Holy islands

Transformative landscapes and the origins of an Irish spatial poetics

in A landscape of words
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Chapter 1 identifies geography’s central role in the earliest texts produced by and about the Irish ca. 700–900. I begin with the first Holy Land pilgrimage account composed in Britain, Adomnán’s De locis sanctis, a foundational text for spatial writing. I consider how Adomnán applied this model to North Atlantic holy sites in Vita Sancti Columbae, and show how accounts of Holy Land pilgrimage inform Irish texts about voyages in the waters surrounding Ireland and Britain, the Western herimum in ociano. The islands of the North Atlantic (including Ireland) are often envisioned as otherworldly lands of milk and honey, whose nature is largely determined by their position limning civilization and the unknown watery regions beyond. A desire to investigate these places and be changed by them motivates the monastic Irish voyagers whose stories are told in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani, which circulated widely throughout Europe; the lay protagonists of the closely related vernacular Irish voyage texts (immrama) undergo parallel experiences as they travel these same geographies. Irish spatial narratives provided an early and influential model for composers in Ireland, Britain and Europe to write texts inviting imaginative travel to holy places from the Dead Sea to the Irish Sea.

A landscape of words

Ireland, Britain and the poetics of space, 700–1250

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