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The San Francisco call. [volume] (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, June 30, 1907, Image 12

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Thomas Cleland Dawson
United States Minister to Santo Domingo
N October 13, 415
'greatest event in
history occurred.
Seventeen adven
:urous strangers set
foot on a new
\u25a0world. Four hun
dred and one years
ago a gray and
broken man lay
dying at Valladolid.
Spain was in flower,
It was May. Habited
as a Franciscan
friar, the prema
rurely weary in
-ralid, aided by th«
.timple monastery
folk, drew up his
will, wherein an
eldest son was de
puted to employ as
' soon as the pitlful-
T. C. DATTSON. ly sparse estate per
mitted three chaplains to say masses
tor his repose, and for this purpose to
erect a chapel on the island of Santc
t>omlngo. The next day Columbus
filed- That was May 20. 1506.
"Where Is he buried?
That there should be any hesitancy
In answering Is a most curious and
extraordinary- indictment of history
Generations of experts in archaeology
fend ca-lllgraphy have supposed that all
that remains of the great discoverer
was removed from the cathedral of
Santo Domingo to Havana in 1T95, or
254 years after the ashes were trans
ported from Spain to Santo Domingo,
In accordance with the will. Xothing
could be more foreign to the fact.
tVhat really were borne to Havana were
the ashes of his eldest son; that is to
Bay, In all probability, since there were
no distinguishing marks or inscriptions
to substantiate even that theory con
As for the ashes of Christopher Co
lumbus, however, there can be no ques
tion that they still rest in the gray
little Dominican city where they were
sealed and deposited between the
years 1541 and 1544 of the Julian
Inspired at first by mere passing sen
timent and curiosity and then by doubt
6s to the truth of the tradition, and
trishing for absolute evidence in the
premises, I have not only read and com
pared all available publications on the
subject, but have personally examined
the ancient leaden box which was un
earthed a few years ago and has sine'
been so strangely neglected; have sur
veyed Its contents and inscriptions, also
the vault from which it was taken;
have minutely studied the cathedral.
Its architecture, structural material, ad
ditions, foundations and surroundings;
have considered the different building
materials and styles employed In Santo
Domingo Floce the great landing:; have
verified the deciphering of all the
cathedral inscriptions, and have
Searched the original records, besides
carefully and repeatedly cross examin
ing those who made the subexcavatlons
ta 1E77, as well as the older residents
of the region.
Where the Ashes Rest
At th* lower end of the cathedral
toave. Its top nearly touching: the high
faulted roof. Is an elaborate monument
Of white marble, new and shining.
IWltbln the pillars at its base lies a
bronze- coffer, carefully sealed and con
taining the rude leaden box In which
repose the ashes of Columbus. In the
raised chancel at the other end of the
a£Lflce are two stone slabs lying: eide
by side, and still lorming part of the
flooring over the vacant vaults. It was
not until recently that these vaults
were discovered, their very existence
having: been unsuspected previously, at
least within the memory of living men.
From the larger came the leaden sar
cophagus, \u25a0which, as shown in the ac
companying Illustrations, has been
found Inscribed in this wise:
Eltre. y Es'6o. Baron dn CrlstOfa.l Colon.
which. Interpreted, is:
Illustrious «a<l Enl&hteacd Lord,
Doa Cbristopbcr Columbus.
Qfl a silver plate carefully affixed
centuries ago, as the metal and mark
ings Cttcst, are Inscribed In curiously
abbreviated Spanish the authentic.in
formation that the bones therein rc
pos:ng arc "
A part of U)P r^msios of tta* ' First Admi ral. 1
\u25a0 . I
Since the general reader has labored
so long and erroneously under tho im
pression that the immortal Genoese has
been enshrined authentically In Havana
the details of his ashen progress from
Valladolid "to Seville, thence to Santo
Domingo and thence presumably .to
Cuba, may be equally unfamiliar. 'Re
viewing the " itinerary chronologically, ;
in ITS 3 Spain ceded to France* the east
portion of Santo Domingo - island '; and'
a Spanish admiral who /visited" Santo"
Domingo city apropos of the cession
ordered opened the tomb In which the
•ashes of Columbus were supposed to
lie. Hence the natural skepticism with
which Cuban, ' Spanish and Porto Rican
scholars and publicists should regard
the surprising discoveries made in 1877.
