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 3

The Feast of the Resurrection

And when Brendan had stopped there through Christmas and for Little Christmas, he bade good-bye to the Abbot and the brothers and went back to the ship with his people. And the sea tumbled them up and down that they were sorry enough until Palm Sunday, and with its coming they came again to the Island of Sheep, and they met there with the same old man as before, and he welcomed them a second time. And on Holy Thursday after supper he washed their feet and kissed them, and they stayed in that place till Easter Eve; and then at his bidding they set out and sailed to the place where the fish Jasconye was lying. And they found upon his back the cauldron they had left there a year ago, and they kept the Feast of the Resurrection there upon the fish’s back. And they sang there their Matins and their Vespers and all their Masses, and the great beast stayed as still as any stone.

The Bird’s Foretelling

And when they had kept their Easter with great honour they went on to the island having the tree of birds. And the little bird gave them a good welcome and it is lively was the sound of his song. So they stopped there from Easter to Candlemas the same as the year before, very happy and content, listening to the merry service that was sung upon the tree. Then the bird told Blessed Brendan he should go back again for Christmas to the Island of the Abbey, and at Easter he should come hither again and the rest of the year he should be labouring in the great sea in trouble and in danger. “And so it will be with you from year to year to the end of forty years,” he said, “and then you will reach to the Land of Promise; and then through forty days you will have your fill of joy. And after that you will return to your own country,” he said, “quite easily and without any annoy, and there you will end your life.” Then the Angel that was their helper brought all sorts of provision and loaded the ship and made all ready. So they thanked our Lord for his great goodness that he had showed them so often in their great need, and they sailed out into the sea among great storms.Stella Maris (detail)

The Dangers of the Sea

And soon there came after them a horrible great fish that was following their ship and that was casting up such great spouts of water out of his mouth that they had like to be drowned, and he was coming so fast that he had all but reached to them. Then they cried on Jesus Christ to help them in that great danger. And with that there came another fish bigger than the first out of the west, and made an attack on him and beat him and at the last made three halves of him and went away again as he came, and they were very glad and gave thanks to Jesus Christ. And after that again they were very downhearted through hunger, for all their food was spent. And there came to them then a little bird having with him a great branch of red grapes, and they lived by them through fourteen days and had their fill. And when that failed them they came to a little island that was full of beautiful trees, and fruit on every bough of them. And Brendan landed out of the ship and gathered as much of that fruit would last them through forty days, and they went sailing and ever sailing through storm and through wind.

And of a sudden there came sailing towards them a great monster and it made an attack upon them and on their ship and had like to have destroyed them, and at that they cried pitifully and thought themselves as good as dead. And then the little bird that had spoken with them from the tree at Easter time came at the monster and struck out one of his eyes with the first attack and the other eye with the second and made an end of him that he fell into the sea; and it is well pleased Brendan was when he saw that bird coming. Then they gave thanks to God, and they went on sailing until Saint Peter’s Day, and they sang the service in honour of the Feast. And in that place the water was so clear that they could see to the bottom, and it was all as if covered with a great heap of fishes. And the brothers were in dread at the sight of all the fishes and they advised Brendan to speak softly and not to waken the fishes for fear they might break the ship. And Brendan said “Why would you that have these two years kept the Feast of the Resurrection upon the great fish’s back be in dread of these little fishes?” And with that he made ready for the Mass and sang louder than before. And the fishes awoke and started up and came all around the ship in a heap, that they could hardly see the water for fishes. But when the Mass was ended each one of them turned himself and swam away, and they saw them no more.

A Border of Hell

For seven days now they were going on through that clear water, and there came a south wind that drove them on and they did not know where were they going. And at the end of eight days they saw far away in the north a dark country full of stench and of smoke; and as the ship drew near it they heard great blowing and blasting of bellows, and a noise of blows and a noise like thunder, the way they were all afeared and blessed themselves. And soon after there came one starting out all burning, and he turned away again and gave out a cry that could be heard a long way off. And with that there came demons thick about them on every side, with tongs and with fiery hammers, and followed after them till it seemed all the sea to be one fire; but by the will of God they had no power to hurt them. And then the demons began to roar and cry, and threw their tongs at them and their hammers, and then they turned from the ship with a sorrowful cry and went back to the place they came from.

“What are you thinking?” said Brendan. “Was this a merry happening? And we will come here no more,” he said, “for that was a border of hell, and the devil had great hopes of us, but he was hindered by Jesus Christ.”

Then the south wind drove them farther again into the north, and they saw a hill all on fire and like as ii walled in with fire, and clouds upon it, and if there was much smoke in that other place, there was more again in this. Then one of the brothers began to cry and to moan and to say his time was come and that he could stay in the ship no longer, and with that he made a leap out of the ship into the sea and he cried and moaned so dolefully that it was a pity to hear him.

“My grief,” he said, “my wretched life; for now I see my end and I have been with you in happiness and I may go with you no more forever!”


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