Feb 2: The Voyage of Saint Brendan

When Brendan and the monks arrive at Paradise, they find a beautiful landscape of flowers, mountains, rivers, animals, and fruits, without any thorn or brambles; basically, what many of us picture when we think of the Garden of Eden. An unspoiled place, largely untouched by the hand of man. And yet, guarding this paradise is a series of things very much in the realm of the manmade: a sword, a wall, a gate.

We often think of people in the Middle Ages, seeing Nature through the lens of Christianity, thought of the natural world as something they could own and dominate. Yet in this image of ideal nature, the home that was supposed to be humanity’s (“Which ought to have been inhabited by us”, as line 1708 puts it), the only manmade things serve to protect Nature. The implication is that these defenses were put in place by God, but still God in this poem chooses to make them in the form of human artifacts.

Is there room for a more nuanced view of Medieval Christianity’s depiction of Nature, or does this simply continue the trope of Nature as ours to do with as we wish? How and why?

7 thoughts on “Feb 2: The Voyage of Saint Brendan

  1. The manmade items of a sword, a wall, and a gate are used as a force to protect paradise, or to protect nature. There are different interpretations of God giving man dominion over all things one earth. Rather than nature being the instrument to be used for human advancement human beings are the guardians of nature and should protect it.
    Paradise is a realm that is seemingly not meant for living humans. The youth that guides Brendan tell him he is not “permitted to go further” into paradise because of his limited knowledge; the knowledge of the afterlife (1793). Brendan “will return in spirit” to paradise but only after he has died (1802). Manmade items as well as actual physical limitations on solid bodies protect Paradise.

  2. I think The voyage of St Brendan depicts the view that God is the ultimate ruler over nature. God sends deliverance to his faithful and Brendan and his followers are rescued from multiple situations by the divine force. Man is a merely a part of nature that God has control over, just as he does for nature.

  3. The imagery of paradise in the Voyage of St. Brendan is still much in line with the early christian view that nature is under the dominion of mankind. The nature here is not truly nature, but nature made tame (no thistles, all plants smell sweet despite their true nature). In our first reading by Gerrard we learned that when we speak of nature we must speak of it all, including the harsh parts of it. Here we see nature that has been made artificial. Therefore any protection given by the man-made objects is not to protect nature, but the paradise that god has created.

  4. The Voyage of St Brendan depicts a dynamic view of nature; it is a complex and layered examination of the role of nature in mankind as well as the role of mankind in nature. At times, such as when the dragon and griffin are fighting and the two sea serpents war with each other, it appears that nature is at the service of man, specifically a religious man. However, at other times, such as when St Brendan is led through the idyllic landscape of paradise, nature seems to be an independent force that does not answer the call of man. The work speaks of the way the flora “never [waits] for any season” and operates with a great degree of autonomy (1750). The natural world seems to have the ability to shift and change; it is capable of being viewed from multiple, correct perspectives. We frequently categorize medieval views of nature as one dimensional, but The Voyage of St Brendan is yet another reminder of the shifting, dynamic reality of nature as presented in various works of literature through the middle ages.

  5. I think that this just reinforces the idea that humanity and Nature are connected through God. God sets up lines of defense for Nature, but he also assists St Brendan and the rest of the heroes in their journey. Because of this, I think that God sees humanity as a part of Nature, and maybe He believes that Nature and humanity can exist and even flourish together.

  6. I think that the story depicts that humans are not the rulers of nature, but God is. Humans are more immersed into nature, and considered nature themselves. While being a part of nature, humans co-exist with the world in a way that God had hoped for. While it appears that humans are part of nature, they also have a role of protecting it, since it is part of them and their home.

  7. I believe the Voyage of St. Brendan is a depiction of God’s dominion over nature. St. Brendan has many encounters and although the items left were manmade, they seem to have been placed there, strategically. If God controls nature, he controls what is seen and placement of things. He also saves Brendan and the monks from strange fish and feeds them a sea monster, indirectly. Human beings seem to be apart of nature while holding their own human nature. Humans and nature also have a mutual relationship which can be seen in protecting and valuing nature as nature protects humans (ex. the sea monster killing the other sea monster)

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