The Virgin of the Navigators is an alterpiece painted in 1536 by Alejo Fernandez for the chapel at the House of Trade in Seville. Under the protection of the Virgin are depicted King Ferdinand II of Aragon, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and, kneeling on the viewer’s right are Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci and one of the Pinzon Brothers. In the background are gathering the peoples of the New World. The painting was made five years after the appearance of Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico in 1531, and I wonder if word of this miracle had made its way back to Spain.
At any rate, I know Columbus would have loved the painting. All of his life he had a special devotion to Mary, as demonstrated by the name of his flagship, Santa Maria, and his strict observance of sailors singing Salve Regina at around 7:00 PM after saying their evening prayers. ( The full name of the Santa Maria was Santa Maria de la Imaculada Concepcion; Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception, which indicates that Columbus believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary.) On the return voyage from discovering the New World, when supplies were rapidly running out, Columbus and his crew promised pilgrimages to various Marian shrines if they made it back to Spain. In his will Columbus left a legacy to build a church dedicated to Saint Mary of the Conception on Hispaniola, a wish, alas, his executors did not carry out. Columbus would rarely write a letter without inserting this phrase: Jesus cum Maria sit nobis in via. (May Jesus with Mary be with us on the way.) Not a bad hope for all of us.