Columbus The Catholic

Columbus The Catholic

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

“What failure! His failure towered over other men's successes.”

by Ed Masters

The Essential Columbus

Cristoforo Columbo was the given name of the man known to the English-speaking world as ‘Christopher Columbus’ and to the Spanish world as ‘Cristobal Colon;’ his descendants living in Spain still carry this surname. He was born in the Republic of Genoa in 1451 (a scant two years before the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks) to Domenico Columbo, a middle class wool weaver and Susanna Fontanarossa.

While much has been written about Columbus over the last five centuries, he was by no means the first to step foot in the New World. American Indians had lived on the two continents and surrounding islands for thousands of years; the Vikings had landed in Canada; and the Irish under St. Brendan, the Carthaginians and the Phoenicians[1] all more than likely brushed the shores of the Americas. (The Phoenicians actually had bigger and better ships than our intrepid Genoese.)

He was born in the Republic of Genoa in 1451 to Domenico Columbo, a middle class wool weaver and his wife, Susanna Fontanarossa.

Columbus and The Faith

It was, however, Columbus's voyages which had the most lasting impact. And although this is often glossed over by modern historians, Columbus brought the Catholic Faith to the Americas. Indeed, Columbus treasured this missionary view of himself; he believed that this mission was his destiny. He was, after all, named after St. Christopher, (“Christ bearer”) traditionally a patron of travelers.

Spanish Connections

Columbus was a Third Order Franciscan friar in Spain; this is why when he arrived in Spain he and his young son went to the Franciscan monastery of La Rabida. The Provincial put Columbus in contact with a number of noblemen, who then introduced him to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Before Columbus sailed from Palos, Spain on August 2, 1492 (the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels), he prayed at a Shrine of Guadalupe.

This Shrine was famous because of an image of the Virgin Mary, hidden for centuries until she appeared to a herdsman, instructing him to have the local bishop unearth the statue and build a chapel on the spot. Columbus is said to have taken a replica of the image with him on his First Voyage; he eventually landed on an island which he named Guadeloupe. Years later another Guadelupe — this one in Mexico — would become even more famous.

Columbus was a Third Order Franciscan friar in Spain; this is why when he arrived in Spain he and his young son went to the Franciscan monastery of La Rabida.

Father Perez and Queen Isabella

As the explorers prepared to depart from Spain, Columbus received the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion at the hands of Father Juan Perez, as well as a parting Benediction. His crew followed his example.

Father Perez had been key in enlisting the aid of the Pinzon brothers, who captained the Pinta and Nina. Father Perez was critical in another way to the voyages of discovery; as Isabella’s confessor, it was Perez who convinced the Catholic Queen to change her mind about financing Columbus's first voyage.

After the Moors were evicted from Spain in early 1492 when Granada fell, she was even further convinced. Christopher Columbus was in the white tent city called Santa Fe (“Holy Faith”) which the Christians had erected on the plains outside Granada. When the Christians raised the silver cross over Granada’s battlements to signal the Caliph’s departure after more than 700 years of oppressive Moorish rule, Columbus and Isabella were among the thousands who knelt on the plain to chant a Te Deum in thanks.

Columbus was convinced he had a Divine mission; he wrote what he called a “Book of Prophecies” — a collection of passages selected from the Bible that he felt pertained to his destiny to sail westward. In that book he also quoted the prophecy made by the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca, who foresaw a time when “in the last ages of the world a time shall come when the Ocean will relax its bonds and a great land shall be discovered. Tethys shall unveil new worlds and Thule shall no longer be the utmost extremity of the earth.” Columbus' son Ferdinand years later asserted that this prophecy was fulfilled by his father.  

Father Perez was critical in another way to the voyages of discovery; as Isabella’s confessor, it was Perez who convinced the Catholic Queen to change her mind about financing Columbus's first voyage.

Faith on the First Voyage

Columbus’s fervent devotion to the Mother of God is evident in his naming his flagship the “Santa Maria”. The smallest of his three ships, the “Nina,” (“girl” in Spanish) had the official name of “Santa Clara,” after Saint Clare of Assisi.

On his historic first voyage, Columbus recited the Divine Office daily aboard his ship. Each night, he and his crew sang the Ave Maria in  honor of the Virgin. On September 15, 1492 (the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows) Columbus noted that while he was looking for the correct course to steer his ships, he was guided by a “marvelous branch of fire that fell from the sky.”

 

On his historic first voyage, Columbus recited the Divine Office daily aboard his ship. Each night, he and his crew sang the Ave Maria in  honor of the Virgin.

What Columbus Really Did in the Indies

Once he made landfall, he named the first island he disembarked on “San Salvador” after the Savior, and he and his men sang the Salve Regina in Thanksgiving for their safe Atlantic crossing. The second island he stepped foot on was given the name “Santa Maria de la Concepcion,” after the Blessed Virgin. Yet another island was called Montserrat after the famous Marian Shrine in the north of Spain. On every island he visited, Columbus had crosses planted and he personally taught the natives Christian prayers.

The first natives Columbus and his men encountered were the Arawaks. Columbus described them as “full of love, gentle, without greed, free from wickedness.”  He further noted that they were to “be delivered and converted to our Holy Faith by love rather than by force.” He wrote the following in his log book on November 6 where he addressed Ferdinand and Isabella:

“I have to say, Most Serene Princes, that if devout religious persons know the Indian language well, all these people would soon become Christians. Thus I pray to Our Lord that Your Highnesses will appoint persons of great diligence in order to bring to the Church such great numbers of peoples, and that they will convert these peoples. . . . And after your days, for we are all mortal, you will leave your realms in a very tranquil state, free from heresy and wickedness, and you will be well received before the Eternal Creator.”

Indeed, there has been a story repeated often through the years that Columbus gave the natives the name “Indians” because the thought he reached the Indies. The truth is that he described them in Spanish as “indios” which roughly translated from Spanish means “of God.” In his later voyages, Columbus sought to protect the Arawaks from their fierce enemies, the cannibalistic Caribs (cannibal is a corruption of the word ‘Carib.')

The first natives Columbus and his men encountered were the Arawaks. Columbus described them as “full of love, gentle, without greed, free from wickedness.”  He further noted that they were to “be delivered and converted to our Holy Faith by love rather than by force.”

Why Columbus Sought Gold

Columbus also sought gold in his exploration of the New World, though not out of greed or avarice, as some latter-day commentators would have it. He was charged with helping fill the depleted coffers of Spain. The Crown needed gold because wars with the Muslims over the course of 800 years and occupation by the Romans for nearly six centuries before had depleted Spain’s own natural sources of gold. Furthermore, he had a vested interest; he needed to finance further any explorations — as these voyages cost a great deal of money.

His flagship, the Santa Maria, ran aground at Santo Domingo on Christmas Day of 1492, on the same day he established a settlement there, “La navidad.” He used some of the wood from the Santa Maria to build a fort at Santo Domingo, named after St. Dominick Guzman.

Columbus also sought gold in his exploration of the New World, though not out of greed or avarice, as some latter-day commentators would have it. He was charged with helping fill the depleted coffers of Spain.

A Glorious Return to Spain

On March 15, 1493, Columbus returned to Spain after his first voyage. He marched in a solemn procession to the monastery at La Rabida, where Father Juan Perez offered a Mass of Thanksgiving and chanted a Te Deum.

He was received with great enthusiasm by the Court of Spain and soon all of Europe was abuzz talking about his voyages. He was at the height of his glory, but his subsequent three voyages and career would be anything but smooth sailing, though the monarchs of Spain made him viceroy (governor) of the lands he explored.

