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On some Navigational Aspects of St. Paul’s Voyage from Crete to Melita

Antun Ničetić

Puni tekst: hrvatski pdf 7.188 Kb

str. 305-370

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The author examines St. Paul’s journey from Caesarea to Rome as described by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 27 and 28. The voyage to Rome did not develop according to the plan due to the strong northeast wind which blew the ship off the course and away from the coast of Crete. After fourteen days of wandering, the ship was wrecked on the island of «Melita». The Acts of the Apostles being primarily a religious source, it produces insufficient navigational, meteorological, oceanographic or other affiliated data which could aid an accurate reconstruction of St. Paul’s travel from Crete to Melita, and farther west to Puteoli. It is generally believed that this incident took place on Malta, the island at the time known as Melita. Equally so, Melita could have been the island of Mljet in the southern Adriatic, since the latter was referred to under the same name at the time. Having analyzed the Acts and the sources adverted to in this article, the author’s aim is to discuss the navigational, meteorological, oceanographic and other natural conditions which could have carried St. Paul’s ship to the shores of Mljet. Considerable evidence, however, does suggest that it was more likely for the wind and currents to drift him to the southeast coast of Mljet rather than the northeast coast of Malta, and the site today known as St. Paul’s Bay. Here are the author’s arguments in support of the aforementioned thesis: St. Paul’s ship was unable to sail close to the wind nor take advantage of a beam wind, and, therefore, could not have sailed in the northeast wind with the course due west from Crete to the northwest coast of Malta. The use of the sea anchor contributes to the speculation that Paul’s ship was running before the wind, and could not have, therefore, sailed from Crete to Malta in the northeast wind, whilst the southeast wind could only have brought him to the coast of Mljet. St. Luke’s records of «sailing to and fro across Adria» undoubtedly refer to the change of the wind course. In all likelihood, the direction of the wind did change, and northeast wind did not blow the entire fortnight, as generally stated in literature. Had the northeast wind blown throughtout those fourteen days, St. Paul’s ship would have been wrecked off the shores of northern Africa. However, that was not the case, for it appears that the vessel was carried by southeast winds, scirocco most likely, the prevailing wind in this part of the Ionian and Adriatic Sea during the months St. Paul’s voyage took place. Owing to these winds, the ship managed to avoid a shipwreck in the Gulf of Sidra, but drifted off its course to Mljet. The south wind could not have brought St. Paul’s ship to the northwestern coast of Malta. Currents of the eastern Mediterranean, Ionian, and Adriatic Sea flow anticlockwise, and therefore headed the ship towards Mljet, and away from Malta. Regular route of mercahant ships carrying wheat from Alexandria to Puteolia, that is, Rome, followed the eastbound tracks along the coastline and islands of the eastern Mediterranean and Ionian Sea, passing through the Strait of Otranto, and farther along the coastline of southern Italy, by the Strait of Messina to Puteoli and Rome. It all leads to the conclusion that the Alexandrian ship may well have reached Mljet (and not Malta), picked up St. Paul and the shipwreck survivors, who had remained on the island for three months, and set off for Puteoli. From the abovementioned account of St. Luke one may conclude that St. Paul’s ship was in the Adriatic (and not only in the Ionian Sea as references state) for, after a fortnight’s voyage, St. Paul reached an unknown island, later to learn of its name - Melita. Beyond doubt, Melita must have been the island of Mljet. Nature has equipped Mljet with inlets and bays which had provided shelter from all the winds and stormy seas to the seafarers of antiquity and later periods. This is quite contrary to the statements of some authors according to which Mljet offers no safe harbors. Most recent archeological excavations have pointed to the existence of an additional Early Christian basilica which is said to have belonged to the Church of St. Paul. The building is located on the southeastern part of the island, in the very vicinity of the islet of Veli Školj (Cima di Meleda), where Vicko Palunko believed St. Paul’s vessel sufferred a shipwreck. Christianity gained a strong foothold on Mljet as indicated by the remains of two sixth-century basilicas in Polače, and other archeological findings bearing Christian symbols of Syrian and Palestinian origin, dating from the 5th and 6th centuries. As the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus recorded in his writings, St. Paul, having been bitten in the arm by a snake on the island of Mljet, threw the snake into the fire. According to the autor, it is plausible that the wind and the currents headed St. Paul’s ship to the shore of the island of Mljet.

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