Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmas with St. Brendan

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."

- From Lady Gregory, “The Voyage of Brendan --The Silent Brotherhood,” in The Book of Saints and Wonders


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