Sunday, May 20, 2012

Columbus, Providence, and the Discovery of America by Ron Mann

Bear with me for just one minute and we’ll get to the story. Thanks.

I find it curious that during a decade when when we’ve gone through one crisis after another (the Internet bubble, the real-estate crash, Katrina, 9/11, the financial melt-down of 2008 …) that while a lot of time and money has been spent trying to prevent similar problems in the future, society as a whole hasn’t taken an inward look to see if there are areas where we are off-track that contributed to these problems.

What! you say. How did we contribute to 9/11? We can see from the information that came out following 9/11 that there were a number of warning signs that were missed, not passed on to the right people, or ignored. Why? Could part of the issue be related to pride, an unwillingness to cooperate, and poor legislation which was crafted to protect the power of various departments but restricted cooperation that would have benefited all. The dots were there but no one connected them. We lacked the inspiration to put it all together.

Katrina? How could we have prevented that? It turns out that some of the levy failures in and around New Orleans were related to poor maintenance and/or flawed construction. Was someone selfish? Did someone try to cut corners to make a few bucks or were people complacent and unwilling to pay the price to be prepared?

The financial melt-down? Didn’t greed and selfishness play a part? Legislators seeking to win the favor of constituents encouraged banks to lend to those not qualified, banks seeking to reduce their risk and increase revenues packaged risky mortgages and sold them as investments, individuals made poor purchase decisions and signed up for mortgages that they really couldn’t afford.

Seems to me that the moral compass of society in general is a bit askew. That greed and selfishness were either directly responsible for the crisis or increased the resultant damages is difficult to deny. I think it could be argued that we removed ourselves from God’s protective embrace by distancing ourselves from Him through pride and selfishness. These crisis then were a natural consequence of our national culture and a reminder to return to Him..

In the aftermath of the these crisis Congress enacted laws. Hundreds if not thousands of new regulations were created. However, no amount of regulations will protect us from the unrestrained selfishness of those who lack a strong moral foundation. Governments cannot ensure that individuals are in tune and amenable to the promptings of Spirit. That is up to us personally.

Tomorrow (May 20, 2012) will be the 506th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s death (we don’t know his exact birthdate). The following paper, written by my father, reviews the life of Columbus and points out the many circumstances in which the hand of Providence can be seen. I’m sharing it because I believe that we need motivating reminders of the good that can happen when we live our lives such that we are able to hear the prompting of the Spirit and then have the courage follow them. The story of Columbus shows how one person can be an instrument in the hands of God to literally change the world.

Here’s the story.

Christopher Columbus, Lorenzo Lotto, 1512In 1992 we celebrated the Quincentenary Anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discoveries. Any reading of the great number of materials published during that period gave many different impressions of Columbus and his accomplishments. He was accused of being vain, ambitious, a dealer in slaves, a murder, and certainly not the original discover of America. Was this the real Columbus or was he the hero we read about in our youth. What is so important about Columbus and his discoveries? Certainly others came to the Americas before Columbus! Was he inspired by the Holy Ghost as he often stated? What could have possibly motivated him for so many years to discover Cypango - modern day Japan?

The material for this paper comes from some of the best and most reliable sources available see the bibliography at the end of this paper. Perhaps the most accurate are the two books written on Columbus by Dr. Samuel Elliot Morison (1887-1976), Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, published in 1942, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize and his most recent one Christopher Columbus: The Voyage of Discovery 1492. Dr. Morison was a full professor of history at Harvard as well as an Admiral in the Naval Reserve. He traced the routes of Columbus and was intimately familiar with nautical terms, the oceans and ships. He was a thorough scholar and an excellent researcher. Another great book is: Christopher Columbus, His Life and Discovery in the Light of His Prophecies, by Kay Brigham. This book is most unique because she uses the only book written by Columbus, The Book of Prophecies, as one of her primary sources.

