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By the early 1400’s, Middle China had become the world’s largest unified nation. While Europe continued to fight internal wars, China built the Forbidden City. It took fourteen years to construct the 980 buildings which cover 7,800,000 sq. ft. For almost 500 years, this impressive complex was the home of the emperors and their households serving as the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government. (The Forbidden City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and now known as the Palace Museum.)

The Chinese discovered and developed natural gas, while Europe continued to rely on an increasingly scarce resource: whale oil. During this same period of time, China identified sun spots, solar winds, novas, and comets; fine-tuned a calendar year accurate to within 26 seconds, created an encyclopedia of 4,000 volumes—the largest collection amassed to date– and used sophisticated printing processes.

China was steeped in a long and distinctive seafaring tradition. It was the leading maritime power from 1405-1433. This position of prominence made possible the early explorations of the famous Chinese mariner, explorer and diplomat, Zheng He. A towering eunuch, born in Central Asia and Muslim by birth, he became a chief aide and strategist of Zhu Di, third emperor of the Ming Dynasty. He was also admiral of the imperial navy.

Almost a century before Columbus sailed, Zheng launched major voyages of exploration into the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. Fueled by these successes, China built an incredible fleet of ships. Some were as large as 400 feet long, 160 feet wide, with up to nine masts, and V hulls — they were designed for transporting the treasures of commerce. Because their massive size, space for provisions was plentiful enabling journeys of up to 4,500 miles. The ships could virtually sail the earth.

Ultimately, China sought to control, world commerce. For many years, the Chinese dominated commercial trade and enticed foreign rulers into lucrative agreements by offering special privileges and protection. Early voyages returned laden with precious goods from many foreign lands.

Chinese treasure ships first sailed to Calicut, India also known as “City of Spices” in 1405, a trip that lasted two years. Between 1405 and 1420 ships sailed on a total of five voyages: to Japan, the Persian Gulf, and along the east coast of Africa— to Kenya, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

A sixth voyage, which lasted two and half years, began in 1421. Many believe that this journey was “special” — one which may have covered the entire world. Although the actual routes aren't known, maps of places unknown prior to this voyage soon became available to other European explorers, including Columbus.

Zhu Di, the great champion of the treasure ships, died a few years after that sixth voyage. He was replaced by his son, Zhu Gaozhi who differed in philosophically from his father’s outlook on the direction of China and quickly decommissioned them. The shipyards fell silent.

By 1500, an imperial edict made it a capital offense for a ship with more than two masts to sail at sea. All histories of seafaring accomplishments were ordered to be destroyed. By 1525, officials set about demolishing the larger ships of the Treasure Fleet. The Chinese who had once possessed all, turned inward – leaving Europe to find the New World. Knowing or unknowingly, China had given away its control of the world.
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An image of a young Christopher ColumbusColumbus was born in 1451 in Genoa, a part of modern-day northern Italy. His father, Domenico Colombo and his mother, Susana Fontanarossa, had four sons: Barotolomeo, Giacomo, Giovanni Pellegrino, Christopher; and one daughter, Bianchinetta. To support his growing family, his father wove wool and owned a cheese stand where Christopher often worked in his youth.

While not historically substantiated, Columbus said that he first went to sea at age 10. In 1470, his family moved to Savona, a Mediterranean seaport in Northern Italy. In 1473, he began an apprenticeship as a business agent that in time would include relationships with three important merchant families of Genoa: the Centuriones, Di Negros and Spinolas.

While in their employment, Columbus claimed trips to Chios, a Genoese colony in the Aegean Sea, and the western coast of Africa. While on a protected mission in 1476, delivering goods to Northern Europe, he docked at Bristol, England, and Galway, Ireland and possibly Iceland.

His older brother, Barotolomeo worked in a cartography workshop in Lisbon for at least part of his adulthood and in 1479 Christopher reconnected with Barotolomeo. That same year, he married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, the daughter of the Porto Santo governor and a Portuguese nobleman. In 1480, she gave birth to their son and only child, Diego Columbus. Between 1482 and 1485, Columbus continued his travels trading along the coasts of Africa, and the Guinea coast. Records are inconclusive, but it appears that Filipa may have died sometime in 1485.

