Aleteia

Did an Irish explorer discover America in the 6th century?

Share
Comment

This historic voyager could have crossed the Atlantic before the Vikings and Columbus.

While most historians agree that the Vikings first sailed to North America around the year 1000, some believe that they were not the first European explorers to cross the Atlantic.

There is a story from Ireland about a monk who was an expert sailor and traveled all over Ireland as well as Scotland, Wales, Brittany and France. His name was Brendan and he was born around 484 in southern Ireland. He had a great desire to bring more souls to God and took quite literally the commission of Jesus to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).

Later on he also heard of rumors of a distant land in the West which some believed was the original Garden of Eden. This gave Brendan all the motivation he needed and he was determined to discover where this Paradise on earth was located and preach the Gospel to any unbelievers he met along the way.

Taking a small crew, Brendan set out around the year 545 on a small round-bottom boat called a currach that was sealed with leather and had a square sail. An 8th-century account of the journey was recorded in The Voyage of St. Brendan and it describes various stops along the way that appear to correspond to places such as the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland, and even describes icebergs.

The possibility of such a feat was researched in 1976 by historian Tim Severin, who crafted an identical boat from the description given and took along with him a few companions. He made stops similar to those he believed St. Brendan could have made and eventually reached Peckford Island, Newfoundland. Severin’s research proved that a cross-Atlantic voyage was possible during the 6th century using primitive technology.

However, no Irish artifacts have ever been found that date to that time period, and most historians believe that’s Brendan’s voyage is a legend or simply an allegory to describe the journey of a person’s life. Whatever truth there is behind it, what is certain is that monks in the centuries after St. Patrick who evangelized Ireland were very zealous in their pursuit of religion and were willing to do anything to follow Christ, even if it meant traveling to the edge of the world.

Share
Comment
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.
Aleteia offers you this space to comment on articles. This space should always reflect Aleteia values.
[See Comment Policy]