Brendan of Clonfert v. Blandina

Well, friends, we are exactly halfway through the Saintly Sixteen, with four battles down and four to go. The round of Quirks and Quotes continues today as Brendan of Clonfert faces off against Blandina in a battle of the Bs.

Yesterday, JS Bach sung his way past Richard Hooker 64% to 36% to advance to the Elate Eight.

Vote now!

Brendan of Clonfert

SEint Brendan pe holi man: was here of ovrelonde.
Monek he was of harde liue: as ich me under-stonde.

–A Middle-English rhyme, ca. 1280-1320

You could say Brendan of Clonfert is the victim of his own success. The success of his ministry encouraged the spread of legends; the more the legends spread, the more fantastic they became; the more fantastic the legends, the more historians began to doubt he ever existed at all. Yet consensus now stands that Brendan lived, and even sailed. In the words of the Vitae Hiberniae, “there was a man of venerable life, Brendan by name, who, like the glowing dawn, dispelled the darkness of sin from the hearts of many, and afforded an infallible guidance to the port of salvation for those who were wandering the sea of vice.”

Both St. Patrick and the prophet Bec mac Dé foretold Brendan’s birth. The night he was born saw strange happenings in the countryside; people awoke to find gifts and went searching for the home “in which the little child had been born,” so that they could kneel at his feet. Brendan’s mother had a vision of a gold ingot falling into her bosom as she nursed; that night, a local Bishop had a vision of a fire-like glow. The light was full of angels “from heaven to ground.” When he woke up, he too rushed to see the baby.

Brendan became famous for his zeal as an evangelist, he founded monasteries in part to accommodate the sheer number of people called to Christ through his witness. His monastic rule of life is said to have been dictated to him by an angel. Brendan never listened to music, instead putting two balls of wax in his ears. A novice wanted to play the harp for him, but the teacher could only manage a few notes before popping in his balls of wax. Why? Years before, St. Michael appeared to him in the guise of a songbird, and Brendan was transfixed for hours by the music. Ever since, music made him long painfully for heaven. But touched by the young man’s desire to please the community with music, Brendan blessed him.

The 15th century Book of Lismore explains that Brendan entreated God “to give him a land secret, hidden, secure, delightful, separated from men,” where he could pray. The decree to set sail came from—who else? —an angel. Brendan’s crew of monks saw wonders: a deserted island, somehow prepared for a feast (the Devil lurked there); a community of completely silent monks (each night, their lamps were lit by a flaming arrow) an island of immense sheep. Brendan and his companions even celebrated 5 consecutive Easters on a whale’s back.

Various ancient maps attest to Brendan’s landing all over the place, and a few modern authors maintain fantastic sights could be real—a crystal temple in freezing waters could have been an iceberg, flames and ash shooting up from the ground a volcanic eruption. In 1483, Brendan’s story became one of the first books printed in English. More recently, J.R.R. Tolkein penned the poem Imran, which concludes: Saint Brendan had come to his life’s end, under a rain clad sky, and journeyed whence no ship returns, and his bones in Ireland lie.

— Eva Suarez


“I am a Christian, and nothing vile is done among us.”

Blandina may have only been a teenage girl, but her words reveal a depth of understanding and knowledge far beyond her age.

She was a child slave, a mere 15 years old, when she was martyred in the major Roman city of Lugdunum in Gaul, which is modern-day Lyons in France. Blandina - her name is translated from Latin as “Charming” - died in 177.

Her only recorded comment has a few translations - sometimes as "I am a Christian, and we commit no wrongdoing" or "I am a Christian, and nothing wicked happens among us." Nonetheless, the meaning is the same – the innocence of the Christians did not warrant the harshness of their treatment, the lies circulated about them, and the torture they endured for being followers of Jesus Christ.

What is known and recorded about Blandina comes mostly from Eusebius of Caesarea, a renowned and significant Greek historian of Christianity. He provided the accounts of her trials and torment, along with her companions, in “An Account of the Martyrs of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne,” found in his well-documented Ecclesiastical History.

Blandina was tortured for many days and, as Eusebius reported, “After having been flogged, mutilated, and burned, she was wrapped in a net and exposed to a bull, which played with her, tossing her into the air; then, finally, they finished her off with a sword. The pagans swore that never had they seen a woman suffer with such courage."

Her agony was part of the entertainment for a Roman Holiday feast. When she finally succumbed to the ongoing burnings, beatings, and humiliation, she finally perished as a result of stabbings. Eusebius wrote, “Blandina, last of all, like a noble mother who had encouraged her children and sent them ahead victorious to the King, hastened to join them.”

