Germanus of Auxerre; and he too ends his career, according to tradition, as a hermit, while his disciples spread away into Armorica (Brittany) and Ireland.

We need not, therefore, be surprised to find Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Scotland, and Brittany, during the next three centuries, swarming with saints, who kept up, whether in company or alone, the old hermit-life of the Thebaid; or to find them wandering, whether on missionary work, or in search of solitude, or escaping, like St. Cadoc the Wise, from the Saxon invaders. Their frequent journeys to Rome, and even to Jerusalem, may perhaps be set down as a fable, invented in after years by monks who were anxious to prove their complete dependence on the Holy See, and their perfect communion with the older and more civilized Christianity of the Roman Empire.

It is probable enough, also, that Romans from Gaul, as well as from Britain, often men of rank and education, who had fled before the invading Goths and Franks, and had devoted themselves (as we have seen that they often did) to the monastic life, should have escaped into those parts of these islands which had not already fallen into the hands of the Saxon invaders. Ireland, as the most remote situation, would be especially inviting to the fugitives; and we can thus understand the story which is found in the Acts of St. Senanus, how fifty monks, "Romans born," sailed to Ireland to learn the Scriptures, and to lead a stricter life; and were distributed between St. Senan, St. Finnian, St. Brendan, St. Barry, and St. Kieran. By such immigrations as this, it may be, Ireland became--as she certainly was for a while--the refuge of what ecclesiastical civilization, learning, and art the barbarian invaders had spared; a sanctuary from whence, in after centuries, evangelists and teachers went forth once more, not only to Scotland and England, but to France and Germany. Very fantastic, and often very beautiful, are the stories of these men; and sometimes tragical enough, like that of the Welsh St. Iltut, cousin of the mythic Arthur, and founder of the great monastery of Bangor, on the banks of the Dee, which was said--though we are not bound to believe the fact--to have held more than two thousand monks at the time of the Saxon invasion. The wild warrior was converted, says this legend, by seeing the earth open and swallow up his comrades, who had extorted bread, beer, and a fat pig from St. Cadoc of Llancarvan, a princely hermit and abbot, who had persuaded his father and mother to embrace the hermit life as the regular, if not the only, way of saving their souls. In a paroxysm of terror he fled from his fair young wife into the forest; would not allow her to share with him even his hut of branches; and devoted himself to the labour of making an immense dyke of mud and stones to keep out the inundations of a neighbouring river. His poor wife went in search of him once more, and found him in the bottom of a dyke, no longer a gay knight, but poorly dressed, and covered with mud. She went away, and never saw him more; "fearing to displease God and one so beloved by God." Iltut dwelt afterwards for four years in a cave, sleeping on the bare rock, and seems at last to have crossed over to Brittany, and died at Dol.

We must not forget--though he is not strictly a hermit--St. David, the popular saint of the Welsh, son of a nephew of the mythic Arthur, and educated by one Paulinus, a disciple, it is said, of St. Germanus of Auxerre. He is at once monk and bishop: he gathers round him young monks in the wilderness, makes them till the ground, drawing the plough by their own strength, for he allows them not to own even an ox. He does battle against "satraps" and "magicians"-- probably heathen chieftains and Druids; he goes to the Holy Land, and is made archbishop by the Patriarch of Jerusalem: he introduces, it would seem, into this island the right of sanctuary for criminals in any field consecrated to himself. He restores the church of Glastonbury over the tomb of his cousin, King Arthur, and dies at 100 years of age, "the head of the whole British nation, and honour of his fatherland." He is buried in one of his own monasteries at St. David's, near the headland whence St. Patrick had seen, in a vision, all Ireland stretched out before him, waiting to be converted to Christ; and the Celtic people go on pilgrimage to his tomb, even from Brittany and Ireland: and, canonized in 1120, he becomes the patron saint of Wales.

From that same point, in what year is not said, an old monk of St. David's monastery, named Modonnoc, set sail for Ireland, after a long life of labour and virtue. A swarm of bees settled upon the bow of his boat, and would not be driven away. He took them, whether he would or not, with him into Ireland, and introduced there, says the legend, the culture of bees and the use of honey.