As already briefly intimated, in that
year a party of Dominicans, headed by
Mgr. Rogue Cocchla, a Neapolitan
of rank In the Tioman diplomatic
vice and at that time the accredited
papal delegate to Venezuela, Hayti and
Santo Domingo, began digging in .the
presbytery of the cathedral with the
object of determining once-, for all
whether any important graves re
mained under the concrete flooring.
Beginning near the wall' on 'the 'right
side of the presbytery, the workmen
discovered a vault in which was found,
much to their astonishment, the re
mains of Luis, the grandson of Chris
topher Columbus. Of this grandson and
his manner of life and death more will
be told presently. Several months were
spent In further excavations without
any new developments until one day
Mgr. Cocchia reached a second vault.
This was or. the left side of the pres
bytery, though not abutting on the
wall, as was the case with the first
vault discovered a.t that time. This
second receptacle, however, was empty,
and, es it developed, was the/vault
which had been opened and vacated in
1795. . ;
A few days later the persistent ex
cavators were rewarded by striking In
to a third subterranean chamber, in
which was plainly seen a leaden box. So
securely, was the vault constructed and
fo firmly were the stones, and bricks
imbedded*' around the mysterious
that a fortnight passed before the ex
plorers unearthed the box itself," the
receptacle which contained, 'as, far. as
my' own conclusions' go, the real and
only mortal remains of the \u25a0 first ad -
The Fraud Charges
Reports of the circumstances sur
rounding the surprising and important
discovery of the. box .as described, to
gether with the inscriptions and rev
ered contents, were, scrutinized with
jealous eyes in Havana and Madrid. 'ln
fact, the Cuban and Porto Rican press
did not delay making direct charges
of fraud — charges, which soon : echoed
over the world. It was alleged. that the
story was ridiculous on' its face; that
the .persons Interested; did, not agree
upon the reasons why the excavations
had been "made; that they had a? purr'
pose in committing and ah opportunity
to commit a falsification, and , that
manifestly the i Dominican . priests had
manufactured the box, filled it with
bones, scratched the inscriptions there
on, dug, the vault and prepared a dra
matic, resurrection tableau, at, which
the : foreign" consuls * assisted , either ; '*;a"s
dupes or as conscious principals in ' the
fraud. , . ' \u25a0 .
Spanish governmental ] and- historical
authorities followed the lead "of, the Ha
vana ' press, asj a : result ; of; which v a*Cu-*
ban, delegate was 'dispatched jto ; Santo
Domingo on ' admission of . lnvestigation.
He •: spent,' as a'matter of 'record, -only
six days there and am not even: see Xb9
box and its contents.'- : Subsequently the
Spanish historical society, to 1 which the
\u25a0matter, had : been. formally -Isubmlttßd- by
the Madrid government; in-a"
report adverse to the genuineness of
the Dominican discovery,: sustained by
no new documents /frgm/ the Seville,
.Madrid' or Havana. arcl»lvos.?'nof by any
further investigation at Santo .Do-"
mihgo. , -. ;/
This premature "controversy, ..which)
strange to ; say, has , never become pub
lic: in the United ; States,* tended, to pre
vent" the - sending; of ;-a.: commission -.of
competent i.and impartial antiquaries to
examine the vaults, "and
other' \u25a0 documents ; in.: evidence.'; •\u25a0 In '"•the
premises, , foreign savants ? were '; natur
ally; reluctant: to appear, in a matterjn-^
.volvlng s both : Spanish "and,! Dominican
national : pride,- as wefl : as the • personal
probity of a papal' delegate. '• Hence] no
careful examination jhas over? hitherto
been made except iby I Dominicans,", and
even their statements have /never jbeen
verified , by." impartial;., investigation -or
placed . before the^ antiquarian world. ' ',
On the other handr the passing con
troversy inspired , a- ; general >collation
and careful: analysis; of rail' documents
and historical refcronccs bearing on, the
question.' * Henry .vHarrisr/the'" eminent
authority- on Columbus'. l^ roviewedy and
analyzed ; the *- ; principal;- documentary,
proofs' .and'^ pronounced^ against/ Ih'e
identity .;' of -r the^ v remaiiisj-' taken*-: to
Havana * with Y thos? ? of| Columbus;.:' ; He
reserved ' his : opinion 1 ; as"; to "the* authen
ticity of Uhe^DominlcanlremainsEuntll
further.eyldence' might ible"fb'rth"coming."