A child slave. A dedicated Christian. Persecuted. Tortured. Brutalized. Degraded. Throughout her long travails, Blandina never betrayed her Lord, never betrayed her friends, never betrayed her convictions. She was unwavering in her beliefs.

The atrocious treatment coupled with their steadfast adherence to their faith earned Blandina and her companions, Deacon Sanctus, Attalus, and Maturus, the moniker of The Martyrs of Lyons.

Illustrations mostly depict Blandina surrounded by the wild beasts that stalked and attacked her.

Neva Rae Fox



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67 comments on “Brendan of Clonfert v. Blandina”

  1. The stories of Brendan are wonderful, and testament to the baptised imaginations of earlier times. Much as I love the stories of Brendan, my vote goes to Blandina, for her courage and faithfulness, and for all those who still suffer persecution for their faith today.

  2. She was martyred in Lyons
    But not by wild Lions
    A bull and a sword
    Sent her heavenward
    Give praise for Blandina
    You really shoulda seen'a.

  3. I’m voting for Brendan, because his life reminds us that wild, strange events, metaphors, and images are an integral part of spirituality.

  4. How could I vote for another…. I ask myself, “Would I have been the faithful follower of Jesus, had I been tortured as Blandina?”

    This week RIchard Rohr is addressing the mind of a child. Blandina comes to my mind.

  5. Without charts, compass, or sextant, Brendan embarked in flimsy boats to spread the Gospel.
    Sancte Brendane, navigator Christi, ora pro nobis!

  6. Without charts, compass, or sextant, Brendan embarked in flimsy boats to spread the Gospel.

    Sancte Brendane, navigator Christi, ora pro nobis!

    1. I wondered if, when Lewis wrote that book, he had been inspired by Brendan's travels.

  7. On the surface, Brendan makes more sense to vote for, but with all the victims of torture in the world today, I'm going to vote for Blandina. My brackets have been blown for many days now

  8. Celtic Christianity is an inspiration still. Of course all kinds of stories were invented about Brendan because there were story tellers everywhere. I voted for the real person who spread the Word widely and founded many monasteries. I also voted for the character who was the hero of all those wonderful stories. Go Brendan the Mariner!

  9. Brendan's life sounds like a marvelous, never-ending adventure: action, discoveries, voyages, comrades! It sounds inspiring. But when I read the description of Blandina, "She was a child slave, a mere 15 years old, when she was martyred in the major Roman city of Lugdunum in Gaul," I thought about how alone she was and unprotected: a child, a slave, and martyred . . . as entertainment. My heart went out to her. Her story also makes me think about the vulnerability of kids in abusive homes, the migrant children working dangerous adult jobs that's been in the news recently, and anyone being trafficked and used for others' economic benefits. And about the quiet, unheralded courage it takes to survive those situations and our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable children in our communities.

  10. "I am a Christian, and we commit no wrongdoing." "I am a Christian, and nothing wicked happens among us."
    Would that this were true!
    Sadly, too many people who call themselves Christians these days advocate and practice racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and judge and blame the poor and unemployed for their predicaments. So much for feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, championing the oppressed, and ministering to "the least of" those among us. In some parts of the U.S., "Christian" has become a dirty word, signifying those perceived as close-minded, bigoted, and hate-spewing. Jesus weeps, I imagine.
    I wanted to vote for Brendan and all of the beautiful and evocative stories swirling around him. But, dangit!, I have to vote for Blandina. I am a Christian, and want that to mean what it meant to Blandina.
    Say her name. And the names of all of God's young innocents who still are neglected, marginalized, mistreated and abused simply because they are perceived as disadvantaged, different, or foreign.

  11. Voting for Brendan because in the unlikely event he were matched up with Bach, he'd finally be compelled to take the wax out of his ears.

  12. I voted for both in the first round but in re-reading the original story of Brendan I went with him - building churches, traveling, spreading the word - pretty incredible! Blandina's faith was amazing but Brendan accomplished so much - going with Brendan today!

  13. Celtic Christianity doesn't diminish our humanity to enhance our spirituality, so Brendan shines for me today.

  14. Although drawn to the story of Brendan for so many reasons, being tossed about by a bull while wrapped in a net definitely qualifies as saint material.

  15. Unfortunately, few people have read Tim Severenson's book "In Search of Brndan's Voyage" where he built the boat the way the monk's would with materials as close to what they were then (wonderful section on how a substitution of a minor thing needed to be corrected) and sailed the same route ending up in Canada! This book could not confirm Brendans's voyage but did prove the old adage of "if it walks like a duck..." Thrilling voyage of monks who trusted God and marveled at the marvelous creations of his hand. the hyperbole of Blandina's story is somewhat equal- so vote for who you wish- but mine goes to "the navigator".

