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. Anyone with enough fortitude to minister to the Celts of Ireland, the Hebrides and the Scots gets my vote. We can be a cantankerous and distrustful bunch.

  2. Let's see. An adventurous spirit roaming the world in God's service, or an austere ascetic living on bread and water and forcing his monks to do so as well, condemning them to malnutrition while insisting they pull their own plows. For sartain, this Irish lass would rather travel with Brendan.

  3. As a person of Irish descent, I naturally lean towards Brendan. As an Episcopalian, I don't think David's life can be said to follow the 'Via Media'. So that's two reasons to vote for Brendan.

  4. A hard choice since my ancestry is both Irish and Welsh. But my family have been seafarers for centuries, so Brendan it is!

  5. For a wonderful version of Brendan's story, read Fred Buechner's novel, Brendan. I was reading it the night one our son's was born... and hence Brendan became that son's middle name. Enough said about where my vote is going,..

    1. Buechner wrote a book on Brendan?!! Oh, my! That must be added to me to-read list! I so enjoy Buechner's writings!

      (And, in particular, one of his poems-of-sorts that a friend/former-seminary-mate of mine turned into a song that enraptured my heart the first time I heard it!)

  6. As I worked for a church called St. David's and was told he was not always a saint to be admired, and then reading of his ascetism; the adventurer, voyager, Brendan is for me.

  7. Been participating in Lent Madness for many years but never comment. I look forward to this ever year! Since it’s almost St Patrick’s Day, and I’m Irish on my mother’s side, I am casting my vote for Brendan.

  8. Married to a David, but a much kinder and gentler one who enjoys a good meal shared with friends--therefore my vote goes to Brendan, for my own love of the water and my heritage as the daughter and granddaughter of seafarers. May we all reach safe harbor in God's good time!

  9. Oh my goodness! I just took a trip down memory lane. I taught 4th and 5th grade at St. Brendan Elementary School, Miami, Florida, in the 1970's. I'm still in contact with some of those "children." I'm glad to read about Brendan after all these years.

  10. Wanted to take a minute to thank the writers. Earlier in the week, I was dismayed to read negative comments about the profiles. I think they are wonderfully well-written. Those readers who may be new here won't know that some info is held in reserve for the later rounds. Space is limited in each round, so they can't share everything they've learned in their research. Let's try to resist nit-picky negativity; I wouldn't think this is a good place for it. Thank you, writers, for your hard work.

    1. Hear, hear, Cathy! I am a little tired of the negative comments, both about the writers and the saints themselves. I am thankful for this yearly opportunity to learn about these incredible people and I am grateful to the writers for their research and literary talents. Your explanation of the different phases of the competition and length limitations are well said.

    2. Thank you for your comments. It's disturbing to see so many negative comments. Lent Madness could be thought provoking, educational and inspiration if we let go of our little criticisms.

  11. I'm all for original sin as a fallacy so Brendan for me. Also, couldn't vote on an iPad today. Very glitchy software thus year!

  12. This was a tough one, not only because they are both extremely worthy, but because I am Irish and -- with my choir -- sang for a week in St David's.

  13. All England Club today! Hadn’t realized how many saints the U.K. had to plant churches. ⛪️
    While Blandina vs. Brennon would be a good alliterative match, David gets my vote for simply bread & H2O!

  14. My great-grandmother came here alone from Moath, Ireland. And I married into a large Irish family. Got to go with Brendan!

  15. I'm opposed to "deep asceticism." Water and bread is all a prisoner would be given; did David at least allow yeast in the bread? Pulling one's own plow places one at the level of an animal; I'm not sure that builds compassion. I think his fellow monks risked becoming "dumb beasts" themselves. There's nothing wrong with eating simply and well. The monks could hardly have been very charitable to strangers, having so little comfort themselves. Heaven would be an escape, not a destination. However legendary Brendan's travels might be, I am moved by his "aspirational characteristics." And I found irresistible the final line: "Brendan is a companion in seeking and—even against all odds—finding God." Brendan it is for me today.

    1. The brothers of Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY have had, I believe, more than one chef from the nearby Culinary Institute of America. They eat simply -- and very well.

  16. Voted Brendan per my bracket and for more info about Celtic Christianity, which seems more interesting the more I learn about it.

    David's strict rules seemed a little more bound to have people rebelling against a walk with God than leaning in, in my personal opinion here.

    As inward faced as David is faced, Brendan is outward and out-to-sea faced (I hope that beard kept him warm.)

    I put both Cathedral of St. David and Ardfert into google and the Wikipedia pictures of both are great. Worth a peek. 🙂

    See you all on Monday!

  17. I voted for Brendon. Not sure why. Both remarkable saints with great accomplishments. David might have had an advantage coming from a "ruling family," and Brendon had to work harder.

  18. This would have been a toss-for me as they are both worthy of the Golden Halo and I love to sail, but I had to vote for St. David today as I attend St. David's Episcopal Church in Michigan. We celebrated his feast day last week, including daffodils at the altar as depicted in his icon. Several years ago I visited St. David's Cathedral and his tomb. I have to agree with those of you commenting about the restricted diet of bread and water - definitely not a healthy one!

  19. I belong to St. David's n Austin, TX. So I had to vote for St. David. I have visited the cathedral in Wales and what an active thriving place it is. It has the biggest sacristy I have ever seen!

    1. I, too, have a deep love for St.David's Austin. Where I 1st joined the Episcopal family when Jim Bethel was rector. Sweet memories of the 5 oclock service and the bonds I formed there. A lovely Danish priest Janne nurtured me in my journey to the faith expression I had searched for all my life but didn't recognize until I found the Episcopal church. Blessings.

  20. Over 40 years ago, my wife and I went on our first European trip, which included Wales. In my prep for the trip, I took Welsh language lessons for six months at the St. David's Society in New York City. I became know in the small town we stayed at (Y Bala) as the American who could speak Welsh, and they welcomed us into their community, which made our visit there my favorite part of the trip, so it's St. David who gets my vote! Cymry am Byth! Heddwch, everyone!

  21. I have often suspected that some or most of the more extreme examples of asceticism, like the bread and water diet of St David's monks, are just as legendary as St Melangell's hare. Pious exaggeration, gradually multiplied over the centuries. For example, a Lenten Friday discipline gradually got reported as a 40-day fast, which eventually grew all out of proportion. Same as the plow pulling, which may have started out as a "once" and eventually turned into an "always."

  22. …… with strong Welsh roots voted for St. David who like the Welsh Rugby Football team (in the Six Nations Cup) seems to be fighting a losing battle. Leek pie and daffodils are always very much in evidence on March 1st