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Navigatio Sancti Brendani abbatis (Ch. 9 to 11)
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Capitvlvm IX
Capitulum IX
Chapter IX



Qvadam die vidervnt insvlam non longe ab illis Cvmqve coepissent navigare ad illam svbvenit illis prosper ventvs in adiutorivm vt non laborassent plus qvam vires poterant svstinere Cvm vero navis stetisset in portvm praecepit vir Dei omnes exire foras Ipse avtem egressvs est post illos Cvmqve coepissent circvire illam insvlam vidervnt aqvas largissimis manare ex diversis fontibvs plenas piscibvs Dixitqve Sanctvs Brendanvs fratribvs svis “Faciamvs hic opvs divinvm Sacrificemvs Deo immacvlatam hostiam qvia hodie est Cena Domini” Et ibi manservnt vsqve in sabbatvm sanctvm Paschae Perambvlantes avtem illam insvlam invenervnt diversas tvrmas ovivm univs coloris id est albi ita vt non possent vltra videre terram prae mvltitudine ovivm Convocatisqve fratribvs svis Sanctvs Brendanvs dixit illis “Accipite qvae necessaria ad diem festvm de grege” Fratres vero secvndvm mandatvm viri Dei festinabant ad gregem Qvi statim accepervnt de grege unam ovem Et cvm illam alligassent per cornva seqvebatvr illa qvasi domestica illvm qvi tenebat ligaturam in manu sva vsqve ad locvm vbi stetit vir Dei Itervm ait vir Dei uni ex fratribvs “Accipite agnvm immacvlatvm de grege” Qvi festinavit et fecit sicvt sibi inivnctvm fverat Cvm illi parassent omnia ad opvs crastinae diei ecce apparvit illis vir habens in manu sportam plenam panibvs svbcinericiis et cetera qvae necessaria erant Cvm haec posvisset ante virvm Dei cecidit pronvs svper faciem svam tribvs vicibvs ad pedes sanctis patris dicens “Vnde mihi merito margarita Dei vt pascharis in istis sanctis diebvs de labore manvvm mearvm” Sanctvs Brendanvs elevato eo de terra et dato oscvlo dixit “Fili Dominvs noster Iesus Christvs proponit nobis locvm vbi celebrare possimvs sanctam svam resvrrectionem” Cvi ait praedictvs vir “Pater hic celebrabitis istvd sabbatvm sanctvm Vigilias vero et missas cras in illa insvla qvam vos videtis proposvit Devs celebrare svae resvrrectionis” Dvm haec dixisset coepit obseqvivm famvlorvm Dei et omnia qvae necessaria erant in crastinvm praeparare Finitis omnibvs et illatis in navim dixit ad Sanctvm Brendanvm “Vestra navicvla non potest amplivs portare Ego vobis transmittam qvae vobis necessaria svnt de cibo et de potu vsqve in pentecostem” Sanctvs Brendanvs dixit “Vnde tu nosti vbi erimvs post octo dies” Cvi ait “Hac nocte eritis in illa insvla qvam vos videtis prope et cras vsqve in sextam Postea navigabitis ad aliam insvlam qvae est non longe ab ista insvla contra occidentalem plagam qvae vocatvr paradisvs avivm Ibiqve manebitis vsqve in octavas Pentecostes” Interrogabat qvoqve Sanctvs Brendanvs illvm qvomodo potvissent oves esse tam magnae sicvt ibi visae svnt Erant enim maiores qvam boves Cvi ille dixit “Nemo colligit lac de ovibvs in hac insvla nec hiems distringit illas sed in pascvis semper commorantvr die noctuqve Ideoqve maiores svnt hic qvam in vestris regionibvs”
Quādam diē vīdērunt īnsulam nōn longē ab illīs. Cumque cœpissent nāvigāre ad illam subvēnit illīs prosper ventus in adjūtōrium ut nōn labōrāssent plūs quam vīres poterant sustinēre. Cum vērō nāvis stetisset in portum præcēpit vir Deī omnēs exīre forās. Ipse autem ēgressus est post illōs. Cumque cœpissent circuīre illam īnsulam vīdērunt aquās largissimīs mānāre ex dīversīs fontibus plēnās piscibus. Dīxitque Sānctus Brendānus frātribus suīs: “Faciāmus hīc opus dīvīnum. Sacrificēmus Deō immaculātam hostiam quia hodiē est Cēna Dominī”. Et ibī mānsērunt usque in sabbatum sānctum Paschæ. Perambulantēs autem illam īnsulam invēnērunt dīversās turmās ovium ūnīus colōris id est albī ita ut nōn possent ultrā vidēre terram præ multitūdine ovium. Convocātīsque frātribus suīs Sānctus Brendānus dīxit illīs: “Accipite quæ necessāria ad diem fēstum dē grege”. Frātrēs vērō secundum mandātum virī Deī festīnābant ad gregem. Quī statim accēpērunt dē grege ūnam ovem. Et cum illam alligāssent per cornua sequēbātur illa quasi domestica illum quī tenēbat ligātūram in manū suā usque ad locum ubī stetit vir Deī. Iterum ait vir Deī ūnī ex frātribus: “Accipite agnum immaculātum dē grege”. Quī festīnāvit et fēcit sīcut sibi injunctum fuērat. Cum illī parāssent omnia ad opus crāstinæ diēī ecce appāruit illīs vir habēns in manū sportam plēnam pānibus subcinericiīs et cētera quæ necessāria erant. Cum hæc posuisset ante virum Deī cecidit prōnus super faciem suam tribus vicibus ad pedēs sānctis