Brendan the Navigator vs. Thecla

SixteenWelcome to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen! With Barbara's defeat at the hands of Thomas Ken 67% to 33%, we've collectively narrowed the field down from 32 saints to 16. Now the truly hard work begins on the journey towards the 2015 Golden Halo. 

Lent Madness, like Lent, is part endurance race and we encourage those who have come thus far — both voters and contestants — to buckle down for the duration and, in the words of Saint Paul, to “Run with perseverance the race that is set before you.”

In this round, we move past basic biographies and delve into what we like to call “Quirks and Quotes.” We’ll learn some unusual facts about our saints and hear about them, either in their own words or in words uttered or written about them. Some of our holy men and women are quirkier than others and some are more quotable. As always, remember these matchups are neither fair nor for the faint of heart. If you want a bland Lenten devotion you’ve come to the wrong place.

The Saintly Sixteen begins today with Brendan the Navigator taking on Thecla. If you need a refresher from the first round you can do one of two things: consult your handy Saintly Scorecard or click the Bracket tab and scroll down. Our Bracket Czar, Adam Thomas, provides links to every previous matchup meaning you can, with just a few clicks, access the initial bios. Now go read and vote. There is work to be done!

St Brendan 2Brendan the Navigator

Brendan lived a long a full life in service to God. His courageous and adventurous spirit led him to the ends of the world. The many hagiographies written to honor him speak to the inspiration he provided to the faithful. Even the most fantastic stories give a glimpse of his extraordinary character.

As Brendan and his friends set out to sea he insisted that they follow Jesus’ command to the seventy that they bring no provisions, trusting that God would provide all their needs. He encouraged his fellow travelers, “Fear not, brothers, for our God will be to us a helper, a mariner, and a pilot; take the oars and helm, keep the sails set, and may God do unto us, his servants and his little vessel, as he wills.”

A little later, they encountered a maiden of the sea. She was enormous — one hundred feet tall, nine feet between her “paps,” and a middle finger seven feet long. She had been pierced with a giant spear and had died. Brendan brought her back to life and baptized her into the faith. Upon baptizing her, Brendan asked if she would like to return to her home or if she would like to go to heaven. She answered, “To heaven, for I hear the voices of the angels praising the mighty God.” Brendan therefore gave her the body and blood of Christ and she died without distress.

In Brendan’s travels he saw both the horrors of hell and the glories of paradise. In one particularly poignant episode, he and his companions found themselves in a great storm of hail and snow. Some of the brothers complained to him, “Holy father, the cold in the infernal regions is not more intense than what we feel now.”

To this Brendan replied, “You speak like ignorant rustics. We have seen Judas, the betrayer of our Lord, in a dreadful sea, on the Lord’s Day, wailing and lamenting, seated on a rugged and slimy rock… Against the rock there rushed a fiery wave from the east, and a wave of icy coldness from the west alternately, which drenched Judas in a frightful manner; and yet this grievous punishment seemed to him a relief from pain, for thus the mercy of God granted this place to him on Sundays as some ease amidst his torments. What therefore must be the torments suffered in hell itself?”

For five years they traveled without injury or incident. At one point they needed to find land in order to properly celebrate the Easter Eucharist. Brendan encouraged his friends with the promise that “God is able to provide us with land in any place he pleases.” God’s good pleasure was the back of a whale named Jasconius.

After a long and full life, Brendan died. As he died, he raised his eyes to heaven, and echoing the words of Christ, uttered, “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit; save me, O Lord my God.”

David Creech


Thecla is among the earliest saints of the church, and is often referred to as “Equal-to-the-Apostles,” for the fervor of her witness to Jesus Christ and the power of her example.

While the story of her life as documented in the Acts of Paul and Thecla may raise a few eyebrows – with its scintillating accounts of Thecla twice making miraculous escapes from martyrdom, including a notable self-baptism by throwing herself into a pool filled with ravenous seals – Thecla’s life and ministry made an undeniable and well-documented impact on the early church.