Return to America

Columbus's second voyage to the New World commenced on September 25, 1493. His flagship on this Atlantic crossing was named the Maria Galante, also after the Blessed Virgin. This time his fleet included seventeen ships, and 1500 men — priests, officials, farmers and soldiers —  with the goals of spreading the Faith, exploring and for the first time, colonization. One of the men who sailed with Columbus on this voyage would later find fame in his own right as the explorer of the modern day U.S. State of Florida and searcher of the Fountain of Youth, Juan Ponce de Leon. Columbus was supplied with beef on one or two of his later voyages by Amerigo Vespucci, who wound up having the new lands named after him and not Columbus.

Events from this point on spiraled out of control. Many of the Spanish sailors, colonists, etc. resented Columbus as he was considered a foreigner and they refused to obey his orders. The natives were ravished by the Spaniards and Columbus eventually resorted to torturing both Spaniards and natives for disobedience, warfare, knowledge of gold deposits, and so forth.

He returned from his second voyage wearing his brown Franciscan habit and from his third in chains. Columbus acknowledged he had been a failure as viceroy, lamenting, “I am the world's greatest sinner.”

He returned from his second voyage wearing his brown Franciscan habit and from his third in chains. Columbus acknowledged he had been a failure as viceroy, lamenting, “I am the world's greatest sinner.”

The Fourth Voyage

His Faith sustained him even on his fourth and last trip to the Americas. He had been marooned on the island of Jamaica for about a year. He predicted a lunar eclipse would happen, which tricked the natives into giving his the supplies he desperately needed to get to Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) as the governor of that island had thwarted all efforts to rescue him.

While he was sailing near the South American coast, he and his men were caught in a huge storm. They saw what they described as huge silvery tower which became bigger, louder and headed straight for their vessel. Columbus reasoned that whatever this was that he and his men were encountering, it was subject to the One who was the Creator and Master of the seas and storms.

Calling upon the Lord, he then began reciting the Last Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Before he even finished, the storm headed in the opposite direction, the sun came out, the sea saw a great calm, and hundreds of seagulls circling the boat told them that land was nearby. Columbus and his men had seen a waterspout, or a tornado on the ocean.

The Death of Isabella and the Admiral

Columbus finally arrived in Spain on November 7, 1504. On November 26, Queen Isabella died. Ten days after her death Columbus wrote to his son Diego: “The most important thing is to commend lovingly and with much devotion the soul of the Queen our lady to God. Her life was always Catholic and holy and prompt in all things in His holy service. Because of this we should believe that she is in holy glory and beyond the cares of this harsh and weary world.”

 
“The most important thing is to commend lovingly and with much devotion the soul of the Queen our lady to God. Her life was always Catholic and holy and prompt in all things in His holy service. Because of this we should believe that she is in holy glory and beyond the cares of this harsh and weary world.”

With the death of his Queen and benefactor, and with illness and age ravaging his own body, the Admiral knew his own end would arrive soon.

He died wearing the brown habit of St. Francis of Assisi, surrounded by his sons and a few Franciscans in a boarding house on May 20, 1506. The chains he was brought back in from his third voyage were hung on his wall, a sobering reminder that he was departing this life in near poverty, all but forgotten by the Court.

He died wearing the brown habit of St. Francis of Assisi, surrounded by his sons and a few Franciscans in a boarding house on May 20, 1506. The chains he was brought back in from his third voyage were hung on his wall, a sobering reminder that he was departing this life in near poverty, all but forgotten by the Court.

Who Columbus Really Was

Christopher Columbus has been arguably traduced by modern day historians and propagandists. He was not – as these claim – a monstrous ogre, intent on exterminating entire populations in order to claim the lands he explored for Spain.

He was an explorer who felt he was on a Divine mission to spread the Catholic Faith. There is an apocryphal story that his grandfather Stephen had a vision of lands undiscovered across the sea peopled by natives who needed conversion and that this story was passed down to Christopher himself.

Doubtless he committed cruelties. He was suited to be a mariner and explorer, not a governor. Circumstances beyond his control often led him to react in ways unbecoming a devout Catholic. However, he was by no means a systematic oppressor of the natives he encountered. He acknowledged his sins and mistakes in his writings in many of his dealings with natives and Spaniards under his command.

