Chapters 11 to 15

11 The Paradise of Birds

When they were sailing near the island where they had spent the three days, and came to the western edge of it, they saw another island almost joining it, separated only by a small channel, There was plenty of grass on it; it had groves of trees and was full of flowers. They started circling it, looking for a landing-place. As they were sailing on its southern side they found a stream flowing into the sea and there they put the boat in to land. As they disembarked, Saint Brendan ordered them to draw the boat with ropes up along the river-bed with all their might. The width of the river was about the width of the boat. The father sat in the boat. So they carried on for about a mile, until they came to the source of the stream. Saint Brendan spoke:

‘Our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a place in which to stay during his holy Resurrection.’

And he added:

‘If we had no other supplies but this spring, it would, I believe, alone be enough for food and drink.’

Over the spring there was a tree of extraordinary girth and no less height covered with white birds. They covered it so much that one could scarcely see its leaves or branches. When the man of God saw this, he began to think and ponder within himself what it meant or what was the reason that such a great multitude of birds could be all collected together. He was so tormented about this that the tears poured out and flowed down upon his cheeks, and he implored God, saying:

‘God, who knows the unknown and reveals all that is secret, you know the distress of my heart. I implore your majesty to have pity and reveal to me, a sinner, through your great mercy your secret that | now look upon with my eyes. I rely not on what I deserve or my worth, but rather on your boundless pity.’

When he said this within himself and had taken his seat again, one of the birds flew from the tree, making a noise with her wings like a hand-bell, and took up position on the side of the boat where the man of God was sitting. She sat on the edge of the prow and stretched her wings, as it were as a sign of joy, and looked with a peaceful mien at the holy father. The man of God immediately concluded that God had listened to his plea, and spoke to the bird:

‘If you are God’s messenger, tell me where these birds come from or for what reason they are congregated here.’

She replied immediately:

‘We survive from the great destruction of the ancient enemy, but we were not associated with them through any sin of ours. When we were created, Lucifer’s fall and that of his followers brought about our destruction also. But our God is just and true. In his great judgment he sent us here. We endure no sufferings. Here we can see God’s presence. But God has separated us from sharing the lot of the others who were faithful. We wander through various regions of the air and the firmament and the earth, just like the other spirits that travel on their missions. But on holy days and Sundays we are given bodies such as you now see so that we may stay here and praise our creator. You and your brothers have now spent one year on your journey. Six still remain. Where you celebrated Easter today, there you will celebrate it every year. Afterwards you will find what you cherish in your heart, that is, the Promised Land of the Saints.’

When she said this, she lifted herself off the prow and flew to the other birds.

When the hour of vespers had come all the birds in the tree chanted, as it were with one voice, beating their wings on their sides:

‘A hymn is due to thee, O God, in Zion, and a vow shall be paid to you in Jerusalem.’

They kept repeating this versicle for about the space of an hour. To the man of God and his companions the chant and the sound of their wings seemed in its sweetness like a rhythmical song.

Then Saint Brendan said to his brothers:

‘Repair your bodies, for today our souls are filled with divine food.’

When supper was over they performed the divine service. When all was finished, the man of God and his companions gave repose to their bodies until midnight. Waking, the man of God aroused his brothers for the vigil of the holy night, beginning with the versicle:

‘Lord, open my lips.’

When the holy man had finished, all the birds responded with wing and mouth, saying:

‘Praise the Lord, all his angels; praise him, all his powers.’

So it was as for vespers— they chanted all the time for the space of an hour.

When dawn rose they chanted:

‘May the radiance of the Lord, our God, be upon _ us!’ — with the same tune and for the same length of time as at matins and lauds. Likewise at terce they chanted the versicle:

‘Sing praises to our God, sing praises! Sing praises to our king. Sing praises in wisdom.’

At sext they chanted:

‘Shine your countenance, Lord, upon us, and have _ mercy on us.’

At nones they chanted:

‘How good and pleasant it is that brothers live together as one!’

In this way, day and night, the birds gave praise to the Lord. And so Saint Brendan refreshed his brothers with the feast of Easter until the octave day.

When the days of the octave were over he said:

‘Let us take supplies from the spring. Until now we had no need of water except to wash our hands and feet.’

When he said this, the man, with whom they had previously spent the three days before Easter and who had given them food for the feast of Easter, came to them in his boat which was full of food and drink. He took all of this out of the boat, stood before the holy father and said:

‘Men, brothers, here you have enough until the holy day of Pentecost. Do not drink from the spring here. It is strong to drink. I shall tell you what kind it is: if a man drinks it, sleep will overpower him and he will not awaken for twenty-four hours. It is only when it is outside of the spring that it has the taste and quality of water.’

When he had received the holy father’s blessing, he returned to his own place.

Saint Brendan remained where he was until the beginning of the octave of Pentecost. For the chanting of the birds revived their spirits. On Pentecost, however, when the man of God had sung Mass with his brothers, their steward came, bringing with him whatever was necessary for the celebration of the feast day. When they had sat down together for the meal, the steward spoke to them, saying:

‘You have a long journey ahead of you. Take the full of your vessels from the spring here and dry bread which you can keep until next year. I shall give you as much as your boat can carry.’

When all this had been finished, he received the holy father’s blessing and returned to his own place.

After eight days Saint Brendan had the boat loaded with all the things the steward had brought to him, and had all the vessels filled from the spring. When all was assembled at the shore, the same bird with speedy flight came and sat on the prow of the boat. The man of God understood that she wanted to tell him something. Then in a human voice she said:

‘Next year you will celebrate with us the holy day of Easter and the time you have just spent with us. And where you were this year on Maundy Thursday, there you will be next year on that day. Similarly you will celebrate the vigil of Easter Sunday where you formerly celebrated it, on the back of Jasconius. After eight months you will also find an island which is called the Island of the Community of Ailbe and there you will celebrate Christmas Day.’

When she had said this, she returned to her own place. The brothers stretched the sail and steered out into the ocean, while the birds chanted, as it were with one voice:

‘Hear us, God, our saviour, our hope throughout all the boundaries of the earth and in the distant sea.’

12 The Community of Ailbe

Then the holy father, with his group, was driven here and there for three months over the space of the ocean. They could see nothing but sky and sea. They ate always every second or third day.

One day there appeared to them an island not far away. When they were approaching the shore, the wind drew them away from landing. They, therefore, had to circle the island for forty days, and still they could not find a landing-place. The brothers in the boat implored God with tears to give them help. Their strength had almost failed because of their utter exhaustion. When they had persevered for three days in frequent prayer and abstinence, a narrow landing-place appeared to them, just wide enough to take one boat only; and there appeared before them there also two wells, one muddy and the other clear. The brothers then rushed with their vessels to drink the water. The man of God, watching them, said:

‘My sons, do not do a forbidden thing, that is, something without permission of the elders who live in this island. They will freely give you the water that you now want to drink in stealth.’

When they disembarked and were wondering in which direction they should go, an elder of great gravity met them. His hair was snow-white and his face was shining. He prostrated himself three times on the ground before embracing the man of God. But Saint Brendan and those with him raised him from the ground. As they embraced one another, the elder held the hand of the holy father and went along with him the distance of about two hundred yards to a monastery. Saint Brendan stood with his brothers before the gate of the monastery and asked the elder:

‘Whose monastery is this? Who is in charge of it? Where do the inhabitants come from?’

The holy father kept questioning the elder in various ways, but he could not get one answer out of him: he only indicated with his hand, with incredible meekness, that they should be silent.

As soon as the holy father realized that this was a rule of the place, he spoke to his brothers, saying:

‘Keep your mouths from speaking lest these brothers be defiled by your garrulousness.’

At this remonstrance eleven brothers came to meet them with reliquaries, crosses and hymns, chanting the versicle:

‘Rise, saints of God, from your dwellings and go to meet truth. Sanctify the place, bless the people, and graciously keep us your servants in peace.’

When the versicle was finished the father of the monastery embraced Saint Brendan and his companions in order. In the same way his community embraced the companions of the holy man.

