I wanted to start this post with a quote that captured the spirit of a traveller. Oh, the pressure of finding the right words! I had no idea what I would write until I caught myself humming along to a radio tune in the car….
“I can climb the highest mountain
Cross the wildest sea
I can feel St. Elmo’s Fire burnin’ in me”
– John Parr
Yes! that’s perfect I thought. While most travellers can relate to climbing the highest mountain and crossing wild seas, who is St.Elmo and what does his fire have to do with travelling? The song makes it sound like St. Elmo’s Fire is the passion and desire to overcome adversity that burns within the heart of every adventurer.
Who was St. Elmo?
In a sense the reference in the song to St. Elmo having a fire burning inside him to complete his mission is true. St. Elmo (or Erasmus) was a tenacious preacher in southern Italy during the 3rd century. Determined to spread the word of God and convert the Pagans to Christianity he travelled around the region preaching and baptising as he went. The work of St. Elmo incurred the wrath of Emperor Diocletian. The Emperor ordered the imprisonment, torture and beheading of the Saint.
His grisly torture involved his innards being wound around a windlass. The windlass is associated with sailing.
It is through this gruesome association that St. Elmo became the patron saint of Italian sailors. The flames of St. Elmo’s Fire often appear on the masts of ships. The fire is considered an omen that ships will be spared from destruction on stormy seas.
What causes St. Elmo’s Fire?
St. Elmo’s Fire is more likely to burn around you than within you. The flames of the fire may flicker all around you but you will never be burnt.
The fire is caused by a weather phenomenon that generates a blue glow that looks like flames. The flames appear suddenly as if by magic.
Thunderstorms are often responsible generating the illusionary flames. The flame is the result of electricity being generated in the air between storm clouds and the ground. The electrical charge causes gas molecules in the air to glow.
The flames can appear on the masts of ships, lamp posts and the wingtips of planes. The flame is most likely to occur toward the end of a storm signalling the calming of the sea.
Keep an eye out for St. Elmo’s fire if you are travelling in stormy conditions. Take comfort if the flames appear. Consider the sight an auspicious sign that someone is watching over you in stormy weather.