In the sixth century, St. Brendan, an Irish monk who was widely reputed as a skilled seafarer, is said to have undertaken an ambitious voyage. Brendan, along with a crew of fellow monks, sailed looking for Paradise, the Land of Promise of the Saints. After seven years exploring mysterious lands, he came upon what he believed to be the fabled paradise. It was an island so vast that he and his crew failed to reach the far shore after 40 days of walking. It contained a river that was too wide to be crossed. It was a wooded land, filled with lush fruits. He and his men filled their boats with gems they found there and returned home to tell of the news.
It wasn’t until the ninth century that an account of Brendan's voyage surfaced, the Navigatio Sancti Brendani (“Travels of St. Brendan” in Latin). It was an instant hit, translated into several languages. The account talks of Brendan’s experiences, including his being pelted with rock from an island of fire, seeing a pillar of crystal and encountering a moving island before finally coming upon the Promised Land, which came to be referred to as the Fortunate Islands.
But as time wore on, the Navigatio -- along with St. Brendan himself -- passed into the realm of legend. If Brendan had lived -- as most scholars assume -- surely he couldn’t have traveled across the treacherous North Atlantic with the technology available at the time. Certainly, he couldn’t have beaten the Vikings to North America.
Ironically, it is Viking lore that lends support to the idea that Brendan was the first European in North America. Read the next page to find out about evidence for and against this idea.