Two f learned? societies * of R neutral? naf
tions ha'vel ventured to express definite
"opi nibns-— the New,, Jersey^ historical i so^
ciety ': and t the* Llgurian>;society|of { G*'
noa..' ;Both\ pronounced* in ,f favor. ;off the
genuineness; bf^the^Domlnicanv remains
after,V a ; , conscientious \u0094 examination",' of
the "evidence; obtainable by r themJ>. Their
verdict j might"; have" been j morelyaluable
had Ht 'i not * been > rendered i" ao I' early « in'
the and' without^ investiga
tion on-.tlu* snot. \ 'j, " ::^' :.'/'.' v ' \u25a0 •
- In faot,none of the writers who deny:
•or; doubt ; the authenUcltyjof : the
discovery ; ever; examined^the:box;or : its,
i contents.^ Obviously,' therefore,' it %were
a'matter of paramount Interest and.im-.
'pbrtance, '\u25a0 now, that thci'controvers'y,' has
beenj forgotten and \u25a0 bof ore : all ' .the (eye- .
. witnesses '\u25a0_ are .\u25a0 dead.Vf or ;\u25a0 som^ . learned
•society.', to_" send to : Santo ; Domingo 'j one
' or,; more 'expert s • in '[ archaelogyj a nd : cal£
iligraphy to;ponder, the ( evidenced -In.the
meantime 1 1 haye madeVmyJowhf careful
' invcstigation'ahd have Teached my own
; perfectly^ impartial /conclusion." '•.*. :'. ;*
; Suppose^ inlweldmgtogether'the suc
cessive links ln*a v chainrof eyidence^we;
. review .^ the . case ' from f«. the v beginnin %. '
Seven »i years j following ithe?; advent '.of
Columbus in -this' hemisphere .theirlghts
' and jprlyileges : promised -hlmtbefore ;he
'I on -i his ;.\u25a0 first ",, voyage : Vwere
> suspended.'^ Sub'sequently.r though | per-;
i'mitted) to"; use ? the £ empty** titles Vqfj'.'Ad-;
; miral"-and \u25a0•''Viceroy^of^thellndies.'.V.he"
'. was": foVbiddehitoJ exercised his "; functions
>'as[sbch".or a to;collect< : his}percehtage v 6f
ithe revenues,*; or even, to. ylsiCSaritoDo-'
r mlhgoTv where r he ; had v labored T < so \ long
i and successfully to establish - a flourish
, ing /colony.?^ Diegoi ! jhls » helf,"|continuied
I to ;.petition J the 5 Spanish (crown*, but Jthe
Cmbst* he Jcould
I the I highly ."connected J.woman J.whoml na
j married f Jn'.Jl 508, 5,' was;* permission 4^to'
/ prosbcute'i the percentage, claim'in v L court
•' and f meantime; to -govern i Santo; Dbminf
go^asSan^admiral. 1 :^-;''/ ; -:;'\C;' : ':v-'r". V- V .'
