We craft and tell stories because we’ve stood on the uncertain edge between the waking world and our imagination, between enchantment and fear. And we remember other stories that help us build our own stories, scraps of lumber and fragments of narrative we gather together to make stories for ourselves.

The Voyage of Saint Brendan: Part 2

Jasconye the Fish

Saint_brendan_german_manuscriptThen they went into the ship again and it was driven by storms till they saw before them another little island, and the brothers went to land on it but Brendan stopped in the ship. And they put fish in a cauldron and lighted a fire to boil it, and no sooner was the fire hot and the fish beginning to boil, than the island began to quake and to move like a living thing, and there was great fear on the brothers and they went back into the ship leaving the food and the cauldron after them, and they saw what they took to be an island going fast through the sea, and they could notice the fire burning a long way off, that they were astonished. They asked Brendan then did he know what was that great wonder, and Brendan comforted them and he said “It is a great fish, the biggest of the fishes of the world, Jascönye his name is, and he is labouring day and night to put his tail into his mouth, and he cannot do it because of his great bulk.”

The Paradise of Birds

They went on then to the westward through the length of three days, and very downhearted they were seeing no land. But not long after by the will of God they saw a beautiful island full of flowers and herbs and trees, and they were glad enough to see it and they went on land and gave thanks to God. And they went a long way through that lovely country, till they came to a very good well and a tree beside it full of branches and on every branch were beautiful white birds, so many of them there were that not a leaf hardly could be seen. And it was well for them to be looking at such a tree, and the happy singing of the birds was like the noise of Heaven. And Brendan cried for joy and he kneeled down and bade the Lord to tell him the meaning of the birds and their case. Then a little bird of the birds flew towards him from the tree and with the flickering of his wings he made a very merry noise like a fiddle, and it seemed to Brendan never to have heard such joyful music.

Then the little bird looked at him and Brendan said “If you are a Messenger tell me out your estate and why you sing to happily.” And it is what the bird said: “One time we were every one of us angels, but when our master Lucifer fell from heaven for his high pride we fell along with him, some higher and some lower. And because our offence was but a little one” he said “our Lord has put us here without pain in great joy and merriment to serve what way we can upon that tree. And on the Sunday that is a day of rest” he said “we are made as white as any snow that we may praise him the better. And it is twelve months” he said “since you left your own place, and at the end of seven years there will be an end to your desire. And through these seven years” he said “it is here you will be keeping your Easter until you will come into the Land of Promise.”

Then the bird took his leave of them and went back to his fellows upon the tree. It was upon an Easter Day now all this happened. Then all the birds began to sing the Vespers, and there could be no merrier music if God himself was among them. And after supper Blessed Brendan and his comrades went to bed; and they rose up on the morning of the morrow and the birds sang the matins and said the verses of the psalms, and sang all the Hours as is the habit with Christian men. And Brendan and his people stopped there for eight weeks till after the Pentecost; and they sailed back again to the Island of the Sheep, and there they got good provision and took their leave of the old man their Helper, and went back into their ship.

The Silent Brotherhood

Then the bird of the tree came to them again and he said “You will sail from this to an island where there are four and twenty brothers and you will spend your Christmas with those holy men;” and with that he flew back again to his comrades. Then Brendan and his people went out again into the ocean in the name of God; and the winds hurled them up and down, that they were in great danger and tired of their lives. And they were tossed about through the length of four months and they had nothing to be looking at but the sky and the waves. And at the last they saw an island that was a good way off, and they cried to Jesus Christ to bring them there; but the waves rose about them another forty days and they were loath to go on living. They came then to a little harbour and it was too narrow for the ship to go into it, so they cast the anchor and they themselves reached to the land.

And they went searching the island and they found two wells, and the water of the one was bright and clear but the water of the other was as if stirred and muddy. And some of them were going to drink from the wells but Brendan bade them not to do it without leave. Then a comely old man came to them and gave them a fair enough welcome, and he kissed Brendan and he led them by many good wells till they came to a great Abbey. And there were in it to welcome them four and twenty brothers having royal cloaks woven of threads of gold, and a royal crown before them and candles on every side. And the Abbot came and kissed Brendan very humbly and bade him and his people welcome; and he led them into a beautiful hail and mixed them there among his own people. Then there came one that served them by the will of God and gave them plenty of meat and drink and set a good white loaf between every two, and white well-tasting roots and herbs, but ~they did not know what roots those were, and they drank the water of the good clear well they had first seen.

Then the Abbot came and heartened them and bade them to eat and to drink their fill. “For every day” he said “our meat and drink is brought to our cellar by a strong man; and we do not know where it is brought from but that it is sent to us through God. And we have never provided meat or drink for ourselves” he said; “four and twenty brothers we are, and every day of the week He sends us twelve loaves, and on every Sunday and on the day of Saint Patrick twenty-four loaves, and the bread that we do not use at dinner we use it at supper-time. And now at your coming our Lord has sent us forty-eight loaves that we may be merry together. And always twelve of us go to dinner” he said “while another twelve of us serve the quire; and we are here these fourscore years and in this country there is no sickness or bad weather. And there are seven wax tapers in the quire” he said “that have never been lighted by any man’s hand, and that bum day and night at every hour of prayers and that have never wastened or lessened through these fourscore years.”

After that Brendan went to the church with the Abbot, and they said the evening prayers together very devoutly. And Brendan saw beautiful woven stuffs, and chalices of clear crystal, and in the quire were twenty-four seats for the twenty-four brothers and a seat for the Abbot in the middle of them all. And Brendan asked the Abbot how long it was they had kept silence so well that no one of them spoke to the others, and the Abbot said “Our Lord knows no one of us has spoken to another these fourscore years.”

And when Brendan heard that he cried for joy and “Dear Father” he said “for the love of God let me stop along with you here.”

“You know well” said the Abbot “you have no leave to do that, for has not our Lord showed you what you have to do, and that you will turn back to Ireland in the end?”

And as Brendan was kneeling in the church he saw a bright angel that came in by the window and that lighted all the candles in the church, and went out by the window again to Heaven. “There is wonder on me” said Brendan “those candles to burn the way they do and never to waste.”

“Did you never hear” said the Abbot “how in the old time Moses saw a bush that was burning from the top to the ground, and the more it burned the greener were the leaves? And let you not wonder” he said “the power of the Lord to be as great now as ever it was.”


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