Ireland was then the "Isle of Saints." Three orders of them were counted by later historians: the bishops (who seem not to have had necessarily territorial dioceses), with St. Patrick at their head, shining like the sun; the second, of priests, under St. Columba, shining like the moon; and the third, of bishops, priests, and hermits, under Colman and Aidan, shining like the stars. Their legends, full of Irish poetry and tenderness, and not without touches here and there of genuine Irish humour, lie buried now, to all save antiquaries, in the folios of the Bollandists and Colgan: but the memory of their virtue and beneficence, as well as of their miracles, shadowy and distorted by the lapse of centuries, is rooted in the heart and brain of the Irish peasantry; and who shall say altogether for evil? For with the tradition of their miracles has been entwined the tradition of their virtues, as an enduring heirloom for the whole Irish race, through the sad centuries which part the era of saints from the present time. We see the Irish women kneeling beside some well, whose waters were hallowed, ages since, by the fancied miracle of some mythic saint, and hanging gaudy rags (just as do the half savage Buddhists of the Himalayas) upon the bushes round. We see them upon holy days crawling on bare and bleeding knees around St. Patrick's cell, on the top of Croagh Patrick, the grandest mountain, perhaps, with the grandest outlook, in these British Isles, where stands still, I believe, an ancient wooden image, said to have belonged to St. Patrick himself; and where, too, hung till late years (it is now preserved in Dublin) an ancient bell; such a strange little oblong bell as the Irish saints carried with them to keep off daemons; one of those magic bells which appear, so far as I am aware, in no country save Ireland and Scotland till we come to Tartary and the Buddhists: such a bell as came down from heaven to St. Senan: such a bell as St. Fursey sent flying through the air to greet St. Cuandy at his devotions when he could not come himself: such a bell as another saint, wandering in the woods, rang till a stag came out of the covert, and carried it for him on his horns. On that peak, so legends tell, St. Patrick stood once, in the spirit and power of Elias--after whom the mountain was long named; fasting, like Elias, forty days and forty nights, and wrestling with the daemons of the storm, and the snakes of the fen, and the Peishta-More, the gigantic monster of the lakes, till he smote the evil things with the golden rod of Jesus, and they rolled over the cliff in hideous rout, and perished in the Atlantic far below. We know that these tales are but the dreams of children: but shall we sneer at the devotion of those poor Irish? Not if we remember (what is an undoubted fact) that the memory of these same saints has kept up in their minds an ideal of nobleness and purity, devotion and beneficence, which, down-trodden slaves as they have been, they would otherwise have inevitably lost; that it has helped to preserve them from mere brutality, and mere ferocity; and that the thought that these men were of their own race and their own kin has given them a pride in their own race, a sense of national unity and of national dignity, which has endured--and surely for their benefit, for reverence for ancestors and the self-respect which springs from it is a benefit to every human being--through all the miseries, deserved or undeserved, which have fallen upon the Irish since Pope Adrian IV. (the true author of all the woes of Ireland), in the year 1155, commissioned Henry II. to conquer Ireland and destroy its primaeval Church, on consideration of receiving his share of the booty in the shape of Peter's Pence.

Among these Irish saints, two names stand out as especially interesting: that of St. Brendan, and that of St. Columba--the former as the representative of the sailor monks of the early period, the other as the great missionary who, leaving his monastery at Durrow, in Ireland, for the famous island of Hy, Iona, or Icolumbkill, off the western point of Mull, became the apostle of Scotland and the north of England. I shall first speak of St. Brendan, and at some length. His name has become lately familiar to many, through the medium of two very beautiful poems, one by Mr. Matthew Arnold, and the other by Mr. Sebastian Evans; and it may interest those who have read their versions of the story to see the oldest form in which the story now exists.

The Celts, it must be remembered, are not, in general, a sea-going folk. They have always neglected the rich fisheries of their coasts; and in Ireland every seaport owes its existence, not to the natives, but to Norse colonists. Even now, the Irishman or Western Highlander, who emigrates to escape the "Saxons," sails in a ship built and manned by those very "Saxons," to lands which the Saxons have discovered and civilized. But in the seventh and eighth centuries, and perhaps earlier, many Celts were voyagers and emigrants, not to discover new worlds, but to flee from the old one. There were deserts in the sea, as well as on land; in them they hoped to escape from men, and, yet more, from women.

