The seafaring saint
Sources and analogues of the twelfth-century Voyage of Saint Brendan
The Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis, written in Latin around AD 800, describes how the 6th-century Irish saint Brendan set sail for an island paradise on the other side of the ocean. Three and a half centuries later, around 1150, another story about St Brendan was written in the vernacular of the area around Trier, Germany. In this story, The Voyage of Saint Brendan, Brendan is said to have thrown a book into the fire in utter disbelief of the veracity of the marvelous phenomena which the book describes. As a punishment he is sent out into the world to see for himself that which he would not credit. The relationship between the Latin Navigatio and vernacular Voyage has long been one of the most baffling problems of Brendan scholarship.
In The Voyage of Saint Brendan Clara Strijbosch reconstructs the contents of the original Voyage, now lost, comparing it with the Navigatio, 12th-century texts about the marvels of the East (among them Herzog Ernst) and the wonders of creation, as well as with a host of older Irish immrama, among them Mael Dúin and Ua Corra. She argues convincingly that the Voyage has its roots in an agglomerate of stories of Irish origin, which also gave rise to the Navigatio. The Voyage author can be seen to have made an original use of his source material, conflating elements from various sources and adapting the story to his own ideas.
Clara Strijbosch is a fellow of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.