Columbus was self-educated through continued reading, study and practice. He often wrote notes in the margins of his books. He was not a scholar in the traditional sense, but he developed strong opinions and often vigorously defended his views — some of which were not correct. He studied the Bible, and often included verses and prophecies in his letters and logs. In referring to his learning, Christopher penned these words:

“From my first youth onward, I was a seaman and have so continued until this day….Wherever on the earth a ship has been, I have been. I have spoken and treated with learned men, priests, and laymen, Latins, and Greeks, Jews and Moors, and with many men of other faiths. The Lord was well disposed to my desire, and He bestowed upon me courage and understanding; knowledge of seafaring he gave me in abundance, of astrology as much as was needed, and of geometry and astronomy likewise. Further, He gave me joy and cunning in drawing maps and thereon cities, mountains, rivers, islands, harbours, each one in its place. I have seen and truly studied all books- cosmographies, histories, chronicles, and philosophies, and other arts, for which our Lord unlocked my mind, sent me upon the sea, and gave me fire for the deed. Those who heard of my enterprise called it foolish, mocked me, and laughed. But who can doubt but that the Holy Ghost inspired me?”

In spite of other personal failings, Columbus never wavered and throughout his life he remained true and constant to the belief that the Holy Ghost had inspired him
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For a long time, European traders enjoyed very lucrative relationships with Asia. Before 1450, they travelled by land known as the Silk Route. After the Ottomans gained control of Turkey during the middle 1400’s, the Silk Route became increasingly dangerous and Europeans began looking for alternate ways between Europe and Asia. Some even attempted sailing around the tip of Africa, an incredibly long journey. But Columbus believed in the promise of a western path and his calculations indicated that Asia would be just a short distance away.

The idea that the world was believed to be flat during Columbus’s era is strongly disputed today. There is much evidence that suggests the mariners of the 1400’s used navigational tools which were based on a premise of a spherical planet.

What is apparent now is that Columbus’s understanding of the earth’s size and continental positions was vastly different from other mariners of his day. He believed that the Eurasian land mass reached in length 225 degrees longitudinally. (The actual width is 130 degrees.) He also subscribed to the lower of two prevailing estimates concerning the size of the earth. Based on his studies, he calculated the distance between Japan and the European coast at 2,700 miles. (The actual distance is 13,000 miles.)

Columbus received encouragement on the practicality of his calculations from a prominent Florentine physician, Paolo dal PozzoToscanelli. Although time proved all of his theories to be incorrect; it did fail to disprove the greater reason he testified he had received divine inspiration to sail west. It was this prompting which led him to discover the New World and prepare the way to establish a nation of free men.

“Our Lord made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth...
...and he showed me the place where to find it”

Christopher Columbus, 1500
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On May 1, 1486, Columbus was granted permission to present his plan to Queen Isabella of Spain. She conferred with her counsel and after much scrutiny dismissed it because of the shorter distances he had projected between Asia and Europe. However, in 1489, King Ferdinand and Isabella gave him a significant amount of money and a letter of authorization granting him the right to free food and lodging as he travelled throughout their kingdom.

For two more years, Columbus continued to negotiate with the Spanish Crown before finally achieving success. Isabella rejected his plan again during another meeting in 1492 at Alcazar, their castle in Cordobia. Columbus was already on his way home when Ferdinand intervened. The Spanish Royal Guard was dispatched to request his return.

The Crown agreed to finance one-half of the cost of the voyage, and private financing— secured by Columbus — provided the rest. At some point during that pivotal conference, Columbus shared with the Queen that he felt strongly the Holy Spirit was inspiring him to go.

