Rose Parker ’22: Book II, Chapter VII (On Four Notable Things in the Year 1492 and Columbus’ Coat of Arms)

Book II, Chapter VII

Of four notable things that took place in the year 1492; and of the arrival of Admiral Christopher Columbus to the court of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, and the honors they bestowed on him after he returned to Spain from the first discovery of the Indies; and of the reasons for believing that the apostles, or some of them, preached the gospel in these parts.

Translated by Rose Parker ’22

One who speaks of the things he has heard teaches with less authority than one who tells of what he has seen. So says Saint Gregory about the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of the Book of Job. I do not bring it up here, however, only because of what has been written about the Indies in Spain just from hearsay; I say it because here I speak of Spain from the Indies. But one is part of the other, for even though I live here, I witnessed what happened there, and since it is not outside my purview, I will say that the year 1492 was a highly noteworthy one in Spain. That year, two days into the month of January, the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, took over the renowned and grand city of Granada. Thereafter, at the end of July, they threw the Jews out of their kingdoms. On a Friday of that same year, seven days into the month of December, a natural-born villager from Remensa, in the Principality of Catalonia, named Juan de Cañamares, while in Barcelona, stabbed the king in the neck so perilously that he almost died. For this the traitor received swift justice despite appearing to be mad, for he always said that if he killed the king he would himself become king. And in that same year Columbus discovered these Indies and returned to Barcelona the following April of 1493, and found the king very thin, but no longer in danger from his wound.

These events have been brought to memory in order to note the time when Columbus arrived at the court, of which I write as an eyewitness since I was a young page during the siege of Granada and witnessed the founding of the village of Santa Fe with that army, and then I watched the Catholic King and Queen enter the city of Granada when it was handed over to them. I saw them expel the Jews out of Castile and I was in Barcelona when the king was injured, like I said; there I saw the Admiral Christopher Columbus return after his first voyage and discovery with the first Indians from these parts. So I do not speak from hearsay in any of these four things but as a witness, although I write about them from here, or better yet, although they come to my memory from the times I describe. Let us return to our story.

After Columbus returned to Barcelona with the first Indians that went or were taken by him from these parts to Spain and with some samples of gold and many parrots and other things these people here used, he was eagerly and graciously received by the King and Queen. And after he had given an extensive and detailed account of all that had taken place on his voyage and described all that had happened, those grateful princes did him many mercies and began to treat him like a generous man of state, and given how fine a person he was, he well deserved it. But in my opinion (see my arguments in the prologue or Book I), I say that in these our Indies it is fair to hold and affirm that the evangelical truth was preached in them, as was first preached in our Spain by the apostle Saint James and then by Saint Peter, as Saint Gregory wrote.[1] And if news of the Holy Gospel was disseminated in our Castile and brought here in our times, it does not mean that these savage people had not known about Christian redemption and that the blood of our redeemer, Jesus Christ, had been spilled on behalf of humankind since the time of the apostles—it is easier to believe that these communities of Indians in these parts had forgotten it, in which case in omnem terram exivit sonus eorum, et in fines orbis terra verba eorum.[2] In accordance to what is said by the psalmist David, Saint Gregory says about chapter sixteen of Job these words: the Holy Church has already preached in all parts of the world the mystery of our redemption. Therefore, these Indians already had news of the evangelical truth and could not pretend to be ignorant in this case—keep that for the theologians, for it is their concern. But I want to say that even if the ancestors of these Indians had heard the avid news of the Catholic faith, it was still out of the memory of these people, and so it was a great service to God that the Catholic Monarchs discovered these Indies. And great was the merit that fell to our nation in that it was Spaniards who discovered these provinces, including so many kingdoms of lost and idolatrous people by the industry, enterprise, and guidance of the first Admiral, Christopher Columbus, who recovered and brought back into fruition in these lands so separate from Europe the sacred passion and commandments of God and of his Catholic Church, to this land where hell enjoyed, or better yet, swallowed so many millions of souls and where so many idolatries and devilish sacrifices and rituals had been celebrated in honor of Satan throughout the centuries, which have now ceased; and the many heinous crimes and sins that have taken place have been forgotten.

On this topic one could say so much that a multitude of stories would not suffice to recount the merits of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, and of their successors, given their ongoing sacred zeal and work towards the conversion of these people. In truth, through their royal will and expressed commands and continued care, they have always provided for the care of the souls of these Indians and have treated them well. And if in this case something has been lacking it has been the fault of their ministers; nobody else is to blame except whoever comes here as governor or prelate and neglects his responsibility; but this negligence lasts no longer than the time it takes for the news to reach the Emperor or his Royal Council of the Indies, where it is given great attention in the mending and repairing, as needed.