  16. Olde Anliish almost got me, but the Lions surrounding St. Blandina made the choice for me. Her short life left a tall witness for her faith.

  17. I voted for Brendan, I think because the write-up started with a poem, and I was moved by the sheer poetry of his account. I am struck by how many seem to vote for Blandina ON BEHALF of her and those who share her experience, of being helpless, marginal, and non-culpable. I think each year we tend to vote forward someone who speaks to our current condition in the world, and I think that's healthy. I just got done doing training in union/ social activism organizing, and the final question to pose to prospective fellow activists and members was: "Sister, are you ready?" For me that's also the key question in evangelism: Brother, sister, are you ready? If I re-cast the question in psychoanalytic terms, it becomes: To what end is your desire? That returns me to Augustine (of Hippo, not the one awkwardly explaining himself to Bertha's retinue that no, he's not "that guy"): For what does your heart yearn? I don't suppose any one saint can capture all that we long for, but each year we together identify one who points the way.

  18. I just can't vote for a victim of torture. I do admire folks who are able to remain true to their faith through difficult and extremely painful events, but there are so many people from so many traditions who have done as Blandina did.

    Only if we are willing to make Saints of all the people the Church and our country have tortured, oppressed, and degraded will I vote for Blandina.

    Martyrs are phenomena that serve to divide people into groups, holding onto their righteousness and stimulation emotional responses that magnify differences.

      1. Me too. Suffering and death may come, but withstanding torture as more important than active service of the gospel . . . I don't see it.

    1. Blandina was not just tortured degraded and oppressed, but she was also killed. She was only 15 but she was so strong in her faith that she would not recant to avoid the torture, and she strengthened others around her to do likewise.

    2. I must agree with you on this. I am tired of being pushed into voting for someone and shamed by what others have suffered. I want to hear more of those that sang and danced in the love of Christ while leading others into His arms. I don’t believe I could be convinced to join a “movement” based on all the people getting killed. Joy, laughter, dance, and inquisitiveness about the world gets me every time. (And the music of Bach, but that is another story.)

    3. Thanks. This is also why I didn't vote for Blandina. The Church for millennia has made a particular virtue of women's innocence, purity, passivity, and ability to endure terrible assaults and indignities without resisting, and it seemed that Eusebius followed that template as well. As in the case of Enmegabowh, I'm not voting against her but against the symbol of religious compliance into which the patriarchal Church has transformed her.

      1. Thank you for clarifying my own thoughts. Well done. I loved the Olde Englishe start to Brendan and the wonderful adventures told about him. Voting for the Irish.

  19. *sigh* There seems to be an unfortunate bias toward the female saints. Blandina suffered bravely and innocently, but my vote goes to "a man, Brendan by name, who dispelled the darkness of sin from the hearts of many, and afforded an infallible guidance to salvation for those who were wandering the sea of vice."

    We need more people who can turn people away from sin and vice, not more innocent people who can suffer bravely.

    1. Sometimes there is a bias twords female saints, but I don't think this is one of those occasions. I voted for Blandina because she gave the fullest measure of devotion for the gospel. Her martyrdom was also a powerful witness of faith to all who watched her die, and an encouragement to the church.

  20. Brendan did so, so much for Christianity! His achievement in converting so many people to Christianity that he had to build a bunch of monasteries earned him my vote. What tireless devotion! His longing for Heaven and for a quiet place to pray also inspire me.

  21. Angels are God's messengers. So in Brendan's narrative I understand all the references to angels speaking and guiding as meaning that Brendan obeyed the voice of God as revealed to him. Would that I more often did the same.
    Incidentally, the poem by J.R.R. Tolkien Imran has 11 stanzas which I will read at some point today.

  22. Having studied JRR Tolkien’s “Imran,” the Navigator has been my choice up to the Elate.
    Fair winds, St Brendan!

  23. I'm glad it's a tough choice today. I'm sticking with my hero, Brendan. I'm glad that a few of my early choices have made it to the next round...

  24. Translation, please, for Brenden's quote
    "SEint Brendan pe holi man: was here of ovrelonde.
    Monek he was of harde liue: as ich me under-stonde."

    I can figure out most of it, but I'm sure I'm missing something.

    1. St. Brendan the holy man was here of overland [from elsewhere];
      Monk he was, of hard life, as I understand.

  25. My vote today goes to Blandina. I make this choice in honor/memory of all abused children. The suffering she had to face because of her faith was terrible. It reminded me of so many children abused and hurt children by the adults around them and brought tears to my face. She is certainly a saintly child.

  26. Blandina for me this time. To go through so much disgrace and physical pain took a LOT of courage.