The Life of St Brendan and His Prayer

Translated by
Gordon Barthos

Mediaeval Sources in Translation 62. xii, 134 pp. ISBN 978-0-88844-312-0 • Paper • $25.00

Founder of monasteries, navigator of fantastic voyages, wonder-working intercessor and confessor, Saint Brendan of Clonfert and Ardfert (c. 486–578) was among the most colourful and celebrated figures of medieval Ireland. Brendan’s renown, nurtured by his monastic community and their princely patrons, approached that of Patrick, Brigit, and Columba, Ireland’s national saints. His fame was such that stories about him were told with those of King Arthur and other worthies.

The chief surviving memorials in Latin to Brendan’s life, legend and historical influence are three: the Vita Sancti Brendani recounting his clerical activities in Ireland and abroad, the Navigatio Sancti Brendani relating his fabulous seven-year voyage seeking a terrestrial paradise on the great ocean, and the Oratio Sancti Brendani, a lengthy prayer for protection and deliverance that is attributed to him. Definitive versions of these three works have been preserved in two manuscripts dating from the fourteenth and the eleventh centuries respectively.

This complete translation of the Vita Sancti Brendani (from Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson B 485, a version which incorporates the Navigatio), and of the Oratio attributed to him (from Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 13067), offers the first full portrait in English of Brendan not only as the saintly hero of the popular Navigatio but also as an emblem of the Gaelic people, their struggles and their aspirations over the long arc of Irish history.


Gordon Barthos is an independent Canadian scholar and researcher in mediaeval studies, based in Toronto. His fields of interest include Irish hagiography and loricae, and techniques of composition in vernacular prose and poetry. At Oxford University, Balliol College, where he earned an M.Phil. in English medieval studies 1100–1500, he read Chaucer, Malory, Old French chivalric literature, and Latin medieval philosophy. At l’Université de Montréal, Loyola College, he was awarded the Governor-General’s gold medal for academic excellence in the humanities on completion of his B.A. in literature. As a journalist and commentator with The Toronto Star, Canada’s most widely read newspaper, he held senior positions including national editor, political columnist, and editorialist, and earned a National Newspaper Award nomination for his coverage of foreign affairs.


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