By Andrea Maraschi
Published Online, 2014
Introduction: Between the IXth and the Xth century, in an unknown European abbey, an anonymous author wrote about an Irish monk and his fourteen companions who, in the fifth century, embarked for a dangerous voyage. The monk was Brendan, and his destination the Terra repromissionis sanctorum. Therefore, the so called Navigatio Sancti brendani abbatis features real persons in an imaginary world, where credible details and legendary traits mingle with each other. In the age of St. Brendan, Ireland was gradually being christianized and was developing a peculiar attitude: a marked inclination to travelling to remote lands in order to found new monasteries. This is essentially the same propention we find in Brendan, but we can’t say such about his target.
The spark came from the abbot of Drumcullen, Barinth, a distant relative of his. Barinth came to visit him and, after a while, bursted into tears. As Brendan started to ask why he was crying, the abbot told him about a wonderful isle, the land God promised to give His saints: a place where there was no hunger, no thirst, no darkness. A tale which convinced Brendan and his friar to put to sea in search of this heavenly Terra…but on empty stomach.
Before leaving, Brendan and his monks decided to fast for forty days, following the archetypal biblical model. They built a wooden boat, they covered it with bovine leather and finally set sail with provisions for forty days. Their estimate will prove to be pretty accurate, even if it surely wasn’t due to their cleverness or luck: God, from His invisible outpost, was shepherding them. The moment they run out of food, they caught sight of an island and headed for it.