Significance of the Discoveries of Columbus

“Five hundred years ago an obscure Genoese mariner sailing in the service of Their Catholic Majesties, the Sovereigns of Spain, made the single greatest voyage of discovery the world has ever known. The consequences of the First Voyage of Columbus were so momentous that even today they are difficult to grasp. From that voyage stemmed not only a great Age of Exploration that would shortly transform other men’s understanding of the planet on which they lived, but indeed the entire history of the United States, of Canada and of all the nations of the Central and South America. It is no wonder that October 12 is celebrated annually throughout the length and bread of the Western Hemisphere.” (Christopher Columbus, The Voyage of Discovery 1492, Samuel Eliot Morison, Dorset Press, Inside of cover)

"The entire history of Europeans in America stems from Columbus's First Voyage. The Northmen's discovery of Newfoundland almost five centuries earlier proved to be a dead-end. Pre-Columbian Portuguese, Welsh, Irish, English, and Venetian voyages to American are modern-made myths, phantoms which left not one footprint on the sands of time. But Columbus' First Voyage proved to be the avant-garde for thousands of hidalgos (Spanish noblemen) who, weary of sustaining their haughty pride in poverty, were ready to hurl themselves on the New World in search of gold and glory." (ibid, p 12)

Once the ocean highway had been established by Columbus, the Spaniards came followed shortly by the Portuguese. Then the flood gates opened and a torrent of humanity came to America. Eventually those who became the colonizers were English, many of whom came mostly for religious freedom. Within a year of Columbus's discovery the first permanent European colony would be established in American, Hispaniola.

Christopher Columbus – The Man

Christopher Columbus was born Cristoforo Columbo - the Christ-bearer, in or near the city of Genoa, Italy, some time between August 25th and the end of October 1451. He was the son and grandson to woolen weavers who had been living in various towns of the Genoese Republic for at least three generations. He was tall, well built, with an aquiline nose, blue eyes and blond/red hair that turned gray by the time he was in his thirties. He had a fine presence and an innate dignity that impressed people of whatever estate. He was loyal to the Spanish Sovereigns, devoted to his religious faith and had an unquenchable faith in divine Providence. He disliked profanity and had regular daily prayers. He has been claimed as a Castilian, Portuguese, French, German, English, Irish, Greek, Armenian, Polish and Russian, and the list continues to grow with time, none of which are true.

Very little is known about Columbus’s youth, it isn't until he is about 22 that we learn much about him. We do know that he was very determined and had a strong belief that he was destined to make the discovery of a new land. It is also very likely that he had little formal education. In his later years most of his writing was in Spanish and Portuguese. Samples of his notes and letters are available which shows his writing. He wrote one book, The Book of Prophecies.

Genoa, where he was born and raised certainly must have had an impact on him, his thinking and future life. He was the eldest of five children. Two of his brothers, Bartholomew and Diego, were to accompany him to the New World. Genoa lies on the northern coast of Italy and had one of the finest and busiest harbors in Italy, which helps explain his great interest in things nautical. Certainly every young boy went sailing where and whenever he could. Columbus learned seamanship the old way, the hard way, and the best way; in the school of experience.

Genoa was also noted for its map makers, who provided charts to half of the Mediterranean as well as helping the Portuguese chart their African possessions. The skills and knowledge gained there would prove invaluable to him in his later life. Around 1470 he started making longer and longer voyages. Since, he could not navigate, he only rated an officer’s billet.

Contrary to myth, during Columbus’ time most people were aware that the earth was round, nevertheless they held some very strange beliefs. For example, they believed if they traveled to or beyond the Equator they would run into boiling water or would have to sail up hill because of the earth’s surface. Other significant unknowns were the exact size of the earth, the width of the ocean and the proportion of land to water. Moreover, no one suspected that a huge continent lay between Europe and the Orient.

An Accident That Changed History

During May of 1476 Columbus signed up with the ship Bechalla, which was assigned to escort a convoy shipping Chian mastic (a substance from which gum is made) from Lisbon to England. On August 13th the convoy was attacked off the coast of Portugal near Lagos by a Franco-Portuguese war fleet. The Bechalla was sunk. Columbus was lucky enough to grab a long oar and by pushing it ahead of him, even though he was wounded, eventually reach shore. Providence surely must have been with him in order for him to have made it to shore, six miles distance, exhausted, wounded and through enemy ships.

