Wednesday, 19 November 2014

immrama or beyond the beyond

Though the Turkish president is facing some unfair ridicule for claiming that the relationship between the Islamic world and Latin America is a far more ancient one, Ireland stakes an even older title with the legendary voyages of Saint Brendan of Tralee.
Though the saint never stated that America was the Earthly Paradise (another candidate is La Palma in the Canaries), the Isles of the Blessed he was charged with finding by an angel for having been skeptical about an account of miracles and strange beings, Brendan does have a dedicated society of believer advocating his discovery preceded even that of Leif Erickson and the Vikings. Having embarked on this immram (the Irish word for a seafaring odyssey), the abbot assembled a cast of fellow monks (plus a few naysayers for good measure) may not have reached the Americas—though that is a matter of debate and faith—but came across many other curious places along the way. It is told that the adventures camped one evening on the back of a slumbering sea-monster, the aspidochelone, having mistook it for an island, make landfall on the island of the Birds of Paradise that sing like a choir of angels, encounter other monastic communities—including a hermit who has lived in the elements for sixty years draped only in his own hair and taken care of by an otter, a fiery land of blacksmiths that cast molten slag at the visitors (possibly a reference to volcanic Iceland) and crystal pillars in the sea (maybe icebergs) and the lonely skerry where Judas gets his respite from Hell on Sundays and holidays.