225. The Voyage of St Brendan (The Navigatio) (8th-9th century AD)

Source : Included in The Age of Bede, translated by J. F. Webb, published by Penguin, 1998 (ISBN 9780140447279)

Thoughts : More legend than biography, this is the fanciful maritime journey or pilgrimage of Brendan and his fellow monks in search of the Island of the Promise of the Saints in their seagoing coracle. If you merged the fantasy of one of the tales of The Arabian Nights with the background and peoples of The Life of Saint Cuthbert (the latter included in this book), you would approach The Voyage.

Seven years at sea, with all major dates on the Christian calendar spent at the same places each year (Easter on the back of the giant whale Jasconius, Christmas with the silent monks of Ailbe) as well as encountering The Paradise of Birds, which sing psalms, a gryphon, an island of giant blacksmiths who hurl fiery slag at them, Judas Iscariot on day release from Hell, and the devils who arrive to drag him back; and Paul the Hermit, covered entirely in long snowy white hair who was fed by an otter from the sea.

Speaking of otters, as I said this book included more biographical-style accounts of other saints, including St Cuthbert, who after spending the night immersed in the ocean to his neck, would wade ashore at dawn with two otters which were sent by God to breathe on his feet to help warm him.

Personal rating: There is something very calming about reading of monks, even their more supernatural adventures and miracle working. 6/10

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