The people of Lagos treated him kindly and passed him on to Lisbon where a local colony from Genoa took him in. This was a consequential event in the life of Columbus. Portugal was the center of blue-water voyaging and over-seas discovery. It provided him with vast new opportunities. While here Columbus learned Portuguese, Castilian, Latin, mathematics and astronomy for celestial navigation.

In due time he was given command of a ship, found and married a lady of Portuguese nobility, Felipa Perestrello Moniz. Columbus's shipmates, were some of the world's finest mariners of that era. They taught him how to handle a caravel in hard wind and sea. How to claw off a lee shore, the kind of sea stores to take on long voyages and how to store it. He also learned what kind of trading goods were wanted by primitive people. Above all he learned from the Portuguese confidence that with a good crew and ship, coupled with his strong belief in the availability of God's assistance, that the boundaries of the known world could be indefinitely enlarged. During the time he spent in Portugal he became one of the greatest navigators of his era. Moreover, it was while here that he was inspired with the idea of reaching Asia by sailing west.

Relocates to Spain

In 1483, after having lived and sailed out of Portugal for seven years, he was ready to make his revolutionary proposal to the king of Portugal for his "Enterprise to the Indies," as he called it. He scheduled a meeting with the king of Portugal and sent his bother Bartholomew on a promotional trip to England and France. Both failed in their attempts to get support. In Portugal a newly formed maritime committee agreed to hear his plan. They subsequently, politely but firmly, dismissed his plan “as vain, simply found on imagination, or things like that Isle of Cypango of Marco Polo.”

The little Franciscan Convento de la RábidaAbout the middle of 1485 a disheartened Columbus and his son took passage (his wife had died) to Spain. Unfortunately King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were preoccupied with war with the Moors and unavailable to hear Columbus’s proposal. Eventually, through his friends at the monasteries of La Rabida and Las Cuevas, he was introduced to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Although unable to do much at that time they did appoint a commission to study his proposal and placed Columbus on the royal payroll. In December of 1486 he briefed the Talavera Commission on his proposal. He had to wait until late 1490 for the Talavera Commissions unfavorable report.

“The report advised the Queen that the West-to-the Orient project ‘rested on weak foundation;’ that its attainment seemed ‘uncertain and impossible to any educated person;’ that the proposed voyage to Asia would require three years’ time , even if the ship returned, which was doubtful; that the Ocean was infinitely larger than Columbus supposed, and much of it unnavigable. And finally, God would never have allowed any uninhabited land of real value to be concealed from His people for so many centuries.” (ibid., pg. 39) During these “. . . six years he had to sustain a continual battle against prejudice, contumely, and sheer indifference. A proud, sensitive man who knew that his project would open fresh paths to wealth and for the advancements of Christ’s kingdom, he had to endure clownish witticisms and crackpot jest by ignorant courtiers, to be treated like a beggar; even at times to suffer. Hardest of all, he learned by experience the meaning of the phrase cosas de Espana, the endemic procrastination of Spaniards.” (ibid, pg. 37) Columbus often alluded to these bitter experiences often.

Columbus Inspiration

It is interesting to observe that Columbus always found more friends and supporters among the priests and religious people than the layman. Columbus’s dogged determination was driven by much more than simply gold as several modern historians have reported. He believed in the absolute sovereignty of God over creation and history. He firmly believed in the Bible and felt God spoke to man through it. He also believed that each child of God has the high mission to be God’s instrument, to collaborate with the Lord in the fulfillment of his purposes (see Christopher Columbus, His Life and Discovery in the Light of his Prophecies, Kay Brigham, CLIE Publishers, 1990, pp.52-55). This perspective, is revealed in the only book he wrote: Book of Prophecies, which is seldom referred to by modern historians. It was redacted in 1502 between his third and fourth voyages. It is a compilation of passages from the Bible and his observations as he thought they applied to him. What follows are two arguments put forth by him supporting his feelings as given to various sovereigns:

“At this time I have seen and put in study to look into all the scriptures, which our Lord opened to my understand (I could sense his hand upon me), so that it became clear to me that it was feasible to navigate from here to the Indies; and he gave me the will to execute the idea… I have already said that for the execution of the enterprise of the Indies, neither reason nor mathematics, nor world maps were profitable to me; rather the prophecy of Isaiah was completely fulfilled. And this is what I wish to report here for the consideration of your highnesses.” (Fols. 4,4 vs., 5 rvs.)

