It is the feast day of St Brendan the Navigator (above), who is said to have sailed a leather boat, crewed by monks, from Ireland to an island in the Atlantic, or even to North America, in the 6th century. Brendan’s legend, which is told in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis (‘The Voyage of St Brendan the Abbot’), dating from the 9th century, records many adventures, including how they found Judas sitting on a sea rock, taking a Sunday off from Hell. They also celebrated Mass on a sleepy island which turned out to be a whale.
‘The brethren took out some uncooked meat and fish they had brought from the other island, and put a cauldron on a fire to cook them. After they had placed more fuel on the fire, and the cauldron began to boil, the island moved about like a wave; whereupon they all rushed towards the boat, and implored the protection of their father, who, taking each one by the hand, drew them all into the vessel… They cast their boat loose to sail away, when the island at once sunk into the ocean.’ Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis
The world’s most celebrated cross-dressing saint, Joan of Arc, was canonized today in 1920, almost 500 years after being judged as a heretic and a ‘rotten member’ of the body of Christ, and then being burnt as a witch for saying she had received directions from Saints Catherine and Margaret. Joan had been a folk saint in France for most of the years between her death and her canonization, as her message that God wanted the French to smite the English was (and is) perpetually popular.
‘God forgive us! We have burned a saint.’ Anonymous English soldier at Joan of Arc’s execution
There was an uprising on this day in 1555 against the moral strictures of Calvin’s rule in Geneva. He had banned dancing, alehouses, theatres, those fashionable Tudor slashed breeches and non-biblical Christian names. His pastors were supposed to visit everyone in Geneva annually to check up on the spiritual correctness of their home life. The uprising was a flop and those who didn’t leave town in time were executed.
It is the feast of the Bohemian saint, John of Nepomuk, who was drowned in the River Vltava in Prague on the orders of bad King Wenceslas IV.
The Church also remembers St Simon Stock, who died today in Bordeaux in about 1265. He was an English Carmelite friar, and an explanation of his second name is that he once lived inside the stock or trunk of a tree, a favourite habit of hermits. He is said to have composed a beautiful Latin hymn to the Virgin Mary, the Flos Carmeli (‘Flower of Carmel’).
Flower of Carmel,
Tall vine, blossom laden;
Splendour of heaven,
Childbearing, yet maiden.
None equals thee.
St Simon Stock, Flos Carmeli