Introduction-Project Overview and Significance
In the late 1400s, commerce and religion linked many nations. The Ottoman Empire
blocked direct contact between Europe and Asia, which caused oceanic trade to become a major undertaking for nations wanting to continue to exchange commodities. As Christianity grew in Europe, the upper class made it their duty to spread the faith to other nations. Certain monarchs used it to conquer and control other nations. Spain, the poster child for the Christian religion relied heavily on it as a warfare tactic. In 1492 Queen Isabella 1, also known as Isabel "The Catholic" reclaimed Granada from the Moors, sent Christopher Columbus to India to spread Christianity and began the process of exiling the Jews from Spain. Her passion for Christianity was so strong that in 1974 the Catholic Church of Rome granted the title "Servant of God". Isabel funded the voyage of sea captain, Christopher Columbus to sail to India and convert them from Islam to Christianity. My paper will prove that religion was the motive for Columbus' voyage west and present evidence that he used Christianity to conquer the Americas and dispossess the Indians of their land. This thesis is important because it is different from other studies of Columbus Voyage that historically claim was to prove the earth round, to find a different trade rate or search for gold. Proving that Columbus was motivated by Christianity shows how powerful religious influence is in order to maintain a heightened awareness of future religious movements that could possibly be detrimental to society.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail for India and discovered what we know today as the West Indies. Columbus undertook the voyage so that he could meet with the Grand Khan and fulfill his wishes. The Grand Khan, Prince of Cathay hoped that he and his people could be converted to the holy faith of Christianity. Christopher Columbus penned in his journal, "[H]e and his ancestors had sent to Rome many times to ask for learned men of our Holy Faith to teach him."1
Carol Delany, professor emerita at Stanford University agrees that the Grand Khan and his conversion to Christianity was one of the main reasons Columbus undertook the voyage, but she believes the ultimate reason behind his four voyages was to dispossess Jerusalem from the Muslims that inhabited it. "Medieval Christians believed Jerusalem to be their rightful inheritance, given to them by Christ himself; it was outrageous that it was held by Muslims."2 Delany goes into further detail about how the Franciscan mission hoped to get the Grand Khan on their side to form an eastern flank to take Jerusalem as Europeans marched in from the west.3 Being a devote Christian, Columbus wanted to use the gold he would acquire from his trade with Khan after having converted his people into the Christian faith, to fund the crusade on Jerusalem. Columbus kept a journal of his travels to bring back to Queen Isabel and Ferdinand. In it he states his motivation for seeking India, "you thought of sending me, Christobal Colon, to the said regions of India to see the said princes and the peoples…to see how their conversion to our Holy Faith might be undertaken. And you commanded that I should not go to the East by land (because of the blockade by the Ottoman empire)…but by the route to the West, by which route we do not know for certain that anyone previously has passed."4 The message couldn't be any clearer, but Columbus continues to restate how conversion to Christianity is his main undertaking once he arrives to what he believes to be India. "I hold most serene Princes, that if devout religious persons were here, knowing the language, they would turn Christians."5 It has been taught in American schools that Columbus sailed west to prove that the earth was round. I aim to prove this is a fallacy while proving his true intentions of spreading Christianity. In the article, Science, Religion and Columbus's Enterprises of Indies, Pauline Moffit Watts writes historically the voyage of Columbus was looked at as being a case for scientific exploration. This type of thinking has been around for years. The myth was most notably given legs in the book written by Washington Irving, History of Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus published in 1828.6 Irving claims his book to be historical fact in which he undertook extensive research. The "flat-earth" theory was never mentioned in Columbus Journal. In fact, he opens his diary praising the Queen about being able to capture Alhambra from the Moors and dispossess the Jews of their land all in the name of Christianity. "I saw the Moorish King come out to the gates of the city and kiss the Royal Hands of Your Highnesses and… expelled all the Jews from all of your Kingdoms and Dominions."7 In studying Columbus's Journal even further, upon his first encounter with the natives of the new world, he writes, "I knew that they were a people who could be more easily freed and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force."8 His first penned response about the people he encountered related to the idea of converting them to Christianity. Columbus believed, as a devout Christian that being on the spiritual path of Christ was the only way to live in life. It was his duty to save the souls of those non-Christians in order to keep them from the gates of hell.9 And what better way to do that then by traveling an unknown, potentially dangerous route west through the vast ocean in order to recruit a great emperor, Grand Khan and his people to help aide in the fight of reclaiming what rightfully belonged to them, Jerusalem.
In the book, Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504 Laurence Bergreen states that Columbus' idea of the new world was based on visions he created from reading Marco Polo's Travels. Columbus found it to be the "pragmatic travel guide that Polo intended."10 Bergreen, however, doesn't equate that Columbus' interest in Polo runs deeper then just ideology of the famed explorer. Marco Polo met the Grand Khan when he was 17 when he accompanied his "father Nicolo and his uncle Maffeo to the kingdom of the Khan at Cathay...[b]ecause of the
Cans interest in Christianity."11 Marco Polo recorded this journey in his book Travels. He states that his party never made it to meet the grandson of Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan. The priests that traveled along with his father and uncle had to turn back because the journey was too much of an undertaking for them to handle. Khan never received his Christian counsel. Marco stated, "If the pope had sent out persons duly qualified to preach the gospel, the Great Khan would have embraced Christianity."12
1 Columbus, Christopher, John Cabot, and Gaspar Real. "The journal of Christopher Columbus (during his first voyage, 1492-93) and documents relating to the voyages of John Cabot and Gaspar Corte Real."London: Printed by Hakluyt Society, 1893, 16.
2 Delaney, Carol Lowery. Columbus and the quest for Jerusalem. (New York: Free Press, 2011), XV.
4 See note 1 above.
5 Ibid., 71.
6 Singham, Mano. "Columbus and the Flat Earth Myth."Phi Delta Kappan 88, no. 8 (April 2007): 590-592. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCO host (accessed November 10, 2012).
7 See note 1 above, 15.
8 See note 1 above, 37.
9 See note 2 above, XVI.
10 See note 2 above, 11.