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The Catholic Historical Review 90.1 (2004) 95-96

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The Legend of St Brendan: A Critical Bibliography. By Glyn S. Burgess and Clara Strijbosch. (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy. 2000. Pp. xii, 287. $23.50.)

St. Brendan, an Irish monk of Munster ancestry, was born toward the end of the fifth century and died c. 575. His fame is based primarily on the voyage tale Navigatio sancti Brendani abbatis ("The Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot"), a text written as early possibly as the last quarter of the eighth century which describes a voyage said to have been undertaken by the saint in search of a wonderful island in the ocean, the "Land of Promise." This tale catapulted him to cult status as "Brendan the Navigator" and became a medieval best-seller, giving rise to a wide range of versions in most of the vernacular languages of Europe.

Brendan's adventures and discoveries on his voyage have been viewed by many readers and commentators over the ages as being historically true, and the location of and search for St. Brendan's Isle have had an important influence on the development of medieval cartography and the discovery of the New World. It was a source of inspiration for Christopher Columbus, and more recently, [End Page 95] for Tim Severin. Not surprisingly perhaps, the latter's The Brendan Voyage, like the Navigatio, was translated into many different languages.

In addition to the Navigatio, many other texts relating to Brendan survive, such as the Life of St. Brendan, which has been preserved in both Latin and Irish versions, and a bibliography of the many works, both primary and secondary, relating to the saint has long been overdue. This work by Glyn S. Burgess and Clara Strijbosch is therefore to be greatly welcomed by all those interested in one or more of the many diverse and fascinating aspects of both the real and the legendary Brendan.

The work is divided into two main parts. Part One deals with primary sources, and concentrates principally on manuscripts, editions, and translations. It is divided into nine chapters on topics such as the Latin and Irish versions of the Life of St. Brendan, the manuscripts of the Navigatio (including the Legenda aurea and the vernacular versions), other Latin and Irish texts on St. Brendan, and modern works on the saint.

The reader is also referred to recent scholarly work on the subject for further reference. The 125 manuscripts containing the Navigatio, for example, have been established by Giovanni Orlandi, who is preparing a new edition of the work, Carl Selmer's 1959 edition (reprinted in 1989) representing the standard edition up to this point. In all, the manuscript lists and the further bibliographical material assembled in this part of the book will be an invaluable tool for scholars working in the field.

While a great storehouse of secondary writings on St. Brendan has developed over the centuries, it often proves difficult to locate relevant material, which may be filed away in some obscure publication. It is also difficult to ascertain from the title of a given work if it contains relevant or significant information. Part Two of the present work deals with these matters in that it lists studies of the Brendan legend in the form of books, articles, and chapters or sections of books. This is quite a comprehensive alphabetical list of 557 items, containing summaries of the contents of the items and their contribution to Brendan scholarship. While a few works may have escaped the eagle-eyed attention of the authors—for example, Pádraig Ó Riain's discussion of the two Brendans in a study in Peritia, Vol. 1 (1982), and Jürgen Uhlich's article in Zeitschriff für celtische Philologie 49-50 (1997), on the British origin of Brendan's names in Irish—the most important studies appear to be listed. Moreover, important research carried out on various aspects of the legend since 2000 may be readily incorporated into future editions of the work. Overall, this book represents a significant contribution to...


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