The King and Queen promised Columbus that if he succeeded he would receive the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea, and be given the right to govern all lands discovered for Spain as well as 10% of any resulting future revenues. In addition, he was given the right to buy 1/8th of any commercial interest founded upon these lands and the right to 1/8th of the profits. These were very generous yet risky terms from The Crown, considering their financial plight at the time.
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During the part of the year now considered the prime Atlantic hurricane season, Columbus and his crew left Castilian Palos de la Frontera on the evening of August 3, 1492. His fleet consisted of three ships, the Santa Maria – a large masted ship — and the Nina and Pinta, both caravels. (A type of small ship popular at the time because of its ability to sail into to the wind and tack.)

His first stop was at the Canary Islands off the Coast of Northern Africa. While there, repairs were made — including the rudder on the Santa Maria which had broken three days out from Castilian and the ships restocked with supplies for the voyage.

Columbus' First Voyavge (Map)On September 6, 1492, Columbus set sail westward toward what would be called the New World. For the next 34 days the ships sailed mostly in a westerly direction; reaching an island Columbus named San Salvador. In general, they experienced relatively easy sailing during the entire outward voyage. [Remember, this was during the middle of hurricane season.] In fact, on September 23, 1492 the sea became so calm, the ships actually stalled. This period of tranquil seas was only one of the many unexplained occurrences.

In his journal Columbus records, “The Sea being smooth and tranquil, the sailors murmured, saying that they had got into smooth water, where it would never blow to carry them back to Spain; but afterwards the sea rose without wind, which astonished them.” Considering this divine intervention, he recorded: “[T]he high sea was very necessary to me, [a sign] which had not appeared, except in the time of the Jews when they left Egypt [and complained] against Moses, who took them out of captivity.”

During this historic voyage, he made two very strategic course changes. The first came on October 7 — while encountering a flock of birds flying to the southwest— Portuguese sailors had taught Columbus that following flocks of birds may lead to land. Columbus never specifically addressed why he made that exact degree of turn; but that unexplained navigational shift ended up saving a day or so of sailing.

Had Christopher not made that first critical turn, it is likely the ships would have landed on the east coast somewhere between Florida and the Carolinas. But no gold was to be found, and without incentives, it is doubtful that future willing investors would come forward to finance additional voyages. The discovery and colonization of the New World, at a minimum, would have been delayed.

The second decision was made on October 11, a few hours after sunset. Again, without any significant explanation, Columbus gave the orders to change course from west by southwest to due west. Had he not done so, the ships would have likely missed the Island of San Salvador entirely and continued on, possibly hitting the deadly reefs of Long Island in the Caribbean. The catastrophic implications cannot be underestimated. It is doubtful that the ships and men aboard would have survived, had they not changed their course.

This voyage was not without conflicts between Admiral Columbus and his crew. As the voyage grew longer without sighting land, the murmuring and bickering grew incessant. On October 9, the other captains demanded a meeting during which Columbus agreed that if land was not sighted in three days, they would return home.

On October 10, an open insurrection was staged with the intent of throwing their Admiral overboard. It is reported that Columbus— who was generally considered a rigid iron-fisted leader— used kind and gentle words and held out promises of money and wealth when his words alone were not enough to calm the troubled crew. It is worth noting that this was very unusual behavior in a time when the mindset of both leaders and rulers was to first and foremost defend the kingdom. Most used force to wield their power as opposed to negotiation and/or collaboration.

A few hours after that second key change in course, at 2:00 AM, October 12, 1492, land was sighted. George E. Nunn, a prominent geographer, wrote that Christopher “did not make a single false move in the entire voyage.”

Later that morning, the landing party knelt in prayer on the land they had just discovered and gave thanks to Almighty God.

Many historians have attributed these changes in course to luck or chance, but Las Casas said, “God gave this man the keys to the awesome seas, he and no other unlocked the darkness.”

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After landing at San Salvador, they met the native people, observed their culture and habits and later described them as very peaceful. By October 28, Columbus landed on the northeast coast of Cuba; by December 5, they reached the northern coast of Hispaniola, modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On Christmas Morning, the Santa Maria ran aground and was abandoned along this coast.