In 1892, the Quadricentennial of  Columbus's first voyage, Pope Leo XIII wrote an Encyclical in tribute entitled Quarto Abeunte Saeculo, noting that the famed explorer “sought the improvement of human society through knowledge, nor did he despise glory…an ideal to great souls, nor did he scorn a hope of great advantage to himself. But along with human desires was the consideration of Christianity that provided him with the strength of mind and will…and consoled him in the midst of the greatest difficulties.” But his main objective was to “open a way for the Gospel over new land and seas.”

Columbus was by no means a systematic oppressor of the natives he encountered. In his writings, he acknowledged his sins and mistakes in many of his dealings with both natives and Spaniards under his command.

 

WHY THE CARIBBEAN ISLANDS OWE THEIR BEAUTIFUL NAMES TO COLUMBUS

Island
Why Columbus Chose The Name
Montserrat After the Monastery of Santa   Maria de Montserrat, considered the national treasure of Catalonia, Spain. 
Antigua After a Seville church   Columbus frequented, called Santa Maria la Antigua — “Old Saint Mary's” 
Redonda Santa Maria le Redonda or   St.Mary the Round due to the island's shape. 
Nevis Derived from the Spanish for   Our Lady of the Snows possibly because Columbus thought the clouds over Nevis   Peak made it resemble a snow capped mountain 
St. Kitts Named after his namesake and   patron of travelers St. Christopher 
St. Eustatius After an early Roman martyr
Saba After the Queen of Sheba, an   Old Testament figure
St. Martin Seminal early Christian   bishop, who founded parishes throughout France; Feast Day November 11 
St. Croix From the Spanish “Santa Cruz”   – “Holy Cross” 
The Virgin Islands After St. Ursula and the   11,000 virgins martyrs of early Christianity.
San Pedro After St. Peter

Puerto Rico

Originally named after St.   John the Baptist but eventually only the capital city retained the name of “San   Juan.” The Saint’s Feast Day – June 24 – is still celebrated there.

Columbus Again

 

Behind him lay the gray Azores,
Behind the Gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores,
Before him only shoreless seas.
The good mate said: “Now must we pray,
For lo! the very stars are gone.
Brave Admiral, speak, what shall I say?”
“Why, say, ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’

They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:
“This mad sea shows his teeth to-night.
He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
With lifted teeth, as if to bite!
Brave Admiral, say but one good word:
What shall we do when hope is gone?”
The words leapt like a leaping sword:
“Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”

Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,
And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
Of all dark nights! And then a speck—
A light! A light! A light! A light!
It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave that world
Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!”

 — Joaquin Miller, 1892

 


[1] (see the book America B.C. by Barry Fell)

http://www.catholictradition.org/Tradition/christopher-columbus.htm

http://www.tfp.org/tfp-home/focus-on-history/the-catholic-spirit-of-christopher-columbus.html

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04140a.htm

http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Christopher_Columbus/Christopher_Columbus_003.htm

http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Christopher_Columbus.htm

http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Christopher_Columbus/Christopher_Columbus_004.htm

http://www.spiritdaily.net/columbus.htm

http://www.returntoorder.org/2014/09/catholic-spirit-christopher-columbus/?utm_source=sm-tfp&utm_medium=email&utm_content=TFP141010&utm_campaign=tfp_newsletter

http://catholicharboroffaithandmorals.com/Litany%20on%20Behalf%20of%20Country.html

http://humanevents.com/2010/10/11/christopher-columbus-hero/

http://www.nobility.org/2012/10/08/columbus-day/

http://www.kofc.org/en/columbia/detail/2012_06_columbus_interview.html

http://www.ewtn.com/library/homelibr/columbus.htm

http://geography.about.com/od/christophercolumbus/a/columbus.htm

http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Christopher_Columbus/Christopher_Columbus_001.htm

http://farmersalmanac.com/astronomy/2009/10/12/how-did-an-almanac-save-christopher-columbus/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pma4FgtnHpY

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_a_Man,_Said_to_be_Christopher_Columbus.jpg

 

 

Comments

comments

1Comment

Post A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.