patris dīcēns: “Unde mihi meritō margarīta Deī ut paschāris in istīs sānctīs diēbus dē labōre manuum meārum?” Sānctus Brendānus ēlevātō eō dē terrā et datō ōsculō dīxit: “Fīlī Dominus noster Jēsūs Chrīstus prōpōnit nōbīs locum ubī celebrāre possīmus sānctam suam resurrectiōnem”. Cuī ait prædictus vir: “Pater hīc celebrābitis istud sabbatum sānctum. Vigiliās vērō et missās crās in illā īnsulā quam vōs vidētis prōposuit Deus celebrāre suæ resurrectiōnis”. Dum hæc dīxisset cœpit obsequium famulōrum Deī et omnia quæ necessāria erant in crāstinum præparāre. Fīnītīs omnibus et illātīs in nāvim dīxit ad Sānctum Brendānum: “Vestra nāvicula nōn potest amplius portāre. Egō vōbīs trānsmittam quæ vōbīs necessaria sunt dē cibō et dē potū usque in pentēcostēm”. Sānctus Brendānus dīxit: “Unde tū nōstī ubī erimus post octō diēs?” Cuī ait: “Hāc nocte eritis in illā īnsulā quam vōs vidētis prope et crās usque in sextam. Posteā nāvigābitis ad aliam īnsulam quæ est nōn longē ab istā īnsulā contrā occidentālem plagam quæ vocātur paradīsus avium. Ibīque manēbitis usque in octāvās Pentēcostēs”. Interrogābat quoque Sānctus Brendānus illum quōmodo potuissent ovēs esse tam magnæ sīcut ibī vīsæ sunt. Erant enim majōrēs quam bovēs. Cuī ille dīxit: “Nēmō colligit lac dē ovibus in hāc īnsulā nec hiems distringit illās sed in pāscuīs semper commorantur diē noctūque. Ideōque majōrēs sunt hīc quam in vestrīs regiōnibus”.
One day they saw an island not far from them. As they had begun to sail towards, a favourable wind came up to help them, so that they should not to toil more than their combined strengths would allow. When the ship had truly reached the harbour, the man of God ordered them all to disembark; but he went forth after them. As they had begun to walk around that island, they saw waters full of fish flowing out many plentiful springs. And Saint Brendan said to his brethren: “Let us perform here the divine office. Let us sacrifice to God the immaculate host, for today is the Lord’s Supper.” And they remained there until the Holy Saturday of Easter. As they toured the island, they found out many companies of sheep, all of the one same white colour, so that they could no longer see the ground because of the multitude of sheep. Saint Brendan summoned his brethren and told them: “Take from the flock what is needed for a holiday.” So the brethren followed the command of the man of God, hurried up towards the flock and at once took one sheep from it. As they had bound it by the horns, it followed in a nearly tame way the one who held the bridle unto the place where the man of God was standing. Again, the man of God said to one of the brethren: “Take from the flock an immaculate lamb.” The latter hurried to do as he had been told. As they had made everything ready for the office of the next day, a man suddenly appeared to them holding a basket full of loaves baked under ashes and everything else that was needed. He put it down before the man of God and flung himself face to the ground to the holy father’s feet, saying: “Whence do I deserve, pearl of God, that you should celebrate Easter from the labour of my hands?” Saint Brendan raised him from the ground and gave him a kiss, then said to him: “My son, our Lord Jesus Christ proposes us a place to celebrate his holy resurrection.” The aforementioned man told him: “Father, here you shall celebrate this Holy Saturday. Verily, God has proposed you to celebrate the vigils and tomorrow the masses of his resurrection on the island that you see here.” Once he had spoken, he began to prepare the observance of the servants of God and everything that was needed for the following day. After he had finished and brought everything into the ship, he said to Saint Brendan: “Your boat cannot carry more. I will hand down to you what you need for food and drink until Pentecost.” Saint Brendan said: “Where do you know from where we shall be after eight days?” The other answered him: “Tonight you will be in this island you see nearby, and tomorrow too until the sixth hour. Then you will sail westwards unto another island that is not far from this one, and that is called the paradise of birds. You will stay there until the octave of Pentecost.” Saint Brendan also asked him how the sheep could be as big as they had seen them. They were indeed bigger than cattle. The other told him: “Nobody retrieves milk from the ewes on that island, and the winter does not exhaust them, but they always remain day and night on pasture. That is why they are bigger here than in your lands.”



