Brendan of Clonfert v. David of Wales

Hey, it's the last battle of the week! How'd that happen? We're not sure. But we do know that today it's Brendan of Clonfert vs. David of Wales. Two saints deeply rooted in the monastic tradition and beloved in their home countries. But only one will advance to face Blandina in the Saintly Sixteen.

Yesterday, Leoba made it past Cuthmann of Steyning 58% to 42% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen.

I know you miss us already but, fear not, we'll be back first thing on Monday morning as Jonathan Daniels faces Rutilio Grande.

Now go cast your final vote of the week!

Brendan of Clonfert

Brendan was born in 481, 482, 484, 486, or 488, in Tralee, County Kerry (that’s for certain). His name can be rendered Brennan or Brennog, Bréanainn or Breandán. He is also known as “the Navigator,” “the Voyager,” “the Anchorite,” or “the Bold.” The immrama (Old Irish sea tales) recount his journeys by sea to the Hebrides and Western Scotland, perhaps to Wales and Brittany, Iceland and the Azores, and maybe, some claim, to the Americas.

Beloved by many of Irish descent, Brendan’s life and its mythic uncertainties might leave some cold. But amidst the signposts of legend are the standing stones of Brendan’s real life: a devoted abbot who founded monastic communities across Ireland, an influential figure in the development of Celtic Christianity, and one of the 12 apostles of Ireland.

Monastic life grew in popularity in the generations after Saint Patrick. Brendan felt the call to monastic life and was ordained to the priesthood in 512. The community at Ardfert was either entrusted to him (or he founded it), and life there was centered in prayer and silence.

After several years at Ardfert, Brendan and a small group of monks set off by boat to find the “Promised Land of the Saints,” the site of the Garden of Eden, traveling for seven years before they reached Paradise. Most ancient maps place Brendan’s destination somewhere around the Canary Islands, but the popularity of Brendan’s story has led some historians to argue that his journey is related to contemporaneous feats of Irish navigation—namely, the evidence of Irish explorers in Greenland and Iceland.

Upon Brendan’s return, Ardfert quickly became a destination for pilgrims and students. New religious houses were built, and the See of Ardfert was established. Brendan continued to roam, founding a monastery at Inis-da-druim in 550, later traveling to Wales and possibly Iona. Brendan established more churches after his return to Ireland, founding the monastery at Clonfert, perhaps around 557. At its height, 3,000 monks called Clonfert home.

In Brendan’s life, we see aspirational characteristics, historically proven: faithfulness, leadership, and courage. Yet his legends can inspire, too. Brendan is a patron of seafarers, and for centuries sailors have prayed to Saint Brendan that they might see the promised land. Even for those who remain on dry land, Brendan is a companion in seeking and—even against all odds—finding God.

Collect for Brendan of Clonfert
O God, by whose grace your servant Brendan, kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

— Eva Suarez

David of Wales

David, or Dewi in his native Welsh, was born about 500 to a ruling family near Menevia. Facts about his early life are vague, but he was educated and formed as a Christian as a child and young man. Early in his life, he founded a monastery near his home city to study and relished in the quiet and solitude of such a place.

Inspired by monastic life, David founded several additional monasteries in modern-day Wales to share the joy he found in a life avowed to prayer, study, and silence. David’s monastic rule, however, was not simply one of time in quiet prayer. He demanded monks live deeply austere lives, drinking only water (rather than the usual wine or mead) and eating only bread flavored with a small amount of salt and herbs. Monks were required to pull their own ploughs, and no personal possessions or superfluous words were allowed.

While David certainly would have been content to live out his life as an ascetic, his fellow Christians had other ideas. Around 550, clergy in Wales gathered at the Synod of Brefi, which was called to counter the second invasion of the heresy of Pelagianism. Pelagius was a British monk who purportedly believed individuals could achieve their own salvation by making good life choices, and that original sin was a fallacy. When David spoke out against the Pelagianism heresy, legend has it that people in the back of the crowd struggled to see and hear him, so God caused a tiny hill to sprout under his feet and a white dove to alight on his shoulder. Legend says David was so impressive that the current bishop of the Cambrian Church resigned on the spot, and David was ordained to the position.

