Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Hermit on the Rock

from Navigatio sancti Brendani abbatis [the Voyage of St Brendan the Abbot], transl. Denis O’Donoghue

St Brendan afterwards made sail for some time towards the south, in all things giving the glory to God. On the third day a small island appeared at a distance, towards which as the brethren plied their oars briskly, the saint said to them: “Do not, brothers, thus exhaust your strength. Seven years will have passed at next Easter, since we left our country, and now on this island you will see a holy hermit, called Paul the Spiritual, who bas dwelt there for sixty years without corporal food, and who for twenty years previously received his food from a certain animal.”

When they drew near the shore, they could find no place to land, so steep was the coast; the island was small and circular, about a furlong in circumference, and on its summit there was no soil, the rock being quite bare. When they sailed around it, they found a small creek, which scarcely admitted the prow of their boat, and from which the ascent was very difficult.

St Brendan tol. the brethren to wait there until he returned to them, for they should not enter the island without the leave of the man of God who dwells there. When the saint had ascended to the highest part of the island, he saw, on its eastern side, two caves opening opposite each other, and a small cup-like spring of water gurgling up from the rock, at the mouth of the cave in which the soldier of Christ dwelt.

As St Brendan approached the opening of one of the caves, the venerable hermit came forth from the other to meet him, greeting him with the words: “Behold how good and how pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity.’’ And then he directed St Brendan to summon all the brethren from the boat. When they came he gave each of them the kiss of peace, calling him by his proper name, at which they all marvelled much, because of the prophetic spirit thus shown.
They also wondered at his dress, for he was covered all over from head to foot with the hair of his body, which was white as snow from old age, and no other garment had he save this.

St Brendan, observing this, was moved to grief, and heaving many sighs, said within himself: “Woe is me, a poor sinner, who wear a monk’s habit, and who rule over many monks, when I here see a man of angelic condition, dwelling still in the flesh, yet unmolested by the vices of the flesh.”

On this, the man of God said: “Venerable father, what great and wonderful things has God shown to thee, which He has not revealed to our saintly predecessors! and yet, you say in your heart that you are not worthy to wear the habit of a monk; I say to you, that you are greater than any monk, for the monk is fed and clothed by the labour of his own hands, while God has fed and clothed you and all your brethren for seven years in His own mysterious ways; and I, wretch that I am, sit here upon this rock, without any covering, save the hair of my body.”

Then St Brendan asked him about his coming to this island, whence he came, and how long be had led this manner of life. The man of God replied: “For forty years I lived in the monastery of St Patrick, and had the care of the cemetery. One day when the prior had pointed out to me the place for the burial of a deceased brother, there appeared before me an old man, whom I knew not, who said: “Do not, brother, make the grave there, for that is the burial-place of another.” I said’ ‘Who are you, father?’ ‘Do you not know me?’ said he. ‘Am I not your abbot?’ ‘St Patrick is my abbot,’ I said. I am he,’ he said; and yesterday I departed this life and this is my burial-place.’

He then pointed out to me another place, saying: ‘Here you will inter our deceased brother; but tell no one what I have said to you. Go down on to-morrow to the shore, and there you will find a boat that will bear you to that place where you shall await the day of your death.’ Next morning, in obedience to the directions of the abbot, I went to the place appointed, and found what he had promised. I entered the boat, and rowed along for three days and nights, andthen I allowed the boat to drift whither the wind drove it. On the seventh day, this rock appeared, upon which I at once landed, and I pushed off the boat with my foot, that it may return whence it had come, when it cut through the waves in a rapid course to the land it bad left.

‘On the day of my arrival here, about the hour of none, a certain animal, walking on its hind legs, brought to me in its fore paws a fish for my dinner, and a bundle of dry brushwood to make a fire, and having set these before me, went away as it came. I struck fire with a flint and steel, and cooked the fish for my meal; and thus, for thirty years, the same provider brought every third day the same quantity of food, one fish at a time, so that I felt no want of food or of drink either; for, thanks to God, every Sunday there flowed from the rock water enough to slake my thirst and to wash myself.

‘After those thirty years I discovered these two caves and this spring-well, on the waters of which I have lived for sixty years, without any other nourishment whatsoever. For ninety years, therefore, I have dwelt on. this island, subsisting for thirty years of these on fish, and for sixty years on the water of this spring. I had already lived fifty years in my own country, so that all the years of my life are now one hundred and forty; and for what may remain, I have to await here in the flesh the day of my judgment. Proceed now on your voyage, and carry with you water-skins full from this fountain, for you will want it during the forty days’ journey remaining before Easter Saturday. That festival of Easter, and all the Paschal. holidays. you will celebrate where you have celebrated them for the past six years, and after-wards, with a blessing from your procurator, you shall proceed to that land you seek, the most. holy of all lands; and there you will abide for forty days, after which the Lord your God will guide you safely back to the land of your birth.’


Post a Comment

<< Home

Hit Counter
Internet Service Provider