“The working out of all things was entrusted by our Lord to each person, {but it happens} in conformity with his sovereign will, even though he gives advice to many…I found our Lord well-disposed toward my heart’s desire, and he gave me the spirit of intelligence for the task. . .Who doubts this illumination was from the Holy spirit? He {the Spirit}, with marvelous rays of light, consoled me through the holy and sacred Scriptures, a strong and clear testimony,…encouraging me to proceed, and, continually, without ceasing for a moment, they inflame with a sense of great urgency.” (Fols. 5 rvs. 4)

The writings of Columbus reveal much more than the speculations of historians five hundred years after the event, it reveals the heart of one of histories greatest heroes.

A New Appeal

Coumbus before the Queen, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1843During December of 1491 Columbus again made an appeal to a new commission. It most likely recommended that Columbus be allowed to try. Subsequently the Royal Council rejected it; they felt the cost was too high. In his first appeal in 1485 he asked only for expenses, this time he demanded he be given title of Admiral, governor and viceroy of any new lands he might discover and that both titles be hereditary in his family and that he be given 10 percent cut on the trade. This was of course all contingent on his success. He had suffered enough insults and outrages during the past eight years in Spain and he was not about to give all the glory to Spain for nothing. After his rejection at the hearing, he saddled his mule and dejectedly headed for France. The very day Columbus left, the keeper of King Ferdinand’s privy purse called on the Queen and urged her to meet Columbus’s demands. He reminded her that the war with the Moors was over and that the expedition would cost less than a week’s entertainment of a foreign prince. Queen Isabella was convinced of the merits of Columbus’s project and offered her crown jewels to finance it. She too was a Christian and had believed in Columbus. Sufficient funds were found within the treasury to support the project therefore it was not necessary for the Queen to give up the crown jewels. A messenger was immediately dispatched to find Columbus and if possible convince him to return.

Columbus’s Plan Accepted

The messenger from the queen over took Columbus about four miles outside the city and persuaded him to return. Four months later, April, 1492, the contracts between Columbus and the Sovereigns were signed and sealed. Now after more than a decade of lobbying the kings of Europe, being abused and mocked Columbus was finally given the necessary support to begin his voyage. For practical reasons it was decided to out fit the fleet and recruit the men at Palos, the location where Columbus had first set foot in Spain. There he had friends, the Pinzon family, leading ship-owners and master mariners. As fortune would have it the city leaders at Palos had committed a misdemeanor for which the queen now fined the city two well equipped caravels - Nine and Pinta. Luckily they were both available for the voyage. At that time the ship, Santa Maria, owned and captained by Juan de La Galicia lay in port and was also available for chartering, which was quickly done.

The Fleet

Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria replicas saling of coas of Florida in honor of the 500th anniversary of Columbus discovering AmericaThe Santa Maria - the Flagship - was 85 feet long, carried about 100 tons and had a crew of forty. The second ship, the Pinta, a square-rigged caravel, 69 feet long, carried 60 tons, and a crew of 27. The third ship the Nina, a caravel, 55 feet long, carried 50 tons and a crew of 21. The crew was homogeneous and in good health -- not one man died at sea, an incredible record when compared with later voyages. Crew members received about seven dollars in gold a month and the boys about $4.60. Of the three ships Nina was Columbus’s favorite. After the Santa Maria was grounded and destroyed the Nina was selected by him for the return trip to Spain. Columbus was confident that he was God’s instrument and was prepared to meet any hardships of the sea with stoic endurance. He had the habit of putting on the head of most of his letters a little cross and often concluded with the prayer: “Jesus and Mary, Be with us on the way.”