They went against their carnal will. They had no liking for the salt water. They were horribly frightened, and often wept bitterly, as they themselves confess. And they had reason for fear; for their vessels were, for the most part, only "curachs" (coracles) of wattled twigs, covered with tanned hides. They needed continual exhortation and comfort from the holy man who was their captain; and needed often miracles likewise for their preservation. Tempests had to be changed into calm, and contrary winds into fair ones, by the prayers of a saint; and the spirit of prophecy was needed, to predict that a whale would be met between Iona and Tiree, who appeared accordingly, to the extreme terror of St. Berach's crew, swimming with open jaws, and (intent on eating, not monks, but herrings) nearly upsetting them by the swell which he raised. And when St. Baithenius met the same whale on the same day, it was necessary for him to rise, and bless, with outspread hands, the sea and the whale, in order to make him sink again, after having risen to breathe. But they sailed forth, nevertheless, not knowing whither they went; true to their great principle, that the spirit must conquer the flesh: and so showed themselves actually braver men than the Norse pirates, who sailed afterwards over the same seas without fear, and without the need of miracles, and who found everywhere on desert islands, on sea-washed stacks and skerries, round Orkney, Shetland, and the Faroes, even to Iceland, the cells of these "Papas" or Popes; and named them after the old hermits, whose memory still lingers in the names of Papa Strona and Papa Westra, in the Orkneys, and in that of Papey, off the coast of Iceland, where the first Norse settlers found Irish books, bells, and crosiers, the relics of old hermits who had long since fasted and prayed their last, and migrated to the Lord.

Adanman, in his life of St. Columba, tells of more than one such voyage. He tells how one Baitanus, with the saint's blessing, sailed forth to find "a desert" in the sea; and how when he was gone, the saint prophesied that he should be buried, not in a desert isle, but where a woman should drive sheep over his grave, the which came true in the oak-wood of Calgaich, now Londonderry, whither he came back again. He tells, again, of one Cormac, "a knight of Christ," who three times sailed forth in a coracle to find some desert isle, and three times failed of his purpose; and how, in his last voyage, he was driven northward by the wind fourteen days' sail, till he came where the summer sea was full of foul little stinging creatures, of the size of frogs, which beat against the sides of the frail boat, till all expected them to be stove in. They clung, moreover, to the oar blades; {256} and Cormac was in some danger of never seeing land again, had not St. Columba, at home in Iona far away, seen him in a vision, him and his fellows, praying and "watering their cheeks with floods of tears," in the midst of "perturbations monstrous, horrific, never seen before, and almost unspeakable." Calling together his monks, he bade them pray for a north wind, which came accordingly, and blew Cormac safe back to Iona, to tempt the waves no more. "Let the reader therefore perpend how great and what manner of man this same blessed personage was, who, having so great prophetic knowledge, could command, by invoking the name of Christ, the winds and ocean."

Even as late as the year 891, says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: "Three Scots came to King Alfred, in a boat without any oars, from Ireland, whence they had stolen away, because for the love of God they desired to be on pilgrimage, they recked not where. The boat in which they came was made of two hides and a half; and they took with them provisions for seven days; and about the seventh day they came on shore in Cornwall, and soon after went to King Alfred. Thus they were named, Dubslane, and Macbeth, and Maelinmun."

Out of such wild feats as these; out of dim reports of fairy islands in the west; of the Canaries and Azores; of that Vinland, with its wild corn and wild grapes which Leif, the son of Eirek Rauda, had found beyond the ocean a thousand years and one after the birth of Christ; of icebergs and floes sailing in the far northern sea, upon the edge of the six-months' night; out of Edda stories of the Midgard snake, which is coiled round the world; out of reports, it may be, of Indian fakirs and Buddhist shamans; out of scraps of Greek and Arab myth, from the Odyssey or the Arabian Nights, brought home by "Jorsala Farar," vikings who had been for pilgrimage and plunder up the Straits of Gibraltar into the far East;--out of all these materials were made up, as years rolled on, the famous legend of St. Brendan and his seven years' voyage in search of the "land promised to the saints."

This tale was so popular in the middle age, that it appears, in different shapes, in almost every early European language. {257} It was not only the delight of monks, but it stirred up to wild voyages many a secular man in search of St. Brendan's Isle, "which is not found when it is sought," but was said to be visible at times, from Palma in the Canaries. The myth must have been well known to Columbus, and may have helped to send him forth in search of "Cathay." Thither (so the Spanish peasants believed) Don Roderic had retired from the Moorish invaders. There (so the Portuguese fancied) King Sebastian was hidden from men, after his reported death in the battle of Alcazar. The West Indies, when they were first seen, were surely St. Brendan's Isle: and the Mississippi may have been, in the eyes of such old adventurers as Don Ferdinando da Soto, when he sought for the Fountain of Perpetual Youth, the very river which St. Brendan found parting in two the Land of Promise. From the year 1526 (says M. Jubinal), till as late as 1721, armaments went forth from time to time into the Atlantic, and went forth in vain.