;. When: thel Crisis ; Came ; j :
i' : - During .the * ; following .Tyear/-! by *• his
I request,'- the . remains of [ his" fatheri,were
' removed « from Vthe v obscure"
near? Valladolid; : ''where i t*ley 1; had ; . been
j for i threeTy ears; -to Carthusian "mb- '
s nastefy ?; of the !} grottos,^ situated . near;
; Seville. . « ;l.This > 'i effected %i successfully,
I Diego /and! his wi fe^ Dona Maria ;de ;To-j
I ledo.f niece i of ? the « duke I of ero-;
', barked i f or]the!new"iworld,^accompanied
jb'yjßartholomew;Colunibus > 'and s a" young
I half [brother.^ Pernahdo.^The llatter; «•"
i turned:* to 1 Spain* very J shortly.- and Was
\u25a0 buried r ln [ Seville' 30 Iyeara1 y eara : latent Diego,'
meanwhile, . found \u25a0 the , localf authorities .
'.antagonistic,;, to Jan obtruding, foreigner!
.{bent : oh abeorbing'fori himself and" f anf-
Ily-the wealthTofithe: colony;; He soon
ft built .a '"palace,-; the' shell,' bt \ whiclCils
I still ; stand ing, \u25a0 and ; f or ; six \ years strug
gled , to [maintain ;his"own r and Spanlsn
supremacy:, in^ Santo
A ; crisis, occurred - inf. his j- affairs „in
.1515,^necessitating ,his return to -Spal/r
?= in order ; to >* justify; his , official^ conduct
I and "defend '\u25a0: the \ family '.rightsu ;*; * Mean- 1
while, v . Bartholomew ;; ', died ;V and T, was
;, burled* in;' the --Franciscan ? - monastery."
-whose Li massive^ walls ; stiir<stand~.-In*
1 Santo " Domingo. . . -
fsOniyiwlth "great" difficulty did Diego
j filially : succeed Y in '\u25a0 regaining * the ,i gov- :
ernorship > of ;'.the - Island -I to 'which >\u25a0 he
[returned j. in ij 1620 -to , ; . find < Santo ft Do- ;
- mlngo i a.metropolis of the*new t world.' 1
'. Christopher^ Columbus ;; as I his t favorite ,
| spotTbn ; the i island/was \ still an isolated •;
desirable \u25a0' toj obey* the'.' paternal -/man--:
date and: bury the great \u25a0' discoverer
r there, ft Prior.* therefore, ito^hls > final ? re- ,
'. turnuto « Spain and i his : decease^ Diego '\u25a0
Ithat; the 1 bodies^ of ;hlajp'arents;"
f of iliis tuncle,j Bartholomew,'; and; his \u25a0'son,'';
£whenl;he /should tdie.-bejaliynterredi in <
itheTchanceKof.a^ cathedral 'he purposed;
£building;bn the island. V
-r/i Dying,' DiegOjleft as his heir'-Luls and
[another, son,* named iChristopher^vwhosV
claims t and g prospects/i were"
shepherded ; by ; the iwidbw.*
' Her I energy* only ; secured "empty' prom - ;
lsesi though 1n' 1553,- Luis, then at Santo
; Domingo, assisted [Iftjj his j quality ; as ; ad - l
* mlrali at fan'i Important; meeting 'of * t the '\u25a0
vgoyernment.: l board,'TdespiteoWhlch--th*e :
I records % do^ hot \u25ba\u25a0 say .*> he ? presided.:;,' The
| Columbus <* claims ' were';; submitted to ;
'arbitration, and in 1536 a- finding was
s made", which'! definitely S the \
; hereditary title of^yiceroyj in the ; family.
| and \as > a ':, compensation I granted ; to Lv is '
;\u25a0 the, Island; of Jamaica;^ with "jurisdiction^
j.overilt,^and' the Itltlei of ."marquis.-; .
->4With f the I family/ prestige j: thus • ; de- \u25a0
j fined- practical > steps- toward? .'a! per ma^
• neat seemed- at:last '\u25a0 justi
;"''siiy-%,.: \u25a0\u25a0\u25a0\u25a0•-\u25a0 '" •': \u25a0\u25a0;\u25a0'* '.•/\u25a0 .^ >tr^SgBB«IBBttH
The San. k Francisco; Sunday^ ilalk
- fled - and the -imposing, cathedral of
Santo iDomingo,'. then nearlng'Comple
.. tionT-was* chosen for " the ' permanent : in- I
terment of the Colons, the building it-
self ;a •reauy made "memorial to" I " their
honor. :.