Finally The Voyage Begins

On August 3, 1492 Columbus’s small fleet, the Santa Maria, Pinta, and Nina set sail for India from Palos, Spain. In addition to his other concerns, rumor had it that the Portuguese had sent a fleet to intercept and destroy his fleet and were waiting for him somewhere between Spain and the Carnally Islands. Fortunately this rumor never materialized. Columbus navigated by the use of a several instruments that were then available: the common quadrant used for celestial navigation and lead line, mariner’s compass and dividers for course determination, a half hour sand clock (called ampolleta), sea charts and ruler. Speed was determined by a seamen watching the bubbles or the gulfweed float by. Essentially Columbus used “dead reckoning” to determine his daily positions at sea, and trace his course across the unknown ocean. Dead-reckoning simply means laying down a compass course and then estimating distances on your charts. Dead-reckoning was about 99% of the navigator’s art during this period. A slight error of ½ degree in a course could mean more than a 250 miles in landfall on an ocean crossing. Columbus landfall in 1496 proves his incredible navigation skills.

No such dead-reckoning navigators exist today, no man alive, limited to the instruments and mean at Columbus disposal, could obtain anything near the accuracy of his result. Judged therefore not simply by what he did, but by how he did it, Columbus was a great navigator.” Admiral Of The Sea, A Life of Christopher Columbus, Samuel Eliot Morison, Little Brown and Co., pp. 195-196


Two Sets of Records

Columbus had decided to keep two sets of books, an accurate reckoning for himself and a phony one for the crew. The reason for the two records was so that if it proved necessary, because of the distance covered, he could hide the distance and therefore the crew would not complain of being taken too far from home. As luck would have it, the phony log proved to be the more accurate of the two. In spite of the juggling of the two sets of books the crew constantly threatened mutiny anyway. Columbus had mistakenly calculated the distance to Cipangu (Japan) as 2400 nautical miles compared to the real distance (by air) of 11,766 nautical miles. This colossal mistake is the reason for assuming he had found Cypangu and naming the islands Las Indios, as he thought he had found India. The most momentous voyage in history required only thirty-three days from departure to land fall, moreover it was one of the easiest from a weather and nautical standpoint. The shake down cruse from Palos to the Canaries proved the ships were in fine shape, except for the need to repair the Pinta’s rudder that had jumped its gudgeons and some re-rigging. At Gomera they replenished their stocks of water, breadstocks, cheese and salted down local beef. On September 6th they departed the Canary Islands for the Indies.


After about three weeks on the seas the crews started to grumble. They were then further away from land than they had ever been. Nevertheless, Columbus was able to convince them to continue the voyage since it was useless to complain, “since he had come to go the Indies, and so had to continue until he found them, with the help of our Lord.” Whatever the reasons given, be behaved like a man who knew where he was going. Thankfully the crews were placated, at least for the moment. However, by the ninth of October the crews were again about to mutiny and do violence to Columbus. Samuel Eliot Morison, author of the definitive work on Columbus wrote of that momentous date, after the course was changed to West by North and when the speed was only about two knots:

Martin Alonso and Vicente Yanez (captains of the Nina and Pinta) came aboard the flagship (Santa Maria), held a more or less stormy conference with Columbus in his cabin, demanded that the search for land be abandoned, and that advantage be taken of the southerly breeze to start home. But Columbus (supported by the bird flights already seen) succeeded in persuading the brothers to carry on three more days, and they returned to their respective vessels.” (ibid 220-221)

Columbus must have been very convincing, as later; “he admitted in a letter that he been inspired of God. de las Casas thought; ‘God had held his Hand.’ His words moved the hearts and resolve of everyone, especially the three Pinzons.” Columbus, For Gold, God and Glory, John Dyson,1991, Simon & Schuster

Signs A Plenty

The next day trade winds picked up, pushing the fleet along at seven knots causing new fears among the crews that they would never get back to Spain. This would explain the near violent mutiny on the 10th. Subsequently, Columbus made the same promise to the crews, as he had done to his captains. What happened next too many is nothing less than a miracle. I believe that Columbus, who was very religious, had probably spent a good share of the night of the October ninth in prayer. I further believe the events that followed were a direct answer to his prayers.

