THE VOYAGE OF ST BRENDAN. LANDSCAPE AND PARADISE IN EARLY MEDIEVAL
ResumoThe Nauigatio Sancti Brendani (Voyage of St Brendan) is an important early medieval text, dating from the eighth century and written in Ireland. It was an influential narrative and was widely known and adapted across Europe, even coming to be seen as a forerunner of the voyages to the New World during the Age of Discovery. It tells of how St Brendan, a prominent early Irish abbot who lived in the sixth century, is called to go on a journey to the Promised Land of the Saints which, the text tells us, can be found in the Atlantic Ocean to the west of Ireland. He is accompanied by a crew of monks on his voyage which takes places over several years. The saint and his companions must overcome temptations before they reach their destination. On the way Brendan visits what are almost certainly the Faroes in the north Atlantic, encounters monks and hermits, passes a demonic island, celebrates Easter on the back of a whale and encounters Judas Iscariot. The space in which he travels is at once real and imaginary. Fascinatingly, then, Brendan’s voyage is securely placed within the actual geography of the north and west Atlantic Ocean. As a result, the Nauigatio offers insights into Irish views of the landscape and its symbolic significance. This paper will explore the spiritual geography of St Brendan’s journey and will connect it to the expression of monastic ideals in early medieval Ireland. What can the Nauigatio tell us about the collective self-perceptions of Irish monks? Can we detect echoes of real lives in real landscapes along the Irish western seaboard? This skilful combination of the symbolic and the actual is what sets the Nauigatio apart from other early Irish texts and arguably explains why it went onto become one of the most popular of all early medieval narratives.
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