Saints and Holy People

Find out about their lives and how they changed the world

Saint Brendan the Navigator (c. 484-577)

Saint Brendan the Navigator (c. 484-577)

Patron saint of boaters, mariners, travelers, elderly adventurers, whales, and also of portaging canoes

Feast day: May 16

Saint Brendan was from Tralee, County Kerry, on the west coast of Ireland. Educated in monastery schools, he is honored as one of the "Twelve Apostles of Ireland" for his faith and his preaching.  By the time of his death, he had founded monasteries and churches in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and France.

For Brendan, voyaging on the sea was a way of actively trusting God and a means of spreading the faith. His first voyage was to the Aran Islands, where he founded a monastery. Brendan famously sailed with 60 of his friends in tiny boats to find the Isles of the Blessed in the roaring Atlantic Ocean. While it is hard to separate fact from folklore in the accounts of this voyage, scholars now think that Brendan actually did land in North America. A book and movie by Tim Severin, "The Brendan Voyage," proved that a small curragh (boat) could truly make such a long and dangerous voyage.

Brendan landed in North America sometime in the sixth century after the birth of Christ. He did so a few years before Leif the son of Erik, or Cristobal of Genoa, and long before brave priests stumbled through the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona toward what they thought were the Cities of Gold somewhere in the American interior. (From Saints Passionate and Peculiar [Saint Mary’s Press]) After he returned, he continued to found monasteries and churches.

When he died, he was buried in Clonfert Cathedral, facing the door. The current medieval cathedral replaced the original one built in the 6th century. A stained-glass window in the chapel of the United States Naval Academy honors the accomplishments of Saint Brendan.

(Image CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)