For the whole tale, from whatever dim reports of fact they may have sprung, is truly (as M. Jubinal calls it) a monkish Odyssey, and nothing more. It is a dream of the hermit's cell. No woman, no city, nor nation, are ever seen during the seven years' voyage. Ideal monasteries and ideal hermits people the "deserts of the ocean." All beings therein (save daemons and Cyclops) are Christians, even to the very birds, and keep the festivals of the Church as eternal laws of nature. The voyage succeeds, not by seamanship, or geographic knowledge, nor even by chance: but by the miraculous prescience of the saint, or of those whom he meets; and the wanderings of Ulysses, or of Sinbad, are rational and human in comparison with those of St. Brendan.

Yet there are in them, as was to be expected, elements in which the Greek or the Arab legends are altogether deficient; perfect innocence, patience, and justice; utter faith in a God who prospers the innocent and punishes the guilty; ennobling obedience to the saint, who stands out a truly heroic figure above his trembling crew; and even more valuable still, the belief in, the craving for, an ideal, even though that ideal be that of a mere earthly Paradise; the "divine discontent," as it has been well called, which is the root of all true progress; which leaves (thank God) no man at peace save him who has said, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."

And therefore I have written at some length the story of St. Brendan; because, though it be but a monk-ideal, it is an ideal still: and therefore profitable for all who are not content with this world, and its paltry ways.

Saint Brendan, we read, the son of Finnloga, and great grandson of Alta, son of Ogaman, of the race of Ciar son of Fergus, was born at Tralee, and founded, in 559, the Abbey of Clonfert, {260a} and was a man famous for his great abstinence and virtues, and the father of nearly 3,000 monks. {260b} And while he was "in his warfare," there came to him one evening a holy hermit named "Barintus," of the royal race of Neill; and when he was questioned, he did nought but cast himself on the ground, and weep and pray. And when St. Brendan asked him to make better cheer for him and his monks, he told him a strange tale. How a nephew of his had fled away to be a solitary, and found a delicious island, and established a monastery therein; and how he himself had gone to see his nephew, and sailed with him to the eastward to an island, which was called "the land of promise of the saints," wide and grassy, and bearing all manner of fruits; wherein was no night, for the Lord Jesus Christ was the light thereof; and how they abode there for a long while without eating and drinking; and when they returned to his nephew's monastery, the brethren knew well where they had been, for the fragrance of Paradise lingered on their garments for nearly forty days.

So Barintus told his story, and went back to his cell. But St. Brendan called together his most loving fellow-warriors, as he called them, and told them how he had set his heart on seeking that Promised Land. And he went up to the top of the hill in Kerry, which is still called Mount Brendan, with fourteen chosen monks; and there, at the utmost corner of the world, he built him a coracle of wattle, and covered it with hides tanned in oak-bark and softened with butter, and set up in it a mast and a sail, and took forty days' provision, and commanded his monks to enter the boat, in the name of the Holy Trinity. And as he stood alone, praying on the shore, three more monks from his monastery came up, and fell at his feet, and begged to go too, or they would die in that place of hunger and thirst; for they were determined to wander with him all the days of their life. So he gave them leave. But two of them, he prophesied, would come to harm and to judgment. So they sailed away toward the summer solstice, with a fair wind, and had no need to row. But after twelve days the wind fell to a calm, and they had only light airs at night, till forty days were past, and all their victual spent. Then they saw toward the north a lofty island, walled round with cliffs, and went about it three days ere they could find a harbour. And when they landed, a dog came fawning on them, and they followed it up to a great hall with beds and seats, and water to wash their feet. But St. Brendan said, "Beware, lest Satan bring you into temptation. For I see him busy with one of those three who followed us." Now the hall was hung all round with vessels of divers metals, and bits and horns overlaid with silver. Then St. Brendan told his servant to bring the meal which God had prepared; and at once a table was laid with napkins, and loaves wondrous white, and fishes. Then they blessed God, and ate, and took likewise drink as much as they would, and lay down to sleep. Then St. Brendan saw the devil's work; namely, a little black boy holding a silver bit, and calling the brother aforementioned. So they rested three days and three nights. But when they went to the ship, St. Brendan charged them with theft, and told what was stolen, and who had stolen it. Then the brother cast out of his bosom a silver bit, and prayed for mercy. And when he was forgiven and raised up from the ground, behold, a little black boy flew out of his bosom, howling aloud, and crying, "Why, O man of God, dost thou drive me from my habitation, where I have dwelt for seven years?"

