Of the sea quake, and the foundation or earth under the sea, or of the instant that both elements quake together.

Translated by Adele Birkenes ’20

There are things in the world and in nature so great and of such value and so worthy of investigation to the curious spirit that no one of good understanding can hear and consider them without great intellectual joy and delight. And they are of no less benefit to Catholic men, since it drives them, as it does even infidels, to a rush of memory that propels them towards the Maker and causer of all that is good and created and elemental, and this fills them with gratitude and praise for his wonders; because as David said: “Father, there is no one like you.”[1] It is certain that he who gives thanks to nature or marvels at its wonders is manifestly in error if he does not thank the one responsible for making it in such a way as to naturally create that which seems to us a miracle, because it happens so rarely. One thing I will say here is that, though I am seventy years old, nothing like what both captain Johan de Lobera, who is in the city and port of Santo Domingo, and ship master Johanes, native of the county of Vizcaya, have testified to, and which I will now describe, has ever before come to my attention. After the Adelantado Pedro de Alvarado, coming from Castile, passed through this city and reached the Mainland and the governance of Honduras, he sent captain Johan de Lobera with three ships to these islands. After they set sail from the Mainland they encountered bad weather and spent many days adrift. On the eve of Saint Catherine, November 24, 1539, they could not continue their journey because the weather did not improve, and the three ships were separated from each other and had to lower their sails so as not to veer off course and lose the ground they had covered, and they found themselves 40 leagues or more from the long coast from where they had set off. The northern wind blew for seven days without ceasing. And, while they were waiting for the weather to improve, the ocean shook, and they believed that what had actually shaken was the earth beneath them. This happened between eleven and twelve at night and in such a manner that all the people on the boats thought that they had run aground, and they used sounding lines and failed to find land. Frightened by the event, captain Johan de Lobera set sail and guided by the lanterns each ship had reached the captain of another ship in the fleet. Johan asked this captain Johanes (who is presently in this city) what he thought they should do, and the latter said: “Sir, I do not know what we should do, we will do that which your mercy orders.” Then, captain Johan de Lobera replied: “Do you think that we should return to the Mainland?” And Johanes responded that they should, since the ocean was not safe and had shaken, and the weather was not in their favor. And like this they agreed to return to land and traveled for the rest of the night and all of the following day, which was Saint Catherine’s Day, and all throughout the following night against the north wind, and the following morning they came to the cape of Higueras. When they reached land they learned that the quake had passed in the same fashion; the land of that province also shook a great deal, and the quake had caused great damage to the estates and the fields. It seems to me a notable thing and worthy of being included among the variety of things that book VI addresses, since master Johanes says the same thing happened to him another time on the eastern end of the archipelago. And this should not be concealed from other seamen, since for me this has been a new thing to hear of, and it will be news to many others, especially those who have not heard much about seafaring matters; because for the earth to move under the sea and to shake at such depth, like those ships had under their the keels, and to feel it in such a way that it seemed to them they had either run aground on rocks or had overturned, would be something to inspire fear, awe, and contemplation in anyone who hears of it. I know well that Pliny wrote that the earth shakes sometimes and does marvelous things. It sometimes topples buildings and other times, opening the earth, swallows them; sometimes it creates new hills, and other times rivers; sometimes it creates fire and warm springs, and other times it changes the course of rivers. The earthquake is accompanied by sound, which sounds like either murmuring or a roar or a human shout or the rumble of guns, according to the quality of those who hear it and the form of the cave where it originates; in the narrow path it is hoarse, and in the twisted path it rumbles, and in humid ground the sound comes in waves, and many times even without an earthquake the sound can be heard. The earth does not always move in the same manner; either it shakes or it enlarges the fissure opened by the quake. Sometimes that which it has swallowed is still visible, and other times the earth closes up again, leaving no sign of the cities or lands it swallowed. Pliny also says: “I am not doubtful that the winds are the cause of earthquakes: the earth never shakes except when the ocean is calm and the air is so still that it cannot sustain the flight of the birds, because all of the air’s spirit has been removed. Nor is there ever an earthquake except when the wind is contained in the veins of the earth; because the earthquake on land is like the thunderclap in the cloud, nor is the crack of the earth different from the cloud opening to let out a bolt of lightning, because the enclosed wind wants to exit to a free place.” Applying what Pliny says to our purpose and to what the witnesses say happened, compared with that which the much-praised author wrote of this subject in his Natural History, I see that it is not consistent with our case. This is because Pliny says that the earth never shakes if the ocean is not calm and the air not tranquil, and these others say that the ocean was very stormy and the wind was very excessive and great, and the night saw many thunderclaps and lightning and stormy weather; that which Pliny says is very different and deviates from what our witnesses affirm. As he did not know of this case, it is to be believed that there are many particularities he did not know about, and that the world will not cease to reveal novelties to those who live in it, and much more in these Indies than in other parts; because the secrets of these Indies are less understood or seen with as much experience by the Christians and similar men of science.

[1] Domine, non est similis tui, Paralip., ch 17.