“All day Thursday, October 11, the trade winds still blew a gale, the sea rose higher than any time on the voyage, and the fleet ran 78 miles between sunrise and sunset, and average speed of 6.7 knots. But signs of land were so many and frequent that ‘everyone breathed more freely and grew cheerful.’ Nina picked up a green branch with a little flower that resembled the dog roses on hedgers in Castile. Pinta gathered quite a collection: a cane and a stick, a piece of board, a land plant, and another little stick fashioned, as it appeared, with iron, doubtless cared by an Indian with a stone chisel.” (ibid. p.221)

During the eleven hours since sunrise on the 11th the ships averaged almost seven knots. After sunset gale force winds increased their speed to nine knots. Columbus ordered a change in course from WSW back to the original west. Nobody could explain his action, perchance it was inspiration or perhaps just a hunch. Whatever, it certainly was a good decision, otherwise he may have missed Guanahani (San Salvador). As the night wore on with all ships at full sail they rushed into the unknown. All three ships were filled with great anticipation; surely they must have felt that they were on the verge of something momentous. Within a few hours the most consequential event ever experienced any ship in any sea was about to transpire. History would be changed forever and the earth would suddenly become smaller.

About 10 pm Columbus reported seeing lights as did other members of his ship. Columbus reported: “it was like a little wax candle rising and falling.” It may have been an illusion created by the excitement of the moment. However,

“Mars. Ruth Malvin, a long-time resident of San Salvador, believes it to have been a bonfire lighted by natives living on cliffs or hills on the windward side, to keep sand flies out of their cabins; and plantation yet made. She had fires lighted on High Cay and other places, and when some 28 miles out to sea could see lights ‘rising and falling’ just as Columbus did.” Christopher Columbus, The Voyage of Discovery, Samuel Eliot Morison, Dorst Press, 1991, p. 61-62

Others have supposed that it was a supernatural light sent by the Almighty to guide and encourage Columbus, others have felt it could have been a fire lit for other reasons, but inspired by Providence to likewise encourage the crew.

Tierra! Tierra, Land is Sighted

At 2:00 AM Ridrugi de Triana, a lookout on the Pinta’s forecastle saw something like a white sand cliff gleaming in the moonlight on the western horizon and yelled out “Tierra! Tierra!” Time quickly proved that indeed he had seen land. What most believed they saw was the eastern coast of one of the now officially named Bahamas - or Watling Islands. It is the only island in the vicinity that fits Columbus’s description. San Salvador as Columbus named it, is a coral island about 13 miles by six miles wide. The morning of the 12th of October they navigated their ships to the western shore. Somewhere on this shore the initial landing by Columbus was made. Again according to Samuel Eliot Morison:

Presently they saw naked people, and the Admiral went ashore in the armed ship’s boat with the royal standard displayed. So did the captains of Pinta and Nina, Martin Alonso Pinzon and Vicent Yanez his brother, In their boats, with the banners of the Expedition, on which were depicted a green cross with an F on one arm and a Y on the other, and over each his or her crown. And, all having rendered thanks to Our Lord kneeling on the ground, embracing it with tears of joy for the immeasurable mercy of having reached it, the Admiral arose and gave this island the name San Salvador — Our Lord and Savior.” Admiral of the Ocean Sea, p 228-229

The first natives encountered on Guanahani (the Indian’s name for the island) at first fled to the jungle when the saw the fleet, later their curiosity got the best of them and they came to the shore. These Indians were of the Taino branch of the Arawak language group. They were a very peaceful, kind and hospitable people that quickly accepted their visitors. There were other islands that were occupied by Indians that were more hostile and cannibals that constantly terrorized the Taino Indians. Had Columbus landed on one of their islands his story of discovery might have been different. During the first voyage to the Americas Columbus discovered many island including Cuba and Hispaniola, on which his ship Santa Maria was grounded and destroyed on Christmas day. As a result a he built a fort called Navidad from the remains of the Santa Maria and left forty men behind to explore the island.