When they had exchanged the kiss of peace, they led them to the monastery as the custom is in western parts to conduct brothers in this way with prayers. Afterwards the abbot of the monastery with his monks washed the feet of the guests and chanted the antiphon:

‘A new commandment.’

When this was done the abbot led them in great silence to the refectory. A signal was sounded hands were washed, and then the abbot made them sit down. When a second signal sounded, one of the brothers of the father of the monastery got up and served the table with loaves of extraordinary whiteness and some roots of incredible sweetness. The brothers sat mixed with their guests in order. There was a full loaf between every two brothers. The same server, on the sounding of the signal, gave the brothers drink.

The abbot for his part was urging on the brothers, saying with great glee:

‘In joy and fear of the Lord, drink in love now water from the well from which you wanted to drink in stealth today! The feet of the brothers are washed every day from the other, muddy, well that you saw, because it is always warm. We have no idea where the loaves that you see are baked or who carries them to our larder. What we do know is that they are given to his servants from the great charity of God by means of some dependant creature. There are twenty-four of us brothers here. Every day we have twelve loaves for our food, a loaf between every two. On feast-days and Sundays God increases the supply to one full loaf for each brother, so that they can have supper from what is left over. Just now on your coming we have a double supply. Thus Christ feeds us from the time of Saint Patrick and Saint Ailbe, our father, for eighty years until now. Yet neither sign of old age nor weakness spreads in our limbs. On this island we need nothing to eat that is prepared by fire. Neither cold nor heat ever overcomes us. And when the time comes for Masses or vigils, we light in our church the lights that we brought with us from our homeland under divine predestination. They burn till day and still none of them is reduced in any way.’

After they had drunk three times, the abbot sounded a signal in the usual way. The brothers rose all together in great silence and gravity from the table, and preceded the holy fathers to the church Behind them walked Saint Brendan and the father of the monastery. As they entered the church twelve other brothers, genuflecting quickly, met them on their way out. When Saint Brendan saw them he said:

‘Abbot, why did these not eat along with us?’

The father replied:

‘Because of you our table could not hold us all together at one sitting. They will now eat and will miss nothing. Let us now, however, go into the church and sing vespers so that our brothers, who are eating now, will be able to sing vespers after us in good time.’

When they had finished the office of vespers Saint Brendan examined how the church was built. It was square, of the same length as breadth, and had seven lights — three before the altar, which was in the middle, and two each before the other two altars. The altars were made of crystal cut in a square, and likewise all the vessels were of crystal, namely patens, chalices and cruets and other vessels required for the divine cult. There were twenty-four seats in a circle in the church. The abbot, however, sat between the two choirs. One group began from him and ended with him, and it was likewise with the other. No one on either side presumed to intone a verse but the abbot. No one in the monastery spoke or made any sound. If a brother needed anything he went before the abbot, knelt facing him, and requested within his heart what he needed. Thereupon the holy father taking a tablet and stylus wrote as God revealed to him and gave it to the brother who asked his advice.

While Saint Brendan was reflecting upon all these matters within himself, the abbot spoke to him:

‘Father, it is now time to return to the refectory so that all that we have to do will be done while there is light.’

This they did in the same way as before.

When they had completed the day’s course in order, they all hurried with great eagerness to compline. When the abbot had intoned the versicle:

‘God, come to my aid,’

and they had together given honour to the ‘Trinity they began to chant the versicle:

‘We have acted wrongly, we have done iniquity! You, Lord, who are our faithful father, spare us.

I shall sleep in peace therefore, and shall take my rest; for you, Lord, have placed me, singularly, in hope.’

After that they chanted the office of the hour.

When the order of psalms had been completed, all went out of the church, the brothers bringing their guests, each to his cell, with them. But the abbot and Saint Brendan remained seated in the church to wait for the coming of the light. Saint Brendan questioned the holy father on their silence and their community life: ‘how could human flesh endure such a life?’

