After reading a social media posting from my friend Mike Shaw about the lunar eclipse Monday while waiting for the show to begin here, I went searching for an answer to his thoughts about how many people knew what famous explorer’s life was saved many years ago by an eclipse of the sun by the moon?
I wonder how many people could answer, even after taking several years of history during school years. I found an interesting article by Conner Madison and the answer to Mike’s question is that it was Christopher Columbus on his last voyage (his fourth), while exploring the coast of Central America.
I’ll admit that I’m no history expert on world history or Columbus, but thank goodness there are people, like Mike, who keep an eye out for interesting facts about our world history. With school just starting, I thought a history lesson might be in order.
The island where Columbus came ashore was northeast of Cuba that later became San Salvador and today is known as the tourist destination of Jamaica. While he was doing a little exploring, he came upon the Anawak Indians living there and later found that he was in big trouble.
He left Spain on May 11, 1502, with the ships, Capitana, Gallega, Vizcaina and Santiago de Palos. It was an epidemic of shipworms that ate holes in the wooden planks in the floor of his boat causing Columbus to land on the coast of the island on June 25, 1503.
At first, Madison said, the Arawak Indians were friendly with Columbus and his crew and provided food and shelter to them. But as their visit lingered into weeks, tensions got pretty tense. After six months, half of the crew were robbing and murdering some of the Indians who had become tired of sharing their corn and fish for little trinkets and were ready for the invaders to be on their way.
A highly regarded German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, Johannes Muller von Konigsberg, better known as Regiomontanus came to his aid in the form of a book, known as Regiomontanus’ almanac. Columbus had brought a copy of the almanac with him. He soon learned that on Thursday, Feb. 29, 1504, there would be a total lunar eclipse beginning around the time of moonrise.
Madison wrote that three days before the eclipse, Columbus requested a meeting with the Arawak chief and told him that his Christian god was very angry with his people for no longer supplying his men with food. He told the chief that “in three nights, he would all but obliterate the rising full moon, making it appear ‘inflamed with wrath’ which would signify the evils that would soon be inflicted upon all of them.”
On the night of the eclipse, as the sun set and the moon started emerging in the eastern sky, it was obvious that something was wrong. By the time the moon looked full, a small dark scallop had disappeared from the lower edge. About an hour later, a full darkness covered the moon and what Madison called a “bloody” appearance was visible instead of the brilliant late winter sun with a dim red ball in the eastern sky.
Columbus’ son, Ferdinand, documented that the Arawaks were terrified at the sight and left screaming and running in every direction including to the ships carrying food and asking Columbus to intercede with his god on their behalf. Columbus then shut himself in his cabin for about 50 minutes. While there he turned an hourglass every half hour to time the various stages of the eclipse based on Regiomontanus’ almanac calculations.
Just before the end of the eclipse Columbus reappeared and told the chief that his god had pardoned them and would allow the moon to gradually reappear. His men, according to the report were then well fed until a relief caravel from Hispaniola arrived on June 29, 1504. Columbus and his men as well as those on the caravel, spent nearly five months there before sailing back to Spain on Nov. 7. According to my dictionary, a caravel, was a “small, light sailing ship of the kind used by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 15th and 16th Centuries.”
Well, that’s the end of my story and my history lesson for the day. Hope you enjoyed the eclipse and wore your special glasses to get a glimpse of it.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at email@example.com. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.