Then the brother received the Holy Eucharist, and died straightway, and was buried in that isle, and the brethren saw the angels carry his soul aloft, for St. Brendan had told him that so it should be: but that the brother who came with him should have his sepulchre in hell. And as they went on board, a youth met them with a basket of loaves and a bottle of water, and told them that it would not fail till Pentecost.

Then they sailed again many days, till they came to an isle full of great streams and fountains swarming with fish; and sheep there all white, as big as oxen, so many that they hid the face of the earth. And they stayed there till Easter Eve, and took one of the sheep (which followed them as if it had been tame) to eat for the Paschal feast. Then came a man with loaves baked in the ashes, and other victual, and fell down before St. Brendan and cried, "How have I merited this, O pearl of God, that thou shouldest be fed at this holy tide from the labours of my hand?"

And they learned from that man that the sheep grew there so big because they were never milked, nor pinched with winter, but they fed in those pastures all the year round. Moreover, he told them that they must keep Easter in an isle hard by, opposite a shore to the west, which some called the Paradise of Birds.

So to the nearest island they sailed. It had no harbour, nor sandy shore, and there was no turf on it, and very little wood. Now the Saint knew what manner of isle it was, but he would not tell the brethren, lest they should be terrified. So he bade them make the boat fast stem and stern, and when morning came he bade those who were priests to celebrate each a mass, and then to take the lamb's fleece on shore and cook it in the caldron with salt, while St. Brendan remained in the boat.

But when the fire blazed up, and the pot began to boil, that island began to move like water. Then the brethren ran to the boat imploring St. Brendan's aid; and he helped them each in by the hand, and cast off. After which the island sank in the ocean. And when they could see their fire burning more than two miles off, St. Brendan told them how that God had revealed to him that night the mystery; that this was no isle, but the biggest of all fishes which swam in the ocean, always it tries to make its head and its tail meet, but cannot, by reason of its length; and its name is Jasconius.

Then, across a narrow strait, they saw another isle, very grassy and wooded, and full of flowers. And they found a little stream, and towed the boat up it (for the stream was of the same width as the boat), with St. Brendan sitting on board, till they came to the fountain thereof. Then said the holy father, "See, brethren, the Lord has given us a place wherein to celebrate his holy Resurrection. And if we had nought else, this fountain, I think, would serve for food as well as drink." For the fountain was too admirable. Over it was a huge tree of wonderful breadth, but no great height, covered with snow-white birds, so that its leaves and boughs could scarce be seen.

And when the man of God saw that, he was so desirous to know the cause of that assemblage of birds, that he besought God upon his knees, with tears, saying, "God, who knowest the unknown, and revealest the hidden, thou knowest the anxiety of my heart. . . . Deign of thy great mercy to reveal to me thy secret. . . . But not for the merit of my own dignity, but regarding thy clemency, do I presume to ask."

Then one of those birds flew from off the tree, and his wings sounded like bells over the boat. And he sat on the prow, and spread his wings joyfully, and looked quietly on St. Brendan. And when the man of God questioned that bird, it told how they were of the spirits which fell in the great ruin of the old enemy; not by sin or by consent, but predestined by the piety of God to fall with those with whom they were created. But they suffered no punishment; only they could not, in part, behold the presence of God. They wandered about this world, like other spirits of the air, and firmament, and earth. But on holy days they took those shapes of birds, and praised their Creator in that place.

Then the bird told him, how he and his monks had wandered one year already, and should wander for six more; and every year should celebrate their Easter in that place, and after find the Land of Promise; and so flew back to its tree.

And when the eventide was come, the birds began all with one voice to sing, and clap their wings, crying, "Thou, O God, art praised in Zion, and unto Thee shall the vow be performed in Jerusalem." And always they repeated that verse for an hour, and their melody and the clapping of their wings was like music which drew tears by its sweetness.

And when the man of God wakened his monks at the third watch of the night with the verse, "Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord," all the birds answered, "Praise the Lord, all his angels; praise him, all his virtues." And when the dawn shone, they sang again, "The splendour of the Lord God is over us;" and at the third hour, "Sing psalms to our God, sing; sing to our King, sing with wisdom." And at the sixth, "The Lord hath lifted up the light of his countenance upon us, and had mercy on us." And at the ninth, "Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity." So day and night those birds gave praise to God. St. Brendan, therefore, seeing these things, gave thanks to God for all his marvels, and the brethren were refreshed with that spiritual food till the octave of Easter.