The father replied with great reverence and humility:

‘Abbot, I confess before my Christ, It is eighty years since we came to this island, We have heard no human voice except when singing praise to God. Among the twenty-four of us no voice is raised except by way of a signal given by a finger or the eyes, and that only by the elders. None of us has suffered ill in the flesh or from the spirits that infest the human race, since we came here.’

Saint Brendan said:

‘May we stay here now — or not?’

He replied:

‘You may not, because it is not the will of God. Why do you ask me, father? Has not God revealed to you, before you came here to us, what you must do? You must return to your own place with fourteen of your brothers. There God has prepared your burial-place. Of the two remaining brothers, one will stay abroad in the Island of the Anchorites, and the other will be condemned by a shameful death to hell.’

While they were thus conversing a fiery arrow sped through a window before their very eyes and lit all the lamps that were placed before the altars. Then the arrow immediately sped out again. But a bright light was left in the lamps, Saint Brendan again asked:

‘Who will quench the lights in the morning?’

The holy father replied:

‘Come and see the secret of it. You can see the tapers burning in the centre of the bowls. Nothing of them actually burns away so that they might get smaller or reduced in size, nor is there any deposit left in the morning. The light is spiritual.’

Saint Brendan asked:

‘How can an incorporeal light burn corporeally in a corporeal creature?’

The elder replied:

‘Have you not read of the bush burning at Mount Sinai? Yet that bush was unaffected by the fire.’

They kept vigil the whole night until morning. Then Saint Brendan asked leave to set out on his journey. The elder said to him:

‘No, father. You must celebrate Christmas with us until the octave of the Epiphany.’

The holy father, therefore, with his company stayed that time with the twenty-four fathers in the Island of the Community of Ailbe.

13 The Soporific Well

When the feast-days were over the blessed Brendan and his followers brought provisions into the boat and received the blessing of the holy men. He then sailed out to the ocean as fast as he could. Whether by rowing or sailing, the boat was carried to many different places until the beginning of Lent.

One day they saw an island not far in front of them. When the brothers saw it they began to row eagerly, because they were then very distressed from hunger and thirst. Their food and drink had failed three days before. When the holy father had blessed the landing-place and all had disembarked from the boat, they found a clear well, a variety of plants and roots in a circle around the well, and various kinds of fish swimming along the river-bed into the sea.

Saint Brendan said to his brothers:

‘God has given us here a comfort after our toil Gather the plants and roots which the Lord has prepared for his servants.’

So they did. When they poured out the water to drink it, however, the man of God said to them:

‘Brothers, take care that you do not use too much of these waters, lest they lie heavily upon your bodies.’

The brothers interpreted the prescription of the man of God in different ways. Some of them drank one cup, others two, and the rest three. The last were overcome by a sleep of three days and three nights; others by a sleep of two days and two nights; the remainder by a sleep of a day and a night. But the holy father prayed unceasingly to God for his brothers, because through their ignorance such a danger had come upon them.

When the three days’ sleeping were up, the holy father spoke to his companions:

‘Brothers, let us flee from this threat to our lives lest something worse happen to us. The Lord gave us sustenance, but you did yourself damage with it Leave this island, then, taking provisions from the fish, and prepare what you need for a meal every third day up to Maundy Thursday. Likewise for the water — a single cup for each brother each day and equally for the roots.’

When they had loaded the boat with all that the man of God had ordered, they set sail and made out to sea in a northerly direction.

14 The Coagulated Sea

After three days and three nights the wind dropped and the sea coagulated, as it were — it was so smooth. The holy father said:

‘Ship the oars and loosen the sail. Wherever God wants to direct the boat, let him direct it!’

The boat, therefore, was carried around for twenty days. Afterwards God raised a wind favourable to them again, from west to east. They then set sail out to sea and sped on. They ate always every third day.

15 The Island of Sheep, Jasconius and the Paradise Of Birds Again

One day an island that looked like a cloud appeared to them a long distance away Saint Brendan said:

‘My sons, do you recognize that island?’

They said:

‘No, not at all.’

He said:

‘I recognize it. That is the island where we were last year on Maundy Thursday. That is where our good steward lives.’