Capitvlvm X
Capitulum X
Chapter X



Profectiqve svnt ad navim et coepervnt navigare data benedictione vicissim Cvm avtem venissent ad aliam insvlam coepit illa navis stare anteqvam portvm illivs potvissent tenere Sanctvs Brendanvs praecepit fratribvs exire de navi et ita fecervnt Tenebantqve navim ex vtraqve parte cvm funibvs vsqve dvm ad portvm venit Erat avtem illa insvla petrosa sine vlla herba Silva rara erat ibi et in litore illivs nihil de arena fvit Porro pernoctantibvs in orationibvs et in vigiliis fratribvs foras de navi vir Dei sedebat intvs
Prōfectīque sunt ad nāvim et cœpērunt nāvigāre datā benedictiōne vicissim . Cum autem vēnissent ad aliam īnsulam, cœpit illa nāvis stāre antequam portum illīus potuissent tenēre. Sānctus Brendānus præcēpit frātribus exīre dē nāvī et ita fēcērunt. Tenēbantque nāvim ex utraque parte cum fūnibus usque dum ad portum vēnit. Erat autem illa īnsula petrōsa sine ullā herbā. Silva rāra erat ibī et in lītōre illīus nihil dē arēnā fuit. Porrō pernoctantibus in ōrātiōnibus et in vigiliīs frātribus forās dē nāvī vir Deī sedēbat intus.
They went back to their ship and, after they had given a blessing in return, began to sail away. But when they had come to the other island, the ship stopped before they had reached the harbour. Saint Brendan ordered the brethren to disembark, and so they did. They held the ship on either side by ropes until it came into the harbour. That island however was rocky and without any grass. Woods were rare and there was no sand on its shore. Then the brethren spent all the night out of the ship in prayers and vigils, while the man of God stood inside.



Capitvlvm XI
Capitulum XI
Chapter XI



Sanctvs vero Brendanvs sciebat qvalis erat illa insvla sed tamen nolvit illis indicare ne fvissent perterriti Mane avtem facto praecepit sacerdotibvs vt singvli missas cantasset et ita fecervnt Cvm ergo sanctvs Brendanvs et ipse cantasset missam in navim coepervnt fratres crudas carnes portare foras de navi vt condidissent sale et etiam pisces qvos secvm tvlervnt de alia insvla Cvm haec fecissent posvervnt cacabvm svper ignem Cvm avtem ministrassent lignis ignem et fervere coepisset cacabvs coepit illa insvla se movere sicvt vnda Fratres vero coepervnt cvrrere ad navim deprecantes patrocinivm sancti patris At ille singvlos per manus trahebat intvs Relictisqve omnibvs qvae portabant in illam insvlam coepervnt navigare Porro illa insvla ferebatvr in oceanvm Tvnc poterant videre ignem ardentem svper dvo miliaria Sanctvs Brendanvs narravit fratribvs qvod hoc esset dicens “Fratres admiramini qvod fecit haec insvla” Aivnt “Admiramvr valde nec non et ingens pavor penetravit nos” Qvi dixit illis “Filioli mei nolite expavescere Devs enim revelavit mihi hac nocte per visionem sacramentvm hvivs rei Insvla non est vbi fvimvs sed piscis Prior omnivm natantivm in oceano qvaerit semper svam cavdam vt simvl ivngat capiti et non potest pro longitudine qvam habet nomine Iasconivs”
Sānctus vērō Brendānus sciēbat quālis erat illa īnsula sed tamen nōluit illīs indicāre nē fuissent perterritī. Māne autem factō præcēpit sacerdōtibus ut singulī missās cantāsset et ita fēcērunt. Cum ergō sānctus Brendānus et ipse cantāsset missam in nāvim cœpērunt frātrēs crūdās carnēs portāre forās dē nāvī ut condidissent sale et etiam piscēs quōs sēcum tulērunt dē aliā īnsulā. Cum hæc fēcissent posuērunt cācabum super ignem. Cum autem ministrāssent lignīs ignem et fervēre cœpisset cācabus cœpit illa insula sē movēre sīcut unda. Frātrēs vērō cœpērunt currere ad nāvim dēprecantēs patrōcinium sānctī patris. At ille singulōs per manūs trahēbat intus. Relictīsque omnibus quæ portābant in illam īnsulam cœpērunt nāvigāre. Porrō illa īnsula ferēbātur in ōceanum. Tunc poterant vidēre ignem ārdentem super duō mīliāria. Sānctus Brendānus narrāvit frātribus quod hoc esset dīcēns: “Frātrēs admīrāminī quod fēcit hæc īnsula?” Aiunt: “Admīrāmur valdē nec nōn et ingēns pavor penētrāvit nōs.” Quī dīxit illīs: “Fīliolī meī nōlite expavēscere. Deus enim revēlāvit mihi hāc nocte per vīsiōnem sacrāmentum hujus reī. Īnsula nōn est ubī fuimus sed piscis. Prior omnium nātantium in ōceanō quærit semper suam caudam ut simul jungat capitī et nōn potest prō longitūdine quam habet nōmine Jasconius”.
Saint Brendan knew well what that island was, yet did not want to tell them, lest they would be terrified. On the next morning, he ordered that every priest should sing a mass, and so they did. While Saint Brendan himself was therefore singing a mass in the ship, the brethren began to unload raw meats from the ship, in order to preserve them in salt, and fish too that they had brought from the other island. At the same time, they put a cooking pot on the fire. But while they were attending to the fire with wood and the pot was nearly boiling, the island began to move like a wave. The brethren soon ran up to the ship and called upon the patronage of the holy father. He pulled them in one by one by the hands. They left everything that they had brought on that island and sailed on. The island was carried off upon the ocean. They could then see the fire burning on over two miles away. Saint Brendan told the brethren what it was, saying: “Brethren, are you amazed at the doings of this island?” They answered: “We are greatly amazed indeed and a tremendous fright has pierced us through.” He said to them: “My dear sons, do not be afraid. For God has revealed to me this night in a vision the mystery of this thing. Not upon an island were we, but upon a fish. It is the eldest of all those that swim in the ocean, and is always looking after its tail to join it together with its head, but is unable to do so because of its length. Its name is Jasconius.”

