(ORDO NEWS) — Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was a Genoese navigator and explorer who is best remembered for his 1492 voyage that opened the Western Hemisphere to Europe.
Although he died in Spain, his remains were sent to Hispaniola and things get a little hazy from here on out. Two cities, Seville (Spain) and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), claim to have the remains of the great explorer.
Christopher Columbus is a controversial figure. Some revere him for his bold voyage westward from Europe at a time when it was considered certain death, for the discovery of continents that the most ancient civilizations of Europe did not even dream of.
Others see him as a cruel, ruthless man who brought disease, enslavement and exploitation to the untouched New World. Love him or hate him, there is no doubt that Columbus changed the world.
Death of Christopher Columbus
After his disastrous fourth voyage to the New World, the aged and infirm Columbus returned to Spain in 1504. He died in Valladolid in May 1506 and was initially buried there. But Columbus was then and is now an influential figure, and soon the question arose of what to do with his remains.
He expressed a desire to be buried in the New World, but in 1506 there were no buildings imposing enough to house such tall remains. In 1509, his remains were transferred to the monastery of La Cartuja, an island in a river near Seville.
A corpse that traveled a lot
Christopher Columbus traveled more after his death than many people did during his lifetime! In 1537 his bones and those of his son Diego were sent from Spain to Santo Domingo to lie in the cathedral there.
Over time, Santo Domingo began to lose its importance to the Spanish Empire, and in 1795 Spain ceded all of Spain, including Santo Domingo, to France as part of a peace treaty.
The remains of Columbus were considered too important to fall into the hands of the French, so they were sent to Havana.
But in 1898, Spain went to war with the United States, and the remains were sent back to Spain to keep them out of the hands of the Americans. Thus ended Columbus’ fifth circular voyage to the New World…or so it seemed.
In 1877, workmen in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo found a heavy lead box with the inscription “Noble and distinguished man, Don Cristobal Colon”. Inside were human remains, and everyone assumed they belonged to the legendary explorer.
Columbus was returned to his resting place, and Dominicans have since claimed that in 1795 the Spaniards removed the wrong set of bones from the cathedral. Meanwhile, the remains, sent back to Spain via Cuba, were interred in an imposing tomb in the Cathedral of Seville. But in which city did the real Columbus live?
Argument in favor of the Dominican Republic
A man whose remains are in a box in the Dominican Republic shows signs of arthritis, a disease that the elderly Columbus is known to have suffered from.
There is, of course, an inscription on the box, which no one suspects of being a fake. Columbus wanted to be buried in the New World and he founded Santo Domingo; there is nothing surprising in the fact that some Dominican in 1795 passed off some other bones as the bones of Columbus.
Argument in favor of Spain
The Spaniards have two weighty arguments. First, the DNA contained in the bones in Seville matches very closely that of Columbus’ son, Diego, who is also buried there. DNA experts believe the remains belong to Christopher Columbus.
The Dominican Republic refused to grant permission for DNA testing of the remains. Another weighty argument of the Spaniards is the well-documented travel of the remains in question. If the lead box had not been discovered in 1877, there would have been no controversy.
What’s at stake
At first glance, this whole debate may seem trivial. Columbus has been dead for 500 years, so who cares? In fact, everything is much more complicated, and there is more at stake than it seems at first glance.
Despite being at odds with political correctness of late, Columbus remains a powerful figure; at one time he was canonized as a saint. Although it has what we might call “baggage”, both cities want to make it theirs.
The tourism factor alone is of great importance; many tourists would like to be photographed in front of the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Perhaps that is why the Dominican Republic has abandoned all DNA testing; too much to lose and nothing to gain for a small country heavily dependent on tourism.
So where is Columbus buried?
Every city thinks they have the real Columbus, and each has built an impressive monument for his remains. In Spain, his remains are forever carried in a sarcophagus by massive statues. In the Dominican Republic, his remains are safely preserved inside a towering monument/lighthouse built specifically for this purpose.
The Dominicans refuse to accept the results of a DNA test done on Spanish bones and won’t allow it to be done on their own. Until they do this, it will be impossible to know for sure. Some people believe that Columbus is in both places.
By 1795, his remains would have been reduced to powder and bones, and it would have been easy to ship half of his body to Cuba and hide the other in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo. Perhaps this would be the most fitting end for the man who brought the New World back to the old.
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