The brothers began to row for joy as fast as their strength could support. When the man of God saw this, he said:

‘Children, do not tire your limbs foolishly. Is not the all-powerful God the pilot and sailor of our boat? Leave it to him. He himself guides our journey just as he wills.’

When they came near that island, the same steward came to meet them in a boat, and led them to the landing-place where they had disembarked the previous year. He praised God and embraced the feet of every one of them, beginning from the holy father right down to the last, saying:

‘God is wonderful in his saints. The God of Israel will himself give valour and strength to his people. Blessed be God.’

When the versicle was over and everything had been taken from the boat, the steward pitched a tent and made ready a bath — for it was Maundy Thursday — and clothed all the brothers with new garments and served them for three days. The brothers for their part celebrated the Passion of the Lord with great attention until Holy Saturday.

When the services for Holy Saturday were completed, spiritual victims sacrificed and supper taken, the steward said to Saint Brendan and those that were with him:

‘Go and embark in the boat so that you may celebrate the vigil of the holy Sunday of the Resurrection where you celebrated it last year. And celebrate the Sunday itself until mid-day in the same way. Afterwards, steer for the island which is called the Paradise of Birds, where you were last year from Easter until the octave of Pentecost, and bring with you all the food and drink that are necessary. I shall come to see you on the Sunday after Easter.’

So they did. The steward loaded the boat with loaves and drink and flesh and other good things, as much as it could take. Saint Brendan gave a blessing and embarked. They set sail immediately for the other island.

When they came near the spot where they should disembark from the boat, they saw the pot which they had left behind the year before. Then Saint Brendan disembarking from the boat with his brothers chanted the hymn of the Three Children right to the end. When the hymn was finished, the man of God warned his brothers, saying:

‘My sons, watch and pray, that you do not enter into temptation. Reflect on how God has subjected the savage beast under us without any inconvenience to us.’

The brothers, therefore, spent the vigil scattered over the island until matins. From then until about nine o’clock each of the priests offered Mass. Then the blessed Brendan sacrificed the Spotless Lamb to God and said to his brothers:

‘Last year I celebrated the Resurrection of the Lord here. I wish to do the same this year.’

They then set out for the island of the birds.

As they came near the landing-place they had chosen on that island, all the birds chanted, as if with one voice, saying:

‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!’

And again:

‘The Lord God has given us light. Appoint a holy day, with festal branches up to the horn of the altar.’

Thus they chanted and beat their wings for a long time — for about half an hour— until the holy father and his holy companions and the contents of the boat were landed and the holy father had taken his place in his tent.

When he had celebrated there with his community the feasts of Easter, the steward came to them, as he had told them beforehand, on Sunday the octave of Easter, bringing with him all the food needed for human life.

When they sat down to table, the same bird again sat on the prow of the boat, stretching her wings and making a noise like the sound of a great organ. The man of God then realized that she wished to convey a message to him. The bird said:

‘God has ordained for you four points of call for four periods of the year until the seven years of your pilgrimage are over, namely, on Maundy Thursday with your steward who is present every year; Easter you will celebrate on the back of the whale; the Easter feasts until the octave of Pentecost with us; Christmas you will celebrate with the Community of Ailbe. Then after seven years and great and varied trials you will find the Promised Land of the Saints that you seek. There you will live for forty days, and afterwards God will bring _ sae Ant a= 2 See you back to the land of your birth.’

When the holy father heard this, he prostrated himself on the ground with his brothers, giving thanks and praise to his creator. When the venerable elder had finished this, the bird returned to her own place.

When they had finished eating, the steward said:

‘With God’s help I shall return to you with your provisions on the feast of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles.’

Having received the blessing of the holy father and all that were with him, he returned to his own place. The venerable father remained there the number of days indicated. When the feast days were over, Saint Brendan ordered his brothers to prepare to sail and fill the vessels from the well They brought the boat to the sea, while the steward came with his own boat laden with food for the brothers. When he had placed all in the boat of the holy man, he embraced all of them and then returned where he had come from.