The Two Skeletons Of Columbus

: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

Following the return of the vanquished army of Spain to its home

country was another solemn voyage, undertaken for the transfer of the

bones of Christopher Columbus from the world he had discovered to the

land that grudgingly, cautiously permitted him to discover it. Spain

claimed all the benefits that arose from his knowledge, his bravery,

his skill, his energy, and his enthusiasm, and rewarded his years

of service wi
h dismissal from office and confinement in chains as

a prisoner, but now it repented, and wished to house his unwitting

relics in state. Once before these bones had crossed the sea. After

the death of the great navigator, in Valladolid, Spain, in 1506,

his body remained in that city for seven years. Then it was taken

to Seville and placed in Las Cuevas monastery with that of his son,

Diego. In 1536 both bodies were exhumed and sent to Santo Domingo,

or Hispaniola, an island that Columbus appeared to hold in a warmer

liking than either of the equally picturesque, fertile, and friendly

islands of Cuba, Porto Rico, or Jamaica. In the quaint old cathedral

of Santo Domingo, built in 1514, the bodies of the great admiral,

his son, and also his grandson, Louis, first Duke of Veragua, rested

for more than a century without disturbance.

On the appearance of the English fleet, however, in 1655, the

archbishop was so fearful of a raid on the church and the theft of

the bodies that he ordered them to be hidden in the earth. During

the years in which they remained so covered the exact burial-place of

the admiral may have been forgotten, or, it may be, as several people

allege, that the San Dominicans tricked the Spaniards when, in 1795,

the latter gave their island to France and carried with them to Havana

the supposed skeleton of Columbus. Bones of somebody they certainly

did take, but it is no uncommon belief in the Antilles that the monks

of Santo Domingo had hidden the precious ones and sent to the monks

of Havana the bones of the son, Diego, albeit a monument was erected

to the memory and virtues of the great Columbus in Havana cathedral.

In 1878 the old church in Santo Domingo was undergoing repair when

the workmen came upon a leaden box containing the undoubted remains

of the first Duke of Veragua. Breaking through the wall of the vault

they found themselves in a larger one, and here was a box two feet

long, enclosing a skull, bones, dust, jewelry, and a silver plate

bearing the words "C. Colon," and on the end of the box, according to

some witnesses, the letters "C. C. A.," meaning Christopher Columbus,

Admiral (the English initials being the same as for the name and title

in Spanish). A more circumstantial account places the time of this

rediscovery in 1867, and says that a musket-ball was the only object

found in the little coffin, while the silver plate on the lid was thus

inscribed, "Una pt. de los restos del Primar Alm. to Du Christobal

Colon." The Santo Dominicans claim their right to the relics on the

ground that in his life the Spanish misused the discoverer, though

his grief was not deep enough to justify the ancient rumor of his

electing to be buried with the chains in which he was carried back to

Spain. Meantime Seville is to build a monument, and Santo Domingo is

putting up another, each city claiming to have his only real skeleton.