Homeward Bound

Columbus than took command of the Nina and began his homeward voyage. Near the Azores they ran into the coldest and most blustery winters on record. That winter, “hundreds of vessels went down, scores crashed ashore, ships lay wind bound at Lisbon for months and the harbor of Genoa froze over.” Christopher Columbus, The Voyage of Discovery, 1991, p 81-82

They passed through three horrific weather fronts that separated the two vessels and more than once nearly sank the Nina. The storm got so bad that Columbus began to doubt if they would survive. As a result he prepared a special cask and placed a copy his diary detailing his discovery and threw it overboard in hopes that his discovery might be found should his ship go down. But thanks to Providence and Columbus’s navigational genius, Nina eventually found safe harbor in one of the Azores. Once on land the crew had vowed during the storm if they survived they would immediately go to church and thank God for their survival. Enroute to church the crew was arrested and put in jail being accused of poaching in Africa. When Columbus heard this he threaten to shoot up the town if his crew was not released. Needless to say they were immediately released and set sail for Spain. Between the Canary Islands and Portugal they experienced yet another horrible storm, even worst then the first one. It stayed with them all the way to Portugal, giving the Nina a worst beating than the previous one. Columbus reported that at times he felt as if they were airborne. It was truly miraculous that his ship wasn’t sunk or smashed to bits on the coast of Portugal.

From here he sailed the Nina to Lisbon and then made a request to D. Joao for supplies. The King agreed to the request and invited Columbus to visit Him. Columbus made the 34 mile journey on mule back with several Indians and crew members to Santa Maria das Virudes, where the king was staying. After a short visit with the king, and another at a different location with the queen, he departed Portugal on the 13th of March and set sail for Palos. His ship had been completely stocked, refitted with a new set of sails and running rigging. Finally on the 15th of March 1493 the Nina sailed into Palos. A few hours later the Pinta arrived. On the 20th of April 1493 he met with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and spent considerable time detailing his discoveries. Thus ended, after 224 days, the greatest voyage ever recorded in history. The following is Columbus’s final Prophecy to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella:

“So, since our Redeemer has given this victory to our most illustrious King and Queen, and to their famous realms, in so great a matter, for this all Christendom ought to feel joyful and make celebrations and give solemn thanks to the Holy Trinity with many solemn prayers for the great exaltation which it will have, in the turning of so many peoples to our holy faith, and afterwards for material benefits, since not only Spain but all Christians will hence have refreshment profit.” —Christopher Columbus, The Voyage of Discovery, Morison, p 87.

The Hand of Providence

Subsequently Columbus made three more trips to the new world, details of which will not be covered in this paper. For information on subsequent voyages any of the books in bibliography may be consulted. On the 20th May 1506 Columbus died in Valladolid, Spain. A summary of the coincidences of Columbus’s voyage to the new world (listed below) inclines one to conclude that Providence surely must have been involved, even as Columbus had so often said: “that God would be his instrument in finding Cypango.”