After which, St. Brendan advised to take of the water of the fountain; for till then they had only used it to wash their feet and hands. But there came to him the same man who had been with them three days before Easter, and with his boat full of meat and drink, and said, "My brothers, here you have enough to last till Pentecost: but do not drink of that fountain. For its nature is, that whosoever drinks will sleep for four-and-twenty hours." So they stayed till Pentecost, and rejoiced in the song of the birds. And after mass at Pentecost, the man brought them food again, and bade them take of the water of the fountain and depart. Then the birds came again, and sat upon the prow, and told them how they must, every year, celebrate Easter in the Isle of Birds, and Easter Eve upon the back of the fish Jasconius; and how, after eight months, they should come to the isle called Ailbey, and keep their Christmas there.

After which they were on the ocean for eight months, out of sight of land, and only eating after every two or three days, till they came to an island, along which they sailed for forty days, and found no harbour. Then they wept and prayed, for they were almost worn out with weariness; and after they had fasted and prayed for three days, they saw a narrow harbour, and two fountains, one foul, one clear. But when the brethren hurried to draw water, St. Brendan (as he had done once before) forbade them, saying that they must take nought without leave from the elders who were in that isle.

And of the wonders which they saw in that isle it were too long to tell: how there met them an exceeding old man, with snow-white hair, who fell at St. Brendan's feet three times, and led him in silence up to a monastery of four-and-twenty silent monks, who washed their feet, and fed them with bread and water, and roots of wonderful sweetness; and then at last, opening his mouth, told them how that bread was sent them perpetually, they knew not from whence; and how they had been there eighty years, since the times of St. Patrick, and how their father Ailbey and Christ had nourished them; and how they grew no older, nor ever fell sick, nor were overcome by cold or heat; and how brother never spoke to brother, but all things were done by signs; and how he led them to a square chapel, with three candles before the mid-altar, and two before each of the side altars; and how they, and the chalices and patens, and all the other vessels, were of crystal; and how the candles were lighted always by a fiery arrow, which came in through the window, and returned; and how St. Brendan kept his Christmas there, and then sailed away till Lent, and came to a fruitful island where he found fish; and how when certain brethren drank too much of the charmed water they slept, some three days, and some one; and how they sailed north, and then east, till they came back to the Isle of Sheep at Easter, and found on the shore their caldron, which they had lost on Jasconius's back; and how, sailing away, they were chased by a mighty fish which spouted foam, but was slain by another fish which spouted fire; and how they took enough of its flesh to last them three months; and how they came to an island flat as the sea, without trees, or aught that waved in the wind; and how on that island were three troops of monks (as the holy man had foretold), standing a stone's throw from each other: the first of boys, robed in snow-white; the second of young men, dressed in hyacinthine; the third of old men, in purple dalmatics, singing alternately their psalms, all day and night: and how when they stopped singing, a cloud of wondrous brightness overshadowed the isle; and how two of the young men, ere they sailed away, brought baskets of grapes, and asked that one of the monks (as had been prophesied) should remain with them, in the Isle of Strong Men; and how St. Brendan let him go, saying, "In a good hour did thy mother conceive thee, because thou hast merited to dwell with such a congregation;" and how those grapes were so big, that a pound of juice ran out of each of them, and an ounce thereof fed each brother for a whole day, and was as sweet as honey; and how a magnificent bird dropped into the ship the bough of an unknown tree, with a bunch of grapes thereon; and how they came to a land where the trees were all bowed down with vines, and their odour as the odour of a house full of pomegranates; and how they fed forty days on those grapes, and strange herbs and roots; and how they saw flying against them the bird which is called gryphon; and how that bird who had brought the bough tore out the gryphon's eyes, and slew him; and how they looked down into the clear sea, and saw all the fishes sailing round and round, head to tail, innumerable as flocks in the pastures, and were terrified, and would have had the man of God celebrate mass in silence, lest the fish should hear, and attack them; and how the man of God laughed at their folly; and how they came to a column of clear crystal in the sea, with a canopy round it of the colour of silver, harder than marble, and sailed in through an opening, and found it all light within; {269} and how they found in that hall a chalice of the same stuff as the canopy, and a paten of that of the column, and took them, that they might make many believe; and how they sailed out again, and past a treeless island, covered with slag and forges; and how a great hairy man, fiery and smutty, came down and shouted after them; and how when they made the sign of the Cross and sailed away, he and his fellows brought down huge lumps of burning slag in tongs, and hurled them after the ship; and how they went back, and blew their forges up, till the whole island flared, and the sea boiled, and the howling and stench followed them, even when they were out of sight of that evil isle; and how St. Brendan bade them strengthen themselves in faith and spiritual arms, for they were now on the confines of hell, therefore they must watch, and play the man. All this must needs be hastened over, that we may come to the famous legend of Judas Iscariot.

