21.07.2015 | Compass
During the 15th-century Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands, an aboriginal folklore story from the islands (rooted in Celtic legend), spoke about an 8th island that was sometimes seen to the west of La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomera. Many sailors chronicled how, in attempts to reach its shores, natural phenomenon like thick mists, winds or storms would impede clear views or access to the island, which would vanish just as fast.
The legend claims that the island was named after the Irish patron saint of travelers: Saint Brendan of Clonfert (480-576 DC), a monk from Tralee who was the first to set foot on the infamous “phantom” island. Irish-derived Canarian lore describes the monk’s adventure as an ordained priest who sailed throughout the Atlantic Ocean with 14 other monks on a small vessel. Along the way, they picked up 3 other monks, encountered fire-hurling demons, floating crystal columns, and an island covered with trees and much vegetation – a Garden of Eden in a way – and their long sought “Promised Land of the Saints.” They settled on the island for 6 years when one day, while celebrating mass, the island began to move, prompting them to set sail again. They watched in amazement how the island moved in the water much like a whale and disappeared. The Irish base this legend on the assumptions that Irish sailors possibly reached, towards the end of the Middle Ages, the shores of North America or Newfoundland, Iceland and other Atlantic islands.
Mythically known as the whale island of Saint Brendan, local Canarian folklore translated the name into „San Borondón”, the Romans had called the island „Aprositus” (the inaccessible) and in the Portuguese versions, the legend is named „Antilia” or „Island of the Seven Cities”- the cities which were supposed to have been founded by seven legendary bishops.
People firmly believed in its existence, and there were even detailed accounts from sailors who swore to have landed on the island and explored it before the land would sink back into the ocean or “move”. A surviving document of this tale is the 11th century Navigatio Brendani. International treaties signed by the Kingdom of Castile concerning the conquests of the Canary Islands stated that Castile had sovereignty over “the islands of Canarias, already discovered or to be discovered…”, and eighteenth century archives list the official inquiries performed by the authorities of the island of El Hierro after thousands of witnesses declared having seen the bewitched island from the summits of their mountains. An expedition set out from the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in search of the island proved fruitless.
Even though fewer sightings have been reported since the XIX century, the persistence of this legend in the Canary Islands’ folklore is still strong to this day. San Borondon remains alive in the islanders’ imagination and there is probably not one local of Tenerife, La Palma,La Gomera, Gran Canaria or El Hierro who has not glanced from the mountain-top of the island into the sea, hoping to glimpse the lost island in the western horizon where the sun sinks into the cobalt-blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean.