1. Religion & Spirituality

Who Was Saint Brendan (Patron Saint of Whales and Dolphins)?

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Saint Brendan

An illustration of Saint Brendan in a boat with other monks, from the book Manuscriptum Translationis Germanicae, circa 1460

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Name:

Saint Brendan (also called St. Brendan, Saint Brendan of Clonfert, Saint Brendan the Navigator, Saint Brendan the Voyager, and Saint Brendan the Bold)

Lifetime:

484 to 577 AD in the area that is now Ireland, Wales, and Scotland

Feast Day:

May 16th

Patron Saint Of:

Whales, dolphins, sailors, divers, and travelers

Famous Miracles:

During Brendan's famous ocean voyage with a group of other monks, Brendan reportedly preached sermons about the love of Jesus Christ to sea creatures that they encountered. One time, stories say, a large school of fish miraculously gathered to hear the sermon and dispersed only after Brendan was finished speaking.

Brendan was also able to miraculously celebrate Easter Mass on the back of a whale one day during his voyage, traditional stories about the trip report.

Biography:

Brendan was born in ancient Ireland and became a priest in 512 AD. Until 530 AD, Brendan worked to develop monasteries in Ireland that became centers of prayer and learning for many people.

Then Brendan gathered a group of monks to join him on a voyage west from Ireland across the Atlantic Ocean in search of the Garden of Eden, which Brendan thought could be preserved on an island paradise about which he had heard stories. This famous voyage (which is detailed in a book from around 900 AD called The Voyage of Saint Brendan) lasted 7 years, and became famous for the adventures that Brendan and the monks experienced as they explored. Many of those adventures involved interacting with sea creatures such as whales, dolphins, and fish, and those stories led to Saint Brendan's designation as the patron saint of whales and dolphins after his death.

The group that Brendan led did find an island, which they called the Isle of the Blessed. Some people think that the island on which they landed was part of North America. If so, that would make Brendan the first European in recorded history to visit the North American continent.

After returning from his famous voyage, Brendan traveled to Wales and Scotland, where he founded monasteries. He died back in Ireland and was buried at Clonfert Cathedral there.

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