Commentary
Navigatio Sancti Brendani abbatis (“The Sea Voyage of Saint Brendan the Abbot”) is a legendary, edifying account from the High Middle Ages, telling about the sea travels of Saint Brendan, abbot of Clonfert in Ireland, and seventeen of his monks, in search for Terra repromissionis sanctorum, “the promised land of the saints”, a figure of paradise. This text belongs to the Irish literary tradition called immram (“voyage”), a kind of tale about heroic and wondrous navigations in search for the Celtic Otherworld, mixing memories of Irish mythology and Christian imagery. The Navigatio was very widespread in the Middle Ages: more than 120 manuscripts have come down to us, with the oldest one dated around 900. The legend is also known from a Latin and Irish hagiography, Vita Brendani or Betha Brenainn (“Life of Brendan”). These works were adapted many times into various European languages; one of the most famous derivatives is a 12th century poem composed in the Anglo-Normand dialect of Old French by a monk called Benedeit in honour of king Henry I of England.

Tolkien directly referenced those works in his unfinished novel The Notion Club Papers, published in Sauron Defeated, and composed for it a poem upon The Death of Saint Brendan. Most of all however, this literary tradition provided him one a of the major inspirations for a vital theme in his Legendarium: the longing and travel beyond the Ocean towards the lost West, the blessed realm of the Valar in Aman.

The selected extract makes use of the same idea of a whale-island than the poem The Whale that inspired Tolkien his own Fastitocalon published among The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Here the monster is named Jasconius, probably from Old Irish íasc “fish”.

The translation is ours. We have supplemented the text with macrons to mark etymologically long vowels, and restored some Classical Latin features that were often changed in Mediæval Latin, especially the diphthongs æ and œ, that were often reduced to e in manuscripts

The text’s transcription emulates the capitalis rustica, a style of the Latin alphabet that was in use in the imperial Rome and Late Antiquity for writing on papyrus or parchment with a reed pen. We made use of Hasan Guven’s typeface Vatican Rough Letters.

References
Navigatio sancti Brendani abbatis. Textus: Vita sanctissimi confessoris Christi Brendani. Transcription par Guy Vincent du manuscrit d’Alençon, Codex 14, folio 1 recto à 11 verso, XIe siècle. 🌍 Bibliotheca Augustana.

The works of John Ronald Reuel and Christopher Tolkien are under the copyright of their authors and/or rights holders, including their publishers and the Tolkien Estate.
Quotations from other authors, editors and translators mentioned in the bibliography are under the copyright of their publishers, except for those whose copyright term has ended.
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