  1. A series of coincidences made possible the voyage, after waiting nearly a decade the gates finally opened that allowed Columbus to make his voyage. First the Spanish war with the Moors ended in January and King and Queen were able to focus on Columbus’s proposal. Second, resources were found to make possible the voyage. Palos, the city were Columbus had initially entered Spain and had established friends had two ships, the Nina & Pinta that had been claimed by the King for debt owned and were made available to Columbus. Third, because of his friends there, he was able to raise a experienced crew of ninety men. Fourth, he was able to lease another ship that just happened to be available, the Santa Maria. And fifth, procure all the necessary provisions for the long voyage.
  2. He had a remarkable safe and quick voyage for having navigated an unknown area. The greatest challenge had been psychological; convincing his men that they would be able to survive and return safely to Spain.
  3. The speed at which he was able to successfully navigate to landfall. If we use the most conservative estimated distance - 3,117 miles - he would have averaged approximately 3.5 knots per hour! That would be not bad for a modern sailing ship, considering that for seven days the fleet had very little wind. Had it taken even one more day his crew would have forced him to turn about.
  4. The number of signs indicating land was near during the last few days of the voyage. Frequent sightings of land birds that over flew the fleet, items found floating in the water; a branch with a flower on it and a stick carved by man etc. These signs all appeared at the most critical time; as the crews were about to mutiny. It was as though Providence was using them like the proverbial carrot before the horse.
  5. Making the commitment on the 9th to turn about if in three days land was not sighted. The winds picked up to seven knots on the 10th and they set a new record for distance covered in any one day. However, during only 21 hours of the 11th,  prior to sighting land they traveled 159 miles and averaged over 7.6 knots. Even more exciting was during the last nine hours they averaged nine knots. That would have been the equivalent to traveling 181 miles on the last day! Another new record! It was though Providence recognized Columbus’s dilemma of needing to hit land fall by the third day; the 12th, or being forced to turn about. It appears Providence provided the extra push, winds, to make possible the discovery of landfall that day!
  6. For no explainable reason Columbus changed his course from WSW to West during the last nine hours while traveling at nine knots. Had he not changed course it may have required at least another day or more to hit land fall! Which would have been too late!
  7. The sighting of a flickering light by Columbus and others at about 10 pm on the 11th also helped placate the weary sailors and increased the enthusiasm for continuing on.
  8. The islands on which Columbus landed were occupied by friendly Indians - The Tainios. Had he landed on one of the many island occupied by very hostile Indians some of which were cannibals and very aggressive, it is possible the voyage would have ended there and then.
  9. Their survival of the horrific storms that battered the Nina and Pinta just off the Canary Islands and Portugal on their return trip is nothing less than a miracle. These storms sent hundreds of ships to the ocean bottom; others were ground to bits on the coasts while others were forced to remain in harbors for mouths. From the descriptions of the damage done by these storms it is amazing that any one ship could have survived such a sustained battering.
  10. Had Columbus not returned it would have confirmed the horror stories so prevalent at that time and set further exploration of that area back for some time.


In his Book Columbus, Don Quixote of the Seas, Jacob Wasserman wrote in his initial chapter three paragraphs that make an excellent epilogue to this paper. In it he attempts to convey the significance of Columbus discovery in terms we might understand:

“The course of his life bears much resemblance to a mediaeval legend. Over a period of twenty years, with certain intervals, I have been engaged on the study of his history: and every time I took it up again I had to ask myself: Is this authentic? Is this merely legend? Are not such and such events apocryphal, and these others no more than probable? He rose from nothing, a vagabond Italian adventurer, to become Grand Admiral of Spain, and Viceroy of a mighty Empire; he paid for seven years of glory and of power by sudden ruin and such humiliation as few men have know: and after a feeble afterglow of fame, he died a lonely death, almost forgotten.

“A strange destiny: and, to understand it, account must be taken of the strange state of the world at that time. This can only be done by clearing the inner vision of all preconceived notions, and all attempts to stamp a system on the past, which merely leads to the distortion of ideas and causalities. To keep a clear judgment, one should be like a man risen from the dead and look at the story against a background of spiritual atmosphere and the ideas of the age, and across the intervening abyss of time, bring these warring elements into unity. But, as our ambition may not rise so far, we must content ourselves with less, and try to get as near to such an attitude as we can.”

“In these days (1930) some reckless airman resolved to fly to Mars and actually set out: and if, on his way, he discovered a hitherto unknown planet and returned with his story of this new star—bringing news of unfamiliar beings, animals, and plants unknown before, that thrived in that strange air; of dimensions and proportions that made everything to which our eyes had been accustomed hitherto, seem dwarfish; this would about represent the revolution in the human imagination evoked by the discoveries of Columbus. For such, indeed, was its main effect: revolution in the imagination. A New World: now a geographical idea; to the man of the fifteenth century a blend of superstition and religion.” (p. 5 & 6)


  1. Samuel Eliot Morison, 1942, Admiral of The Sea, A Life of Christopher Columbus, Little, Brown and Co.
  2. Samuel Eliot Morison, 1991, Christopher Columbus, The Voyage of Discovery 1492, Dorset Press.
  3. Kay Brigham,  1990, Christopher Columbus, His Life and Discovery in the Light of His Prophecies,  Barcelona, Spain: Editorial Clie.
  4. Jacob Wassermann, 1930, Columbus, Don Quixote of the Seas, Little Brown & Co.
  5. John Dyson, 1991, Columbus, For God - God and Glory, Madison Press Books.
  6. Zachary Kent, 1991, Christopher Columbus, Chicago:Childrens Press.

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