The great Cappadocian Father Gregory of Nyssa hailed Thecla as an example of holiness and asceticism in one of his homilies, writing that “she undertook the sacrifice of herself, by giving death to the flesh and practicing great austerities, extinguishing in herself all earthly affections, so that nothing seemed to remain living in her but reason and spirit.” His comments resonate with the Acts of Paul and Thecla, which intimate that Thecla belonged to a wealthy family of status and privilege, and that, as Butler noted in his Lives of the Saints, “She forsook father and mother, and a house abounding in gold and riches where she lived in state and plenty: she left her companions, friends, and country, desiring to possess only the treasure of the love and grace of God, and to find Jesus Christ, who was all things to her.”

Early Christians almost unanimously regarded Thecla as a protomartyr, even though she did not die a martyr's death. In the sense that the word martyr comes from the Greek word meaning witness -- one who bears testimony to their faith with the whole fullness of their life -- Thecla most certainly meets that definition.

Perhaps the great affinity for Thecla among so many came from the reality that in her, they saw a picture of themselves. In the portrait of a woman pursuing great risk to hear the gospel as preached by Paul, early Christians could see the risks they bore in order to hear and preach the gospel. In the vision of a woman who the powers of the world would have put to death many times over, they found an exemplar for what it means to be a witness to Jesus Christ, even at the cost of their own lives.

Thecla’s own confession of faith, recorded in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, are perhaps the most simple yet persuasive testimony to the power of her witness in the face of adversity: “I am a servant of the living God, and as to my state, I am a believer on Jesus Christ his Son, in whom God is well pleased. For that reason none of the beasts could touch me. He alone is the way to eternal salvation and the foundation of eternal life. He is a refuge to those who are in distress, a support to the afflicted, a hope and a defense to those who are hopeless.”

David Sibley


Brendan the Navigator vs. Thecla

  • Thecla (62%, 3,655 Votes)
  • Brendan the Navigator (38%, 2,216 Votes)

Total Voters: 5,871

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205 comments on “Brendan the Navigator vs. Thecla”

    1. As a world traveler, I have to go with fellow traveler Brendan. The world is large, and God calls us to see its wonders.

  1. I vote for Thecla because she looks like a warrior and she almost died and didn't.
    Go Thecla.

  2. Not much to like here. Two people who did not do what legend says they did. Pure myth. One of these two will be defeated by Francis or Cecilia in the next round.

      1. As an English teacher with a specialty in rhetoric, I believe there is indeed a place for legend and story. One hopes to find more than mere historicity here. Stories are transformative, can be received on many levels and may not be factually convincing, but there's still truth to be discerned. Of course it's not an either/or matter when reading something as huge as faith. There's plenty of room both/and. When reading these two stories, I fo myself wondering about the cultural contexts in which they gained power to be retold. I wondered about what it was like to be a receiver of those stories when they were first making the rounds orally and serving a variety of audiences and purposes throughout the years. I voted for Thecla because of her proximity to early days of a new faith. Now I am going to dig a little deeper to try to find out what was in the book about her. Blessings to all saints!

        1. Totally, Nan! While a male's story might be represented as courageous for setting out (rather foolishly) for the sea, a woman's story comes off as overly "pious." We need to be good readers! I was crestfallen when Theresa lost. Go, Thecla!

    1. Which is why I'm voting for neither. I find little to inspire me in either of these curious individuals.

      1. Oliver, I look forward to your comments every day. And I voted for Thecla too.

    2. Both have been over-embellished, and are less than inspiring.

      But looking to the secondary attributes, I like the story theme "don't complain, things could be worse" (Brendan) slightly better than the "denial of all fleshly sentiments" (Thecla)... Brendan it is.

  3. I was set on voting for Brendan, but ended up voting for Thecla. Must have been the seals. Two fantastical saints - I love the stories.

    1. But setting out into the unknown sea opens you to far more dangers than ravenous seals. Plus, Brendan has a much more musical name. We gotta sing about these saints, you know.

  4. God providing land on the back of a whale is such an apt metaphor I had to vote for Brendan.

    1. “I am a servant of the living God, and as to my state, I am a believer on Jesus Christ his Son, in whom God is well pleased." That does it for me!

