Saturday, November 27, 2004

Thanksgiving? Spaniards? P'tish...

There's been a deal of chatter in the 'blogosphere about Thanksgiving, and the fact that the Spaniards landed in America long before the Puritans. True enough, and the first recorded Mass celebrated in the New World was celebrated by a Spanish priest. However, that doesn't mean that they were the first Catholics in America. Long before, sometime in the 6th Century, the Irish Saint Brendan and companions got there first. As the Navagatio puts it:
At the end of forty days, towards evening, a dense cloud overshadowed them, so dark that they could scarce see one another. Then the procurator said to St Brendan: ‘Do you know, father, what darkness is this?’ And the saint replied that he knew not. ‘This darkness,’ said he, ‘surrounds the island you have sought for seven years; you will soon see that it is the entrance to it ;’ and after an hour had elapsed a great light shone around them, and the boat stood by the shore.
When they had disembarked, they saw a land, extensive and thickly set with trees, laden with fruits, as in the autumn season. All the time they were traversing that land, during their stay in it, no night was there, but a light always shone, like the light of the sun in the meridian, and for the forty days they viewed the land in various directions, they could not find the limits thereof. One day, however, they carne to a large river flowing towards the middle of the land, which they could not by any means cross over. St Brendan then said to the brethren: ‘We cannot cross over this river, and we must therefore remain ignorant of the size of this country.’ While they were considering this matter, a young man of resplendent features, and very handsome aspect, came to them, and joyfully embracing and addressing each of them by his own name, said: ‘Peace be with you, brothers, and with all who practise the peace of Christ. Blessed are they who dwell in thy house, O Lord; they shall praise Thee for ever and ever.’
He then said to St Brendan: ‘This is the land you have sought after for so long a time; but you could not hitherto find it, because Christ our Lord wished, first to display to you His divers mysteries in this immense ocean. Return now to the land of your birth, bearing with you as much of those fruits and of those precious stones, as your boat can carry; for the days of your earthly pilgrimage must draw to a close, when you may rest in peace among your saintly brethren. After many years this land will be made manifest to those who come after you, when days of tribulation may come upon ‘the people of Christ. The great river you see here divides this land into two parts; and just as it appears now, teeming with ripe fruits, so does it ever remain, without any blight or shadow whatever, for light unfailing shines thereon.’ When St Brendan inquired whether this land ‘would. be revealed unto men, the young man replied: ‘When the Most High Creator will have brought all nations under subjection, then will this land be made known to all His elect.’ Soon after, St Brendan, having received the blessing of this man, prepared for his return to his own country. He gathered some of the fruits of the land, and various kinds of precious stones; and having taken a last farewell of the good procurator who had each year provided food for him arid his brethren, he embarked once more and sailed back through the darkness again.
Precious stones and an encounter with an angel... Much more to give thanks for than turkeys and 'Red Indians'...

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