Tour Of The Caribbean - The Tomb of Columbus
( Originally Published 1925 )
FROM near the Water Gate the main street of San Domingo slouches along to the Cathedral Square. This is an unkempt space laid out, in a half-hearted manner, as a public garden. It affords thereby a withered lounging place for languid and untidy idlers. Being graced by a theatrical statue of Columbus it takes to itself the name of the Parque Colon.
On one side of it is the cathedral, a dignified and solid structure built by the men who planted the banner of Castile upon the shores of the New World. It stands in this tawdry, meretricious park an august memorial of the adventurous spirit of old Spain. Its weather-stained walls are venerable enough, for its foundations were laid in 1514 and the last stone put in place twenty-six years later. Its roof is held up by noble pillars, while so vast is the fabric that in the recesses of its many chapels there hangs for ever the gloom of a tropic forest.
In the roof there is said to be embedded a cannon-ball fired from one of Drake's ships. Drake's ordnance is hugely flattered by this Iegend. The ball—if such be there—is more probably one that was dropped into the square by the English in 1809, when they were attempting to wrest the city from the possession of the French.
There leans against the wall in a side chapel a great, gaunt cross, nine feet high, made roughly of native wood. It might well have been fashioned by the axe of a devout pioneer, so simple is it. Cut in archaic figures on its front is the date MDXIV. This is said to be the identical cross set up to mark the site on which the cathedral was to be built. If this be true, it has stood within the shelter of these solemn walls for well-nigh 400 years. It has witnessed the shaking of those walls by more than one deathly earthquake. It has seen the great doors battered down by pirates, and the yelling horde pour into the solemn gloom with clatter of arms. It has witnessed the scurrying away of panting priests, the tearing down of images, the wolf-like scrambling over altar-plate. It may well be that some bare-legged ruffian, with a cutlass in his hand and a bloody cloth round his skull, has been brought to a stand before this austere emblem, and in making his obeisance has let drop at its foot the spoil he carried.
On more than one dark night, too, the shadow of the cross has been cast on the wall by a gleam that flickered through the stained-glass windows—the red glare of the burning city.
Beneath an overpowering modern monument of white marble, which reaches upwards out of sight and is brave with lions, shields, and mediaeval figures, is a bronze urn in which are deposited the remains of Christopher Columbus. The inscription on the casket runs thus :
" A Cristobal Colon : descobridor de America."
It is no profit to discuss here the authenticity of these relics. The great explorer died at Valladolid in 1506 and was buried there. Later his body was removed to the monastery of Las Cuevas at Seville. Thence his bones—after a rest of thirty years —started again on a voyage to the West Indies, to the Espanola of his troubles, and to this very church. Their subsequent journeyings matter little, nor is it worth while to follow the juggling and shuffling to which the weary remains of Christopher and his brother Diego have been subjected in recent times.
If he rests beneath this incense-mellowed roof, within sound of the sea and on the shore of that New World of his whose winter was " as May in Cordova," then his resting-place is fitting.