  5. I wouldn't want to mess with a giant sea maiden with a seven foot long middle finger - I can't even conceive of the road (or sea) rage potential there. Besides, I've always been partial to Brendan. The first hymn I ever learned was "Eternal Father strong to save.." (Thanks to Noyes Fludde). So this one I can navigate with ease.

  6. I voted for Thecla. Women, particularly women mystics seemed to be discriminated against in the first round. If even Teresa of Avila (who celebrates her 500th birthday this year) couldn't survive the first round, what hope is there for any woman to win the golden halo.

    1. My sentiments exactly. Thank you. Did you know there were far more desert mothers than desert fathers? Mary Earle told me that this morning on a C D I listened to on the way to work. Go Thecla!

  7. I'm more inspired to follow the single-minded Thecla than the guy who didn't ask for directions and basically sailed around in a circle for several years.

    1. One wonders how many of the tales of Brendan's exploits were inspired by those of Odysseus...

    2. At risk of being in violation of the lighthearted ethos of Lent Madness, I wd note that Brendan did, indeed, ask directions (of God) and stayed the course on his journey until God told him his mission was over ~ whereupon he went back to his first calling and founded schools and missions and monasteries. He has the mystical component, to be sure, but also the worker bee component. Both are wonderful!

    3. You said it! And he must have been hitting the mead pretty hard to come up with those fish stories too.

      1. WOOW! That one humorous " slip" of the CBer pen about Brendan not asking directions has really haunted and hurt him! It's too bad since her does had historicity.

        1. So sorry! I just washed my hands and can't do a thing with my fingers! I meant that Brendan does have historicity.

          1. Thank you, Susan, for writing so eloquently in defense of Brendan. I, too, felt troubled by what seemed to be a disdain for myth as opposed to fact, and was considering a reply. Then you articulated beautifully so much what I was thinking. In our culture we are so conditioned to think of myth as equivalent to fiction, to be the opposite of truth instead of just another way of speaking about truth. Naturally that doesn't mean that every detail of each myth must have a symbolic meaning, but I think it is just harder for many people nowadays to think mythopoetically. Brendan's stories speak to me because he is an inspiring model of bravery and faith, regardless of what may or may not have really happened on his actual voyage. With all respect to Thecla, he got my vote. Thanks too for the info on Severin's book.

  8. Who can resist going with a strong warrior woman? Go Thecia, girl-power for today! h+

  9. Even though I realize Lent Madness isn't at all about me, I can't suppress the influence of my Irish roots, my love of the ocean, nor the saltwater that runs in my veins as a resident of a seaside Town. I can't resist Brendan's stories, and I get the truths they represent. Thecla was my choice in the first round, but this time Brendan wins my vote.

  10. Thecla for me. If Gregory the Illuminator had won the first round against Brendan, I would have voted for him. Thecla provides to me a greater example of the life in service to God than does Brendan the Sailor Man.

  11. Thecla is too important to the threatened Syriac and Aramaic speaking Christians - in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon - for me to ignore her today.

    1. Another thank you to Tutu Lois. Prayers for all of our middle eastern Christians who currently suffer persecution. Remember the Sisters of Ma'loula who care for Thecla's shrine.

  12. Brendan it is for me! He stands in our church foyer with hand poised upon the rudder of his boat. Which, by the way, most of the younger set enjoy a short boat ride on each and every Sunday. Hoist the sails and away we go, Brendan the Navigator! Navigate me on the true course.

  13. Working and living for a short time under waves, a should have been taken with Brendan; however, Thecla's message is a very powerful statement. Go girl

  14. "He is a refuge to those who are in distress, a support to the afflicted, a hope and a defense to those who are hopeless.” Thecla

  15. I love Brendan. I named one of my sons for him. I wouldn't name anything Thecla. Really?

  16. Well, I like to travel light and so did Brendan (even before the ravenous airline beasts started charging for checked bags) but my vote goes to Thecla, the original Do It Yourself Baptism woman.

  17. Anyone who meets a giant mermaid and baptizes her has my vote. Talk about inclusion of diversity in the church!