Where the Ashes: Rest # •
/."Consequently.; in 1537, a roya! cedula
was\ issued ; granting Luis 'the chaijcel :
or presbytery of the cathedral, as "a
burial. place": for his illustrious grand
sire,:; for i. himself," his* parents and his
.descendants. To -Don i Luis was further .'
-accorded the prlvilege'of ; erecting; tab- :
'lets "or efilgles.'inC the v'andf of j
affixing therein his armorial bearings,
_ save ; : in - the .upper part." .which "was • ex- -•\u25a0
\u25a0pressly Preserved : ' for the ;\u25a0 royal arms.*
; The latter.; may/v ln ;f act," be seen ', today,
; plated -high on : the'fear wall above tho
"massive" altar. '.i:'-.*;'r:?
r.:;ButVtherei.'.ls ample; evidence of my
i finding' that >thV desires ;of the'Colum
"bus^ family "were .•stubbornly, opposed -
\u25a0 byj the i priests ' in , charge ; of : the ' cathe^ x
' drai;; the ; east : half ; of, which \u0084 had been
}, completed -- and J dedicated v* in the ' first',
i quarter V' of \ the V sixteenth i century and "-
Jthe'l presbyteryi itself . dedicated' priori to"
\ 1537-fj-all [of ; which^ accounts 'for, the ; de- , '
'> lay v in'' bringing y the great \u25a0 ashes over
seas. ' •"> .'•\u25a0• %: " \u25a0' SHHNPffi
" Spain, . however, . _ spoke V- aloud x and -
• clearly, on the *In { 1540,t pererap
•tbrily imposing immediate and uncondi-,
tional • compliance .\witih^.the"* original •_
: cedulaf 1 and' this' mandate * was ' certainly *
; carried ;~ont : in 7 ' seeming- time • and order.' ;
i-Whatilsithe^evidence? ."Las- Casas,* then
'the ,- Dominican -"diocese, ;
, that - the t grave then\ln \ the ' cathe
dral,; and . it • is '\u25a0 known \u25a0 that Las Casas
:WasV last> on "4 the -island .'ln" 1544.^; Also
; Archbishop '-Fuenmayor.t his successor, 1
„ who .went: on 'leave to Spain in. 1543. re
: turning six J years ,; later ...to "Santo. Do-
he Vdied; in j 15561 \ speaks
: of ithe of j vthe -'great j admiral,** Don'
;Cr is toval C Colon, j bones ; are '; much ~
'^respected v ye 5 in^ our \ holy .]
|ChuTchl in-;lts> caplUa*mayor.*N Neither
of these 1 incldentaHy,'.wh&:.
saw. the, tomb before the mortar -was
•well dried, mention a monument or In
scription to Christopher Columbus or
that Diego was eve* burled there.
Family Rights Lost
Dona Maria dying on the Island in
1549, Don Luis became the head of, th»
family and hurried to sell his great
birthright for a mess of pottage. A.
dissolute tippler, he surrendered all the
family rights granted Christopher for
a pension of 2.000 doubloons and th«
titles 'of duke of the Veraguas and
marquis of La. Vega in Jamaica. Having:
meantime married again, though two
former wives were living, ho was Im
prisoned for bigamy and then banished
for a decade to Oran, in Africa, whera
he died in 1572.
And now we reach the incredible. For
nearly 200 years the very existence of
the great "dead in Santo Domingo ca
thedral appears to have been ignored if
not forgotten., None of the records.
from the earliest, bearing the date of
1690. refer to the graves at all. and so
\u25a0we reach the year 1783 — a year of gen
eral prosperity and improvement on the
Island. Repairs on the cathedral were
begun. .