They saw a great and high mountain toward the north, with smoke about its peak. And the wind blew them close under the cliffs, which were of immense height, so that they could hardly see their top, upright as walls, and black as coal. {270} Then he who remained of the three brethren who had followed St. Brendan sprang out of the ship, and waded to the cliff foot, groaning, and crying, "Woe to me, father, for I am carried away from you; and cannot turn back." Then the brethren backed the ship, and cried to the Lord for mercy. But the blessed Father Brendan saw how that wretch was carried off by a multitude of devils, and all on fire among them. Then a fair wind blew them away southward; and when they looked back they saw the peak of the isle uncovered, and flame spouting from it up to heaven, and sinking back again, till the whole mountain seemed one burning pile.

After that terrible vision they sailed seven days to the south, till Father Brendan saw a dense cloud; when they neared it, a form as of a man sitting, and before him a veil, as big as a sack, hanging between two iron tongs, and rocking on the waves like a boat in a whirlwind. Which when the brethren saw some thought was a bird, and some a boat; but the man of God bade them give over arguing, and row thither. And when they got near, the waves were still, as if they had been frozen; and they found a man sitting on a rough and shapeless rock, and the waves beating over his head; and when they fell back, the bare rock appeared on which that wretch was sitting. And the cloth which hung before him the wind moved, and beat him with it on the eyes and brow. But when the blessed man asked him who he was, and how he had earned that doom, he said, "I am that most wretched Judas, who made the worst of all bargains. But I hold not this place for any merit of my own, but for the ineffable mercy of Christ. I expect no place of repentance: but for the indulgence and mercy of the Redeemer of the world, and for the honour of His holy resurrection, I have this refreshment; for it is the Lord's-day now, and as I sit here I seem to myself in a paradise of delight, by reason of the pains which will be mine this evening; for when I am in my pains I burn day and night like lead melted in a pot. But in the midst of that mountain which you saw, is Leviathan with his satellites, and I was there when he swallowed your brother; and therefore the king of hell rejoiced, and sent forth huge flames, as he doth always when he devours the souls of the impious." Then he told them how he had his refreshings there every Lord's-day from even to even, and from Christmas to Epiphany, and from Easter to Pentecost, and from the Purification of the Blessed Virgin to her Assumption: but the rest of his time he was tormented with Herod and Pilate, Annas and Caiaphas; and so adjured them to intercede for him with the Lord that he might be there at least till sunrise in the morn. To whom the man of God said, "The will of the Lord be done. Thou shalt not be carried off by the daemons till to-morrow." Then he asked him of that clothing, and he told how he had given it to a leper when he was the Lord's chamberlain; "but because it was no more mine than it was the Lord's and the other brethren's, therefore it is of no comfort to me, but rather a hurt. And these forks I gave to the priests to hang their caldrons on. And this stone on which I always sit I took off the road, and threw it into a ditch for a stepping-stone, before I was a disciple of the Lord." {272}

But when the evening hour had covered the face of Thetis," behold a multitude of daemons shouting in a ring, and bidding the man of God depart, for else they could not approach; and they dared not behold their prince's face unless they brought back their prey. But the man of God bade them depart. And in the morning an infinite multitude of devils covered the face of the abyss, and cursed the man of God for coming thither; for their prince had scourged them cruelly that night for not bringing back the captive. But the man of God returned their curses on their own heads, saying that "cursed was he whom they blest, and blessed he whom they cursed;" and when they threatened Judas with double torments because he had not come back, the man of God rebuked them.

"Art thou, then, Lord of all," they asked, "that we should obey thee?" "I am the servant," said he, "of the Lord of all; and whatsoever I command in his name is done; and I have no ministry save what he concedes to me."

So they blasphemed him till he left Judas, and then returned, and carried off that wretched soul with great rushing and howling.

After which they saw a little isle; and the holy man told them that now seven years were nigh past; and that in that isle they should soon see a hermit, named Paul the Spiritual, who had lived for sixty years without any corporeal food, but for thirty years before that he had received food from a certain beast.

