A Delectable Fruit of the Cactus for the Eagle | Paul Badde | Chapter One of María of Guadalupe: Shaper of History, Shaper of Hearts
With wood from the Santa Marla, Christopher Columbus built the first house in America. Hernán Cortés conquered Mexico. The growling of dogs on the beach and the dawn of the modern era lie heavy over the cities of New World and Old.
On the morning of August 3, 1492, sails billowing in the first wind, Columbus sailed from Andalusia in the Santa María, together with the Niña and the Pinta, in order, as he confides in the ship's log, to search for a westerly sea route to Jerusalem. If the names of his ships had been listed in another way, they would have made the phrase "Holy Mary (Santa María) paints (pinta) the girl (niña)". In itself, this would have been striking. However, this was only the beginning of the incredible story of the dark Lady, who, five hundred years after the discovery of America, still waits to be discovered by Europe, Asia, Africa and other parts of the world.
Historians say that, on Christmas night, 1492, the Santa María ran aground on a sandbar off of Haiti. Columbus decided to dismantle the grounded flagship and "build a fort out of what was salvaged". However, some years ago on the docks of the port of Barcelona, I saw an exact reproduction of the caravel Santa María. I doubt that with the planks and masts of this nutshell anyone could have managed to construct a fort. Two or three huts, perhaps, or a house—or even a small barricaded chapel. There was not enough material for more. The one thing that seems sure is that from the remains of the Santa María the first European house was raised in the New World. A year later it was pulled down and reduced to ashes.
Twenty-seven years later Hernán Cortés, a native of the city of Medellin, in Spain, disembarked from the Santa María de la Concepción onto the shore of the American continent. It was Good Friday of 1519, in the area of what would later become the port of Veracruz. A small expeditionary flotilla accompanied the Santa María de la Concepción . Two days later, Cortés asked two Franciscans, Diaz and Olmedo, to celebrate Easter with a high Mass on the beach. "The Spaniards planted a cross in the sandy ground", writes Francisco López de Gómara in his history of the conquest of Mexico. "They prayed the rosary and the Angelus as a bell was rung." To anyone familiar with Catholic liturgy, this seems somewhat confused. But there is no doubt that, after the liturgical service, Cortés, in a brief speech, took possession of an immense territory in the name of the Spanish Crown. Needless to say, the king of Castile was totally ignorant of who Cortés was and what he was doing there. The "Captain General" had taken on himself the responsibility of a royal commission.
Thus he resembled the immortal Don Quixote de la Mancha, who in Cervantes' book, written years later, would assume the fight against the forces of evil and defend the honor of the pure and lovable Dulcinea, who unfortunately existed only in the poor knight's addled brain and overheated imagination. But, unlike Don Quixote, "the Knight of the Woeful Countenance" with his nag Rocinante and his rusty lance, Cortés set upon his mission with a sharp sword and well-fed horses. Hernán Cortés' countenance was by no means woeful; he was an elegant man who dressed in silk and velvet . The natives could not comprehend what he might represent, and they observed in wonder the solemn ceremony of the occupation of Mexico. They were baffled as they observed these pale, well-armed men bow their heads and kneel before a wooden cross.
Along the coast, next to the conqueror's flagship, were anchored three other caravels and six small brigatines that had transported 530 men in the prime of their lives. They were natives of Spain, Genoa, Naples, Portugal and France. Among them were fifty sailors, the two Franciscans already mentioned, thirty crossbow-men and twelve harquebusmen. Among their armaments the expeditionary force had many swords and lances, sixteen horses, numerous Irish wolfhounds and mastiffs, ten long-range cannons, four falconets and various small Lombard cannons, as the new firearms were named in those days. Some of the men had mutilated ears—the punishment for those who had been caught robbing and convicted in Castile. Be that as it may, the gold chain around the neck of the self-proclaimed Captain General Cortés bore a medal with the Virgin Mary on the front and Saint John the Baptist on the back. On the mainmast of the flagship waved a golden pennant with a blue cross and the Latin inscription: "Amici, sequamur crucem, et si nos fidem habemus, vere in hoc signo vincemus": Friends, let us follow the cross . If we believe in it, truly in this sign we will conquer.