Columbus was given permission by a native, cacique Guacanagari, to leave 39 crew members behind to form a colony which they named La Navidad — located near the present city of Caracol Bay, Haiti. The crew went to work building a fortress using lumber and other materials salvaged from the Santa Maria.

On January 4, 1493, Columbus left in the Nina seeking to find the Pinta which had disappeared in the darkness on November 21. The Pinta, under the command of Martin Alonso Pinzon left the Nina either by accident or by design, seeking to find an island that natives claimed was rich in gold. Two days later, Christopher located the Pinta sailing from the east. Both ships returned to La Navidad, where preparations for the voyage home were made.
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On January 14, 1493, Christopher recorded in his log, “I have faith in Our Lord that He who brought me here will lead me back in His pity and mercy . . . no one else was supportive of me except God, because He knew my heart.”

Two days later, on the 16th, he and his crew began the voyage home taking a more northerly route toward the Azores. Using the westerlies – eastern flowing Atlantic winds – the first weeks of the journey went smoothly. On February 12, they encountered a horrific storm of greater strength than any previously experienced; and two days later the tempest increased even more. Columbus would write, “The winds increased and the waves were frightful, one contrary to the other, so they crossed and held back the vessel which could neither go forward nor get out from between them, and the waves broke on her”

The storm separated the two ships. As it continued to rage, Columbus gathered his crew and prayers were offered asking for divine help. Over the next few days, three lotteries were held with Christopher promising money to fund a pilgrimage to the person drawing the dried chick pea with a cross on it if and when they were safely delivered from the storm. Interestingly, Columbus won two of the three lotteries. The storms continued. Finally, all of the crew “made a solemn covenant… [to] go in their shirtsleeves in a procession to pray in a church.” The next day, on February 15, the storm finally subsided, leaving them off the coast of the Azores.

From the Azores, they sailed for Spain. They encountered another fierce storm, which forced them into port at Lisbon, Portugal. On March 4, 1493 while anchored next to a King’s harbor patrol ship, Columbus learned that another fleet of 100 caravels had been lost during that storm. Miraculously, the Nina and Pinta had both survived.

In retrospect, we can see that Columbus encountered not only the modern-day equivalent of the perfect storm and eerily calm seas on the way; but extremely violent weather on the return voyage. It is almost as if the forces of hell were trying to deter him from his appointed mission.

Referring to Columbus’s first voyage, George E. Nunn, noted scholar wrote, “So much has been said about his discovery of America, that it has been lost to sight and thought that he also discovered both of the great sailing routes in the North Atlantic.”
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Columbus sailed a total of four times from Europe to America. The second voyage set sail from Cadiz, Spain on September 24, 1493. This voyage included seventeen ships and approximately 1,200 men with the intent to begin permanent colonization. Taking a more southern route this time, the ships first encountered the island, Marie-Galante, located off the coast of mainland Venezuela. They then worked their way north toward Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, today’s Haiti-Dominican Republic. On November 22, 1493, they reached La Navidad and found the fort in ruin and sadly, many of the settlers dead. During this voyage, Columbus and his brothers spent three years exploring the southern coast of Cuba and Jamaica and managing their business interests in the New World before returning home. They also found the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands.

Thumbnail image of routes Columnus took in his last three voyagesThe third voyage consisted of six ships and departed from Samlucar, Spain on May 30, 1498. Splitting up almost immediately, three ships headed directly to Hispaniola; while the other three with Columbus on board, sailed towards more southern islands looking for passage to Asia. During this voyage he visited the Canary Islands and Cape Verde before arriving in Trinidad.

Up close view of Columbus' voyages in the Caribbean While exploring the waters between Trinidad and a body of land to the south, he discovered a large body of fresh water entering the ocean. Columbus had been taught that the size of a body of fresh water is indicative of the size of the land mass from which it flows. Christopher correctly determined that this land, known today as South America, was a very large continent.

The three ships then returned to Hispaniola where Columbus found the settlers in rebellion against his rule– claiming a long list grave atrocities and abuse of power. As the appointed governor of this new land, he had taken this responsibility seriously for many reasons— not least among them the opportunity for great personal financial gain. However, had he not been ousted he may not have been free to continue his further explorations.

