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. If Blandina had lived with such strong faith imagine what she would have accomplished!

  2. Reading about Blandina in the first round recalled unfortunate memories: being in Catholic-school first grade, learning about martyrs, teachers sternly asking if we'd have the same courage, all of us little bunnies knowing that omigosh NO we'd have burned the incense before the statue of Jupiter or whoever!--and of course feeling HORRENDOUSLY GUILTY about it. Not Blandina's fault! But I'm glad I positively WANT to vote for Brendan instead, with his questing, adventuresome, joyful spirit. So I have.

  3. Who inspires us the most...zealots or martyrs? How these two saints inspired belief was very different. Both were radicals - behaving at the extremes of what was considered "normal" at the time. But they were not originals. Jesus was the original. Had St.Brendan of Clonfert and St. Blandina known Christ's zealous teachings and His martyr's death were sufficient (inspiring us thousands of years later) maybe they would have relied less on zealous evangelism & myth; and avoided brutal martyrs' death scenes.

    1. I do not think Blandina could have though, for to do so would be to deny her faith in that same Christ.

    2. If someone gave their life for us how can we not be filled with zealous passion. Both of these saints spent their lives helping others to find life and bringing glory to the God who gave them life. How can our response to the forgiveness of sin be any other than saying with the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6:8 "here am I! send me."

  4. I need prayers from Saint Isidore of Seville. I can load in Safari on my iPhone, but on my MacBook in Safari I get:

    Safari Can't Open the Page
    Safari can't open the page. The error is: "The operation couldn't be completed.
    (KCFErrorDomainCFNetwork error 303.)" (kCFErrorDomainCFNetwork:303)

    Same Wi-Fi connection, too.

    Anyhoo, I’m voting for Blandina who was martyred in Lyon (as the modern French spell it) but not by a lion. Yes, I’m a wee bit Irish, but I once knew someone who lived on North Blandina Street and many of my favorite non-cat-centric YouTube channels revolve around French chateaux. (The cat-centric ones are mostly American, save one from the UK.)

  5. The five consecutive Easters on the back of a whale did it for me. But sadly it looks like he'll get beat by Blandina. Therefore, since he's unlikely to make the next round where this would have SURELY have shown up, I share with ya'all one of my favourite songs. And where is the albatross in the description?

  6. Brendan! I was so sure you'd be a shoo-in! Everyone loves you, right? for your adventuresome ways -- you slept ON A WHALE!!! Come on!

  7. The choices are ever harder!

    My heart goes out to Blandina and to all martyrs, and I am so grateful that "in the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church," that is, out of the most horrendous torture and violence, God still can bring something good: a new community, a revived faith, inspiration to do and be better.

    But I find I am drawn instead to honor Brendan, one of the movers of the celtic Christianity that has so informed my own faith, and the patron of one of my favorite collections of Christian believers: the episcopal parish of St Brendan the Navigator, in Deer Isle, Maine.

    And J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a poem about him! That was the last detail that weighed the balance for me in Brendan's favor. Of course, I had to research it, and learned that in the poem, one of Brendan's disciples tries to make the Saint tell him how to reach the blessed Island to which he voyaged. Brendan answers that if he wants to know that land full of flowers, "in a boat then, brother, far afloat / you must labour in the sea, / and find for yourself things out of mind: / you will learn no more of me." (See I love this challenge to us that we must each get into our boat and brave the ocean of doubt and come at last to the living land of God. I vote for St. Brendan the Navigator.

  8. I'm sorry, I'm a language teacher, and I can't help it: the past tense of "sing" is "sang." The past participle is "sung."
    Yesterday, J.S. Bach SANG his way past Richard Hooker.

    1. Thank you. I noticed that this morning but had no time then to comment. My kids didn't call me The Grammar Police for nothing.

  9. I really wanted to vote for Brendan because I'll bet he has some truly epic kitsch. Blandina won my heart though, because of her loyalty and bravery.

  10. Again, as I read about the courage of Blandina, I couldn’t help but think of how the Holy Spirit had to have surrounded her. She endured hideous torture and cruelty almost beyond imagination. Her refusal to recant her belief, and her continued courage in the face of all must have been an inspiration to those who watched. Perhaps some even wondered and discovered Christ as a result of watching the “entertainment.” Even in the most dire of circumstances, one small slight girl demonstrated the power of Christ. And while I greatly admired Brendan’s travels into the unknown, his conversion of many to Christianity, this small slight 15 year old girl gets my vote today.

  11. My absolute favorite teacher in high school was Sister Blandina, who, in the way of nuns, was old when I had her and old when she taught my mom and aunts nearly thirty years earlier. Yet she was sharp as a tack, teaching human physiology with zeal, passion, and even a little humor. She led us in prayer to start and end each class, making it feel like all our hard and strictly secular scientific work in between was dedicated to God. In her obituary several years after I graduated, I discovered that she had joined the Sisters of St. Francis at 16, and marveled at all she had given of herself throughout her long life. I can still hear her using her affectionate nickname for her students: "Good morning, honey-bunny." God bless Sister Blandine, and how could I not vote for Blandina in her memory?