Arrival of Christopher Columbus on 12 October 1492AD at San Salvador (Bahamas), image circa 1862.
Today, the 12th of October, marks the anniversary of Columbus and his flotilla first making landfall in the New World.
The descriptions in his ship's log of the voyage leading up to the landing on 12 October 1492 is certainly interesting, and worthy of a read. You can find that here: Medieval Sourcebook: Extracts from the Journal of Columbus
Map of the Voyages of Christopher Columbus.
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Christopher Columbus actually misjudged the size of the Earth – he thought Japan to be where Florida actually is! He, an Italian, sailed for Spain, specifically the Kingdom of Castile and Leon, to bring Christianity to the East, and to, he hoped, provide funding for a Crusade. Columbus would discover the New World in 1492 (he discovered the Bahamas, Cuba, and Hispaniola in this first voyage), and make three further journeys: his second (1493-1496) which found the Leeward Isles, Puerto Rico and Jamaica [he founded Santo Domingo on this voyage], his third (1498) which found Trinidad, the mouth of the Orinoco, and his fourth (1502-1504) which passed the Windward isles and explored the Central American coast – always believing it to be part of the Indies.
Interior of the Cathedral of Santo Domingo.
While Columbus himself was not without flaw, and his administration of the West Indies was clearly lacking in some regards, the true legacy of his voyages was the arrival of Catholic Christianity and Western Civilization to the New World. The New World gained much, particularly from Spain, for, “instead of fearful temples…there were Christian churches; while upon the Indians themselves have been bestowed the hardly won prizes of ages of slow progress, the developed arts, the various domestic animals, the grains, vegetables, and fruits, the use of letters, and the printing press, and the forms of government.” [Quotation from Spain in America by Bourne] Certainly abuses did remain a serious problem (though there was a triennial audit of these realms) as did the ravages of disease (particularly smallpox) – all the same, there was an earnest attempt to convert, civilize, and protect the Indians by both the crown and Church. The crown spent its own money seeing to the introduction of missionaries, and orders such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, & Jesuits made important gains. By the end of the 16th century there was a thriving Spanish New World culture, complete with “universities, scholars, authors, presses, scientists, and saints.”
A taste of that New World culture, with images of the Mexican Church of Santa Prisca in Taxco, along with a setting of the Salve Regina written by Hernando Franco in Mexico -- this in a land once marked by its widespread human sacrifice: