St. Brendan's Search for Paradise

St. Brendan (or Brandan) was an Irish monk, born about 484 B.C. in Tralee. According to medieval legend, Brendan embarked on a seven-year voyage through the Atlantic in search of the Garden of Eden. The legends recount Brendan's amazing adventures, including his encounter with a whale, pictured above, upon whose back he held communion. Brendan and his band of monks eventually discovered a brightly-lit land through which flowed a great river. After wandering the land for 40 days in an unsuccessful search for the farthest shore, they filled their ships with precious gems and returned home. Brendan died soon afterward, but his fabulous island became a standard feature on maps for the next millenia. The Navigatio Brendani, which dates from the 11th century, contains the earliest surviving version of this story.

St. Brendan's name was evoked by many Elizabethan writers, most notably Captain John Smith, in an attempt to establish English primacy in the New World. Smith also refers to a similar tale, dating from the 15th century. According to legend, the Welsh prince Madoc was said to have discovered America in 1170, after sailing westward to escape civil war. Madoc was supposed to have made a second voyage to establish a colony near what is now Mobile Bay, Alabama.

Smith's General History | A Brief History of the European Myth of the Garden