On May 11, 1502 Columbus with four ships under his command, set sail west from Europe with the purpose of finding a passage to the Indian Ocean. Taking a southern route, this fourth and final voyage took the ships along most of the eastern coast of Central America, the south coast of Cuba and the south coast of Hispaniola. During this last voyage, Columbus discovered Panama and heard from the natives about a strait which led to another ocean.

Again, they experienced the ravages of several damaging storms. Of one of them, he wrote, “For nine days I was as one lost without hope of life. Eyes never beheld the sea so angry, so high, so covered with foam. The wind not only prevented our progress, but offered no opportunity to run behind any headland for shelter; hence we were forced to keep out in this bloody ocean, seething like a pot on a hot fire. Never did the sky look more terrible; for one whole day and night it blazed like a furnace, and the lightning broke with such violence that each time I wondered if it had carried off my spars and sails; the flashes came with such fury and frightfulness that we all thought that the ship would be blasted. All this time the water never ceased to fall from the sky; I do not say it rained, for it was like another deluge. The men were so worn out that they longed for death to end their dreadful suffering.”

As a result, after this voyage, Columbus with his crew spent a year stranded in Jamaica awaiting help. They had endured several powerful storms which severely damaged their ships which left them in very poor health and short on provisions. Reinforcements and supplies finally arrived in June 1504 and five months later Columbus and his men sailed into Sanlucar, Spain, on November 7, 1504
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By the time of his third voyage, Columbus’s health had significantly declined. In October of 1499, he dispatched two ships to Spain to request assistance in governing the new colonies.

But, by the time the ships reached Spain, word had also reached The Crown about his purported tyrannical rule.

A new governor was quickly appointed who, upon arrival in Hispaniola, arrested Christopher and his brothers. Among other things on a long list of grievances: the execution of some of their crew for mutiny. (Twenty-three witnesses eventually testified against him.) All four were sent back to Spain in chains where they arrived on October 1, 1500. They were tried without a defense, convicted, and promptly sent to prison— where they spent six weeks incarcerated before King Ferdinand ordered their release.

Columbus wrote to friend during this time and shared an interesting perspective on his circumstances. “It is now seventeen years since I came to serve these princes with the Enterprise of the Indies… Over there I have placed under their sovereignty more land than there is in Africa and Europe, and more than 1,700 islands… In seven years, I, by divine will, made that conquest. At a time when I was entitled to expect rewards and retirement, I was incontinently arrested and sent home loaded with chains… The accusation was brought out of malice on the basis of charges made by civilians who had revolted and wished to take possession on the land… I beg your graces, with the seal of faithful Christians in whom their Highnesses have confidence, to read all my papers, and to consider how I, who came from so far to serve these princes…now at the end of my days have been despoiled of my honor and my property without cause, wherein is neither justice nor mercy.”

He never ruled again, though he was the master of the sea. In these few words, Columbus eloquently summarizes his ultimate fate— after being so diligent in following that perfect knowledge which he understood clearly and was led to do. While he was not faultless in every aspect of his life, he knew he had remained completely true to the divine direction which led him to the New World.

One noted historian declared, “There can be no doubt that the faith of Columbus was genuine and sincere, and that his frequent communion with forces unseen was a vital element in his achievement.” (Morison 1:65)
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On May 20, 1506, at the age of 54, Christopher Columbus died. His remains have been moved several times, but now rest in a cathedral in Seville, Spain. A boyhood friend, Michele da Cuneo, wrote during the second voyage, “In my opinion, since Genoa was Genoa, there was never born a man so well-equipped and expert in the art of navigation as the said Lord Admiral.” By his own admission, Columbus gave credit to the Almighty God, from who, he acknowledged, came the inspiration, direction and passion for his voyage. Not unexpectedly, it is apparent that he was never granted a complete understanding of why he was asked to do this work and why he was divinely guided time after time.
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