The isle was very small, about a furlong round; a bare rock, so steep that they could find no landing-place. But at last they found a creek, into which they thrust the boat's bow, and then discovered a very difficult ascent. Up that the man of God climbed, bidding them wait for him, for they must not enter the isle without the hermit's leave; and when he came to the top he saw two caves, with their mouths opposite each other, and a very small round well before the cave mouth, whose waters, as fast as they ran out, were sucked in again by the rock. {274} As he went to one entrance, the old man came out of the other, saying, "Behold how good and pleasant it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity," and bade him call up the brethren from the boat; and when they came, he kissed them, and called them each by his name. Whereat they marvelled, not only at his spirit of prophecy, but also at his attire; for he was all covered with his locks and beard, and with the other hair of his body, down to his feet. His hair was white as snow for age, and none other covering had he. When St. Brendan saw that, he sighed again and again, and said within himself, "Woe is me, sinner that I am, who wear a monk's habit, and have many monks under me, when I see a man of angelic dignity sitting in a cell, still in the flesh, and unhurt by the vices of the flesh." To whom the man of God answered, "Venerable father, what great and many wonders God hath showed thee, which he hath manifested to none of the fathers, and thou sayest in thy heart that thou art not worthy to wear a monk's habit. I tell thee, father, that thou art greater than a monk; for a monk is fed and clothed by the work of his own hands: but God has fed and clothed thee and thy family for seven years with his secret things, while wretched I sit here on this rock like a bird, naked save the hair of my body."

Then St. Brendan asked him how and whence he came thither; and he told how he was nourished in St. Patrick's monastery for fifty years, and took care of the cemetery; and how when the dean had bidden him dig a grave, an old man, whom he knew not, appeared to him, and forbade him, for that grave was another man's. And how he revealed to him that he was St. Patrick, his own abbot, who had died the day before, and bade him bury that brother elsewhere, and go down to the sea and find a boat, which would take him to the place where he should wait for the day of his death; and how he landed on that rock, and thrust the boat off with his foot, and it went swiftly back to its own land; and how, on the very first day, a beast came to him, walking on its hind paws, and between its fore paws a fish, and grass to make a fire, and laid them at his feet; and so every third day for twenty years; and every Lord's day a little water came out of the rock, so that he could drink and wash his hands; and how after thirty years he had found these caves and that fountain, and had fed for the last sixty years on nought but the water thereof. For all the years of his life were 150, and henceforth he awaited the day of his judgment in that his flesh.

Then they took of that water, and received his blessing, and kissed each other in the peace of Christ, and sailed southward: but their food was the water from the isle of the man of God. Then (as Paul the Hermit had foretold) they came back on Easter Eve to the Isle of Sheep, and to him who used to give them victuals; and then went on to the fish Jasconius, and sang praises on his back all night, and mass at morn. After which the fish carried them on his back to the Paradise of Birds, and there they stayed till Pentecost. Then the man who always tended them, bade them fill their skins from the fountain, and he would lead them to the land promised to the saints. And all the birds wished them a prosperous voyage in God's name; and they sailed away, with forty days' provision, the man being their guide, till after forty days they came at evening to a great darkness which lay round the Promised Land. But after they had sailed through it for an hour, a great light shone round them, and the boat stopped at a shore. And when they landed they saw a spacious land, full of trees bearing fruit as in autumn time. And they walked about that land for forty days, eating of the fruit and drinking of the fountains, and found no end thereof. And there was no night there, but the light shone like the light of the sun. At last they came to a great river, which they could not cross, so that they could not find out the extent of that land. And as they were pondering over this, a youth, with shining face and fair to look upon, met them, and kissed them with great joy, calling them each by his name, and said, "Brethren, peace be with you, and with all that follow the peace of Christ." And after that, "Blessed are they who dwell in thy house, O Lord; they shall be for ever praising thee."

Then he told St. Brendan that that was the land which he had been seeking for seven years, and that he must now return to his own country, taking of the fruits of that land, and of its precious gems, as much as his ship could carry; for the days of his departure were at hand, when he should sleep in peace with his holy brethren. But after many days that land should be revealed to his successors, and should be a refuge for Christians in persecution. As for the river that they saw, it parted that island; and the light shone there for ever, because Christ was the light thereof.

Then St. Brendan asked if that land would ever be revealed to men: and the youth answered, that when the most high Creator should have put all nations under his feet, then that land should be manifested to all his elect.

After which St. Brendan, when the youth had blessed him, took of the fruits and of the gems, and sailed back through the darkness, and returned to his monastery; whom when the brethren saw, they glorified God for the miracles which he had heard and seen. After which he ended his life in peace. Amen.

Here ends (says the French version) concerning St. Brendan, and the marvels which he found in the sea of Ireland.

Charles Kingsley