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Tenerife Travel Guide

The Ghost Island of San Borondón

The Canaries are seven islands... but an eigth isle is still searched! It is the ghost island, the mysterious one, the island of San Borondón. San Borondón is the Canarian name of Saint Brendan or Saint Brandan of Clonfert (480-576 d.C.), an Irish monk who plays the lead in one of the most famous legends of the Celtic culture: the voyage of Saint Brendan or Brandan to the Promised Land of the Saints, the Islands of Happiness and Fortune.

The Irish poem tells that Brendan was a monk of Tralee, County Kerry. He was ordained priest in the year 512 d.C.. He sailed with 14 other monks on a small vessel which went far away in the Atlantic Ocean. The legend tells about their adventures, how they took with them along their voyage three other monks, their encounter with fire-hurling demons, with floating crystal columns, with monstruos creatures as large as an island.

Brendan and his fellow travellers landed on island where they found trees and other sort of vegetation. They said mass, and suddenly the island started to sail. It was a gigantic sea creature and they were on its back. After many vicissitudes Brendan managed to go back to Ireland.

Many base on this legend the affirmation that Irish sailors reached possibly in the High Middle Ages the shores of North America or Newfoundland, Iceland and other Atlantic isles.

When the Canaries were conquered throughout the 15th century, stories were insistently told about an eigth island which sometimes was seen to the West of La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomera. When sailors tried to reach it and approached to its shores, mountains and valleys, the island was covered by mist and vanished. The island was obviously identified as mythical Saint Brendan's whale-island, and was called "San Borondón" in the Canary Islands.

People believed firmly in its existence, and there were even detailed accounts from an odd sailor or two who swore that they had landed on the island and explored it before the land had sunk again into the Ocean. In some international treaties signed by the Kingdom of Castille it was stated, concerning the Canary Islands, the Castilian sovereignty over *the islands of Canaria, already discovered or to be discovered*; just in case... The island was called "Aprositus", the Inaccesible, and in other versions of the legend is named "Antilia" or "Island of the Seven Cities", cities which were supposed to have been founded by seven legendary bishops.

The archives of the 18th century inform about official inquiries by the authorities of El Hierro, where tens of witnesses declared having seen the bewitched island from the summits of El Hierro's mountains. An expedition in search of the island sailed from Santa Cruz de Tenerife as a result of this inquiry.

The persistence of this legend in the islands' folklore is amazing. San Borondón is still alive in the islands' people imagination. There is probably no one islander of Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera or El Hierro who sometime has not looked from the mountains of his island into the sea, searching the lost island of San Borondón in the western horizon where the sun sinks in the cobalt-blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

"Let the Guanche drums resound
and the conch shells blow,
for the mysterious island
is appearing in the midst of the waves;
here comes San Borondón,
showing up in the mist
like a queen
with the surf as suite..."

"San Borondón", Cabrera/Santamaría

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