David served as an archbishop with the same prayerful asceticism he lived in his monastery. He moved the episcopal seat from Caerleon to Menevia, where his monastery was and still is to this day. During David’s years of service, he guarded the Christian faith in Wales from invaders and heretics, and several well-known Irish saints were his students.

When he died on March 1, 589, the monastery was said to be filled with the light of angels sent by God to accompany David to heaven. David was buried on the grounds of the monastery he founded known today as the Cathedral of St. David. His tomb and subsequent shrine were declared a place of pilgrimage in the twelfth century, and they continue to be a sacred place for Christians from Wales and around the world.

Collect for David of Wales
Almighty God, who called your servant David to be a faithful and wise steward of your mysteries for the people of Wales: Mercifully grant that, following his purity of life and zeal for the Gospel of Christ, we may, with him, praise you both here on earth and also in your everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Laurie Brock


Brendan of Clonfert: MrCharco, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

David of Wales: Hchc2009, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


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130 comments on “Brendan of Clonfert v. David of Wales”

    1. In unimportant news, my son is David, his childhood friend is Brendan, so that is a consideration for me...

  1. David intrigued me until I saw his claim to fame was fighting heretics. Don't we worry a bit too much about telling others how they should find God?

    1. Yeah—and anyone who drinks only water and eats only bland bread is likely suffering from starvation hallucinations. I can respect many of the elements of the story but I question how forced asceticism helps further the gospel.

    2. Particularly because Pelagius preached tolerance and an appreciation of the gifts of Creation-both very current issues!

  2. Another difficult choice. Much as I love Brendan and his great faith in taking to the whale road with his companions, my vote goes to David in honour of my son's lovely Welsh godmother.

  3. I went for Brendan. Strict asceticism isn't my thing. Plus, it's almost St. Patrick's Day, so this non-Irish person is leaning Irish.

    1. St. David's feast day is the 1st of March, so a vote for him would also be in step with the season.

      1. Yes, I understand that it is a really big day in Wales celebrated with parades, Welsh bread and of course daffodils and leeks. Hope I will be able to celebrate there one day.

  4. St Davids (not the saint but the city)
    Is a village in size and quite pretty.
    Lucky people can boast
    That they’ve trekked its whole coast
    While humming a Welsh hiking ditty.

  5. Easiest contest to date. My vote went to Dewi Sant, patron saint of the Land of My Fathers (and Mothers). Cymru am byth!

  6. Being required to pull a plough on nothing but bread and water does not seem very Christ-like to me.
    Voting for Brendan.

    1. I am Irish so Brandon. Also I am not sure pulling a plow and fasting is the way of the lord.

      1. I'm not sure: fasting and manual labour were both practiced by Christ during his earthly life. It seems reasonable to me that those who seek him should find in these practices spiritual solidarity with their Lord who was pleased to take them upon himself.

        1. But Jesus practiced fasting for specific reasons at specific times, not as constant deprivation. The Gospels are replete with instances of his enjoying meals with friends. It wasn't water over which he said "This is my Blood."

  7. Both saints are worthy, but I have to vote for a Kerry man, Brendan, since my ancestors hailed from there.

  8. Being half Irish and half Welsh made this a tough choice for me. But I went for David, since during this month of March his feast day on the first gets seriously overlooked by all the attention paid to "that other guy".

    1. My wonderful great-aunt Mary always sent her son, David, a bouquet of leeks on St. David’s Day

        1. Sandra, if your son rejects your gift of leeks, send them tome. I'll make delicious soup out of them.

  9. Two good men laying foundations but the collect for Brendan was my shining light.

  10. I am always partial to a sailor. I cannot resist a person with curiosity and courage to set out to sea. AND it is my grandson's name...

  11. That are both worthy saints. I love the legends of Brendan. However, my Welsh roots call I must vote for the Patron Saint of Wales. It is Dewi all the way.

  12. Similar stories today. With my Welsh heritage, I was set to vote for David, but Eva Suarez's write-up swayed me to vote for Brendan.

  13. It’s unfair to pit two great Celtic saints against each other. Very un-Celtic of you.

    1. My Welsh roots called to me today but I agree. Boo hiss for pitting two great Celts against each other..

    2. At least Lent Madness does not have the likelihood of a physical brawl -- as opposed to an Ireland v. Wales football match. (Or ANY football match for that matter...)

  14. I was leaning toward Dawi until we got to the whole bit about Pelagius. I’d like to see a Lent Madness matchup between Pelagius and Augustine of Hippo.

    1. If Pelagius is eligible that would be interesting. However I'm not sure he is listed on any liturgical calendar...he is/was considered a heretic, after all.

      1. John Philip Newell has a story to tell about having had to write a paper in seminary comparing/contrasting Augustine and Pelagius, where the expectation was that Augustine would clearly win the match. He (Newell) chose to go deeper into Pelagius, and defended the (also Celtic) monk's legacy as a Christian teacher who believed that humankind and all Creation is good in its essence, not "depraved."

  15. In honor of my Welsh grandmother and because we celebrated his feast day just last week, I have to go with St. David of Wales today.

  16. I am a wanderer who has been able to travel the world and live in different places. I would tell my story of a place on to find someone excited to meet me from my story and tell me the wildest of adventures. I would be fascinated with the story about me that had evolved by mystic proportions. So Brendan gets my vote.

  17. This one was a little tough for me, but in the end I voted for David as my namesake and in honor of my Welsh ancestors.

  18. Had to vote for Brendan, and I am hoping for him to win the Golden Halo. His lovely prayer about journeying beyond the familiar and into the unknown was one I prayed often when leaving an abusive marriage.

    1. Thank you, Ann, for mentioning this prayer. I did not know it. Here it is (at least as just found on the internet) for anyone else who did not know of this powerful prayer:

      Help me to journey beyond the familiar
      and into the unknown.
      Give me the faith to leave old ways
      and break fresh ground with You.
      Christ of the mysteries, I trust You
      to be stronger than each storm within me.
      I will trust in the darkness and know
      that my times, even now, are in Your hand.
      Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,
      and somehow, make my obedience count for You.

      1. Some of these words are familiar and yet I feel like I'm reading this for the first time and, O! how this prayer plays on my heart!

        So maybe this isn't part of or included in the "Brendan journey" prayer that's in my Celtic Daily Prayers book or maybe it's just been so long since I've looked at that particular one I forgot parts... or maybe I just *REALLY* needed to hear/read it today!

  19. Although there is a very strong Irish heritage in my family
    including some from County Kerry, the three Welsh Springer
    Spaniels in our house insisted I vote for David...if you
    have never experienced a Welshie being insistent, I invite
    you to come to our house around dinner time. And by the way,
    they are a truly lovely and loving breed of dog with a very
    fun and merry disposition! So, David it is for today...

  20. Two monastics in the mists of the early 6th century. Though I have some Welsh forebears and not a drop of Irish blood that I know of, I find traveling and dreaming and setting sail for holy promised land much more enticing than bread and water, so I'm on board with Brendan.

  21. I find little in the ascetic theological debate of David to emulate. However, The travels of Brandon, and his leaving legacy of congregations is a life to which I can aspire.

  22. As I am married to a US Navy veteran who went to sea in a submarine, I must vote for the patron saint of seafarers, Brendan.

  23. Hmmm... am I feeling more in touch with my Irish roots or my Welsh ancestry?
    My mother would definitely want me to choose the Irish lad, especially so close to St. Patrick's Day! ☘️