Truthfully, I do not want to blame entirely the officials or ministers in charge of the holy and pious work of evangelizing this generation of Indians for what has gone wrong in this endeavor. I blame the Indians themselves, especially for their weaknesses and bad inclinations, because it is true that among their multitudes those who persevere in the faith are very rare—rather, their faith slips from them like granite from the points of spears. It is necessary that God take this in His hand, so that those who teach and those who learn may benefit more than they have until now. I shall return to the story.

Six Indians arrived with the first Admiral at the court of Barcelona, like I said. And of their own will or so advised, they asked to be baptized, and the Catholic monarchs, through their mercy, ordered it be done, and together with their royal highness, the serene Prince John, their firstborn and heir, they were the godparents. The most prominent Indian among them they called don Fernando de Aragón, who was natural of this island of Hispaniola and a relative of the king or Cacique Guacanagari. Another they called John of Castile, and the rest they gave other names, as they requested or as their godparents agreed to name them, in accordance with the Catholic Church. As to that second one named John of Castile, the prince wanted him for himself and wished that he remained in his royal house and be very well treated and seen to, as if he were the son of the prominent knight for whom he felt much love. The prince sent him to be evangelized and taught our holy faith and he gave his chief steward Patiño responsibility for him; I witnessed that Indian already speaking the Castilian language quite well, but then after two years he died.

All the other Indians returned to this island in the Admiral’s second trip. And those exceedingly graceful Catholic Monarchs bestowed great honors upon him, and most particularly confirmed his rights in Barcelona on the 28th of May, 1493. And among other things, in addition to making him a nobleman and awarding the title of permanent Admiral of these Indies to him and his successors, by way of primogeniture, and proclaiming that all those dependent on him, including his brothers, would have the title of Don, he was also given the same royal arms of Castile and Leon, combined and arranged with others that were likewise confirmed to him (approving and confirming by royal authority other ancient arms of his lineage). From these arms and others they made a new and beautiful coat of arms with his crest and emblem, in the manner and form that is here represented and appears clearly.[3]

A shield with a golden castle with azure doors and windows on a gules or sanguine field, and a purple lion, rampant and langued, with a golden crown in a silver field, as carried by the kings of Castile and Leon. This castle and lion are to be in the crest or head of the shield, the castle on the right and the lion on the left. Below that, the two remaining parts of the shield are to be divided on the mantling; on the right part a sea in memory of the great Ocean Sea: the waters in natural whites and azures, and the mainland of the Indies laid so that it almost takes up the circumference of the space, leaving the top open—in this way the points of this great earth are displayed to occupy parts of the South and North. On the lower part, which represents the West, a sprawling land that goes from one point of the earth to the other; between those points the sea is filled with many large and small islands of diverse forms, representing these Indies. These lands and islands are to be very green and with many palms and trees, because they never lose their leaves, or few do; there must also be in this mainland many traces and grains of gold, in memory of the innumerable and rich mines of gold that exist in these parts and islands. And if the reader was not left well informed by this image of that which was touched upon in the first chapter (Book II) about the grandeur and shape of the mainland, it will become clearer to understand as I turn to describe these arms thus. In the other left quarter of the shield there are five anchors of gold in an azure background, a suitable emblem for the office and title of perpetual Admiral of these Indies. In the lower part of the shield the coat of arms of the bloodline of Columbus’s lineage, as should be known: a gules or sanguine chief or crest; below that an azure band on a gold background; above the shield a chest of State laid bare, of eight openings or views, with a wreath of interweaving azure and gold; above the chest, as seal or crest, a round globe with a cross on gules, and the mainland and islands painted on the globe, in the manner that they are emblazoned here; and outside the shield a sign in a white band with sable letters that read: For Castile and for Leon, Columbus found the new world. Likewise, out of respect for the Admiral, the Catholic monarchs endowed this island of Hispaniola to Bartholomew Columbus, his brother, and they bestowed on him other great honors, which to avoid wordiness will not be mentioned here, but which he was awarded through royal privilege and which I have seen from time to time.

[1] Moralium, Book XXXI, Chapter XXXVII. [GFO]

[2] Their sound hath gone forth into all the ends of the earth, and their words unto the ends of the earth, the world [EE]

[3] Image 1, Figure 1. [AR]