The presbytery was reconstructed, a
'fragment* of "thick 'wall was — pulled '
down on the gospel side and near th»
door opening to ths stairway of tho
tiring room. This excavation disclosed
a- stone coffer or vault, cubical in form
and -about 53 Inches deep. In It was
found a leaden box. somewhat damaged,
which in turn contained human bones,
but' bore no Inscription, a3 already em
phasized. -
After the priests nad examined the
box and verified the bone 3 as having,
for »the most . part, been reduced to
ashes, the wall was at once recon
structed. It was then remembered that
a few years before. In delving around
the left side of the altar, a similar
stone coffer containing a leaden 'box
had been found. I have discovered a
then existing tradition that the grave
of Columbus was on the right of th«
altar and -that of his brother. Bartholo
mew, or son. Diego, was on the left.
Thus the-inference was drawn that the
box discovered on the right contained
the ashes of the great admiral.
Then came the treaty of Bale In
1703. ceding Santo Domingo to France.
Admiral Don Gabriel de Arlstizabal.
commanding a squadron, was dis
patched, to the island, and while thero
•was informed that the remains of Co
lumbus were in the cathedral. Accord
ingly, the vault on the gospel side of
the, presbytery was opened. In it were
found some leaden plates about a foot
long. 'apparently sections of , a box and*
fragments of human bones. Thosn
fragments, with such dust as seemed
appropriate, .were placed in a gilded
leaden casket and carried to Havana.
No mention is made of any Inscription;
on the plates or. other mark .of identl-,
tlcation. Nor is anything spoken bf€ft
search for or finding of the remains of
Bartholomew or Diego Columbus, or
even the grandson. Luis.
Present inthe edifice when the vault
was formally , opened were . tho perma
nent president of the Ayuntamiento. the
archbishop, admiral de Arlstizabal. the /
commander of • the garrison, together
with * his lieutenant and chief of en
gineers, and other Spanish dignitaries,
whose. names are not mentioned. It
does not appear that the agent 3 of the
contemporary duke of Veraguas, titular
descendant of Columbus, -or any Do
minicans, were present.
'Relative to; the excavations of 1577.
and of my avowed conclusions, there
follows a portion" of my letter dated at
the -American legation, Santo Domingo,
June 11, 1906: ;
Henry Vlgnaiul Esq.. American Em
bassy, Paris — Dear- Mr. Vignaud: I
have' been continuing my- examination
of the cathedral here and the remaining
archives, as well as ray communications
with . the surviving eyewitnesses of the
1877 .'exhumation. I am satisfied that
there could have been no fraud and that
the bones taken to Havana In 1795 w»*re
not those>of Christopher Columbus.- .
I have often 'wondered .why Lul3 Co->
lon, third admiral, did not avail himself
of the permission given in the royal"
cedula'of 1537 to bury his mother in 4 he
cathedral ; presbytery, beside her hus
band. He did not, for the only burials
in tho presbytery, as revealed by the
latest excavations. 1 were of Christopher.
Diego 'and; Luis himself — the latter, of
course, after 1572. v
The main defect In most of the pa
pers.hitherto published in the premises
is that they were written without any
adequate knowledge or examination o?
the- cathedral itself. For example. Cu
bans and \u25a0 Spaniards — even , members of
the historical academy — have written
in good faith a whole lot about the sup
posed monument or Inscription, which
they think must have been placed over
the bones .when they, were deposited in
the presbytery.'- As a matter. of fact, a
monument } could not be placed on -the '
presbytery floor without removing: the
great altar,' and this was never done.
I am also 'satisfied that the, leaden
box ,- found; in 1377 contained not only
the 'authentic :bones. \u25a0 but fragments of
an 'older box— presumably the original
one in which they -were brought from
Spain.- The box. of 1877 is certainly of
the --seventeenth .century. Columbus*
grave had not been opened from a date
several < years prior to 1683 until 1377.
The cement, which has been microsco
pically .examined, proves this.
Tour 'friend .'and colleague. I- ••>'-

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