St Brendan’s Navigation: Landscape and Paradise in Early Medieval Ireland

Elva Johnston

The clearest example of a liminal landscape is the fog through which the voyagers must pass before reaching the Promised Land of the Saints. The latter is the earthly paradise… but also the Heavenly Jerusalem, the apocalyptic Heaven at time’s end. The Navigatio begins and concludes with this passage between worlds… Passing through the fog is an outward sign that the voyagers are moving from one state of existence to the next. They emerge from darkness into light, from the insubstantial into the substantial and from the mundane into the heavenly. Their journey is literally an apocalypsis—an unveiling.

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The overarching narrative is structured around the celebration of the liturgical year, culminating in Easter… The climax of this pattern is the celebration of Easter on the Paradise of Birds where the monks chant the psalms at midnight, dawn, mid-morning, midday, afternoon, evening and night, completing the full monastic day of prayer.

Click here to view O’Donoghue’s Brendaniana: St. Brendan the Voyager in Story and Legend (1895).

And click here to view Wright’s St. Brandan: A Medieval Legend of the Sea, in English verse and prose (1844).

Republished here with warm thanks to Prof. Johnston and University College Dublin.

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