St. Brendan (ca. 484-577) was one of the most famous of the Celtic pilgrims, renowned not only for the piety of his life and for founding several monasteries in Ireland, but also for his amazing voyages west over the open seas in one of these small boats which were (and still are) called coracles. It is certain that on his longest voyage he and his fellow monks made it as far west as Newfoundland, and there is good reason to believe that he even made it farther south on the North American continent. The written account of his journey, "The Voyage of St. Brendan", became a 'best-seller' for a thousand years as sort of a combination of adventure story and devotional writing. He is considered to be a patron saint of pilgrims and his feast day is May 16. At times, St. Brendan, out on a small boat at seas with his fellow monk, would direct them to pull in the rudder and just let the wind take them where they should go. He said, "Is not God the pilot and sailor of our boats? Leave it to him… he himself guides our journey as he will."
Peregrenatio, the spiritual discipline of pilgrimage, stands as one of the most enduring legacies of the Celtic Christian tradition. Ian Bradley writes in The Celtic Way, "Peregrenatio was the outward symbol of an inner change, a metaphor and a symbol for that journey towards deeper faith and greater holiness and that journey towards God which is the Christian life."
But this journey also had a profoundly outward element. Indeed, in the second half of the first millennium much of northern Europe was evangelized because of these simple, wandering saints who carried little but a Bible and a staff. They were the first to carry the gospel message to N. Europe and founded monasteries in Scotland, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and down into Italy.
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