CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS ||| Ch.V. THE GOOD FRIARS OF LA RABIDACategory: Christopher Columbus
THE GOOD FRIARS OF LA RABIDA
Christopher Columbus and his five-year-old son Diego stood on the deck of a ship and watched the nearing shore of Spain.
Little Diego pulled at his father’s old coat. “Where are we going, Daddy?” he asked.
“To Spain, my son,” Columbus answered.
“Do we have friends there?” the boy asked.
Columbus shook his head sadly. “No,” he said. “No friends. Only hope, my boy, only hope.”
He looked up. They were close now, entering the Rio Saltes. To starboard was a coastline of cold sand dunes. Was there really hope in this strange land?
Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon ruled Spain. They had united that country by their marriage and were building it into a powerful nation.
But how could Columbus get to the king and queen? He knew nobody in Spain. He was starting life all over again, poor and lonely. He felt as lost as he had felt nine years before on the coast of Portugal, wounded and near death.
“Yes, little Diego,” he said again, “only hope!”
The ship passed the sand dunes and entered the Rio Tinto. On a high hill to the right a grey stone tower was seen. A line of buildings overlooked the sea.
“What are those buildings?” Columbus asked a fellow-traveller.
The man replied, „That is La Rabida, a famous monastery for Franciscan monks.”
Columbus knew about the Franciscans. They were noted for their learning. Many Franciscan friars were leaders in science.
They were well known for their hospitality, too, and often conducted schools for young boys. Columbus decided that La Rabida would be his first stop in Spain.
The ship docked at the nearby port of Palos. It was a long, difficult uphill climb from Palos to the monastery of La Rabida. For much of the way Columbus had to carry his son on his shoulders. They were both very tired and hungry by the time they arrived at the monastery gate.
“What do you want?” asked the gatekeeper
“Bread and water, please,” answered Christopher.
The gatekeeper did not know what to do. Then he invited them inside and led them to a shady bench. After that he ran to the kitchen. He returned with some bread, water and milk and watched silently as Columbus fed his son.
“You have come a long way, my son,” said a voice. Christopher, Diego and the gatekeeper looked up. They saw a tall friar watching them from the shade of a tree.
“Yes, we have come a long way,” said Columbus.
The friar’s voice was friendly. “Please come inside and have something more substantial than bread and water.”
Columbus and his son followed the friar into the dining hall. They learned that this was Fray Juan Perez, head of La Rabida, a man renowned for his kindness and scholarship. After they had eaten well and little Diego had gone to bed, Fray Juan invited his guest into the study for a talk.
Columbus became excited when he found the study well lined with sea charts and books on navigation and geography. Soon Columbus was telling Fray Juan all about his plan to sail over the Ocean Sea.
The monk sat thoughtfully for a long time after Columbus had finished telling his story. Then he excused himself, went out of the room for a few minutes, and finally returned with another friar, a short round man with a bald head and shining little eyes.
“This is Fray Antonio de Marchena,” said Fray Juan. “He is visiting us. He is custodio of all the Franciscan monasteries in Seville. Will you tell him what you have just told me?”
Fray Antonio’s eyes shone as Christopher repeated his story. When Columbus had finished, Fray Antonio said, “You want wealth and power. But you are very much interested in astronomy and geography. So are Fray Juan and myself. Both of us came to the conclusion some time ago that an enterprise such as you suggest is possible. I don’t entirely agree with you about the width of the Ocean Sea, but then you may be right and I may be wrong. We can find out the truth only by testing it.”
Eagerly Fray Juan put in, “The success of such an expedition would be a great thing for Spain!”
“All that is needed,” said Fray Antonio thoughtfully, “is a brave and desperate man who will let nothing stop him. Perhaps you are the one!”
Fray Juan Perez got up from his chair.
“We can arrange an audience for you with the king and queen,” he said. “And little Diego will remain here in our school for young boys.”