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Juan Perez

Franciscan; d. before 1513

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Perez, JUAN, d. before 1513. At one time he held the office of contador or accountant to the Queen of Spain, showing he was of noble family. Later he entered the Franciscan Order and distinguished himself for piety and learning. Queen Isabella chose him for her confessor. Finding court life distracting he asked permission to retire to his monastery. Soon after he was elected guardian of the convent, half a league from Palos in Andalusia, La Rabida (Arabian for hermitage, because it had once served as a Mohammedan place of retreat). In 1200 it came into the hands of the Knights Templar, who in 1221 ceded it to the Friars Minor. Father Francisco Gonzaga, Superior General of the Order (1579-87), declares that La Rabida became a Franciscan monastery in 1261; and that it belonged to the Franciscan Custody of Seville, which by Decree of Alexander VI, September 21, 1500, was raised to the rank of a province. The convent remained in charge of the Friars Minor without interruption until the general confiscation of religious houses in 1835. It is now the property of the nation, and used as a museum.

Here Christopher Columbus in 1484 or 1485 made the acquaintance of Perez. Father Antonio de Marchena, a cosmographer of some note, lived here, and in him the navigator discovered a man bent on the project of discovering a new world. The historian Francisco Lopez Gomara (q.v.) in 1552 seems to have started the blunder, copied by almost every subsequent writer on the subject, of making the two names Perez and Marchena serve to describe one and the same person by speaking of the Father Guardian of La. Rabida as Father Juan Perez de Marchena. Both fathers materially assisted Columbus, who acknowledges his obligation in one of his letters to the king and queen. He writes that everybody ridiculed him save two friars, who always remained faithful. Navarrete, indeed, claims that Columbus in this passage spoke of Perez, the Franciscan, and Diego de Deza, the Dominican. As the latter was Bishop of Palencia when the navigator wrote his letter, and Columbus on all other occasions speaks of him as Bishop of Palencia, or lord bishop, it would seem strange that in this one instance he should omit the title. Deza aided Columbus to the best of his ability among the scientists of Salamanca; but he could not prevent the adverse decision of the Spanish Court. It was Juan Perez who persuaded the navigator not to leave Spain without consulting Isabella, when, footsore and dispirited, he arrived at La Rabida, determined to submit his plan to the King of France. At the invitation of the queen, Perez made a journey to Santa Fe for a personal interview with her. As a result Columbus was recalled, and with the assistance of Cardinal Mendoza and others his demands were finally granted.

When the navigator at last on August 3, 1492, set sail in the Santa Maria, Perez blessed him and his fleet. Some writers assert that Perez accompanied his illustrious friend on the first voyage, but the silence of Columbus on this point renders the claim improbable. It appears certain, however, that Perez joined his friend on the second voyage in 1493. The earliest and best writers also agree: that when the second expedition reached Haiti, Father Perez celebrated the first Mass in the New World at Point Conception on December 8, 1493, in a temporary structure; that this was the first church in America; and that Father Perez preserved the Blessed Sacrament there. He also became the guardian of the first convent which Columbus ordered to be erected at Santo Domingo. There all trace of him is lost. Whether he returned to La Rebida or died in America is uncertain. All we know is that, in the legal dispute between Diego and Columbus, the royal fiscal, Dr. Garcia Hernandez, testified in 1513 that Father Perez was then dead.


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