Newstory:Columbus' Bell For Sale|
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Bell from Columbus’ ship heads for auction
By DANIEL WOOLLS
Associated Press writer
MADRID, Spain — For sale: one ship’s bell. First user: Columbus.
Bidding starts at $1 million when that bronze artifact from the Santa Maria, the flagship of Christopher Columbus’ historic 1492 voyage, goes to auction Feb. 20 in Madrid.
The bell belongs to an Italian diver, Roberto Mazzara, who found it in a shipwreck off Portugal’s coast in 1994 and did years of detective work to prove it is the bell that tolled when Columbus arrived in America.
A Barcelona auction house expects about 10 bidders to vie for the one-of-a-kind piece.
It’s the oldest ship’s bell ever recovered and the only known relic from Columbus’ first trans-Atlantic voyage.
Turquoise rust cakes much of the bell after spending 450 years underwater. A gaping hole with jagged edges mars the top half of the bell, which is about 10 inches tall and 10 inches in diameter. The bell weighs about 31 pounds.
Is it for real? Yes, said Claudio Bonifacio, a shipwreck expert who has done extensive research as a consultant on this and other sunken treasure cases at the Archive of the Indies, the official record of Spain’s colonial era.
Mazzara, 41, and another diver found the bell while searching for a gold-laden Spanish galleon, the San Salvador, which sank off northern Portugal en route to Spain in 1555.
In July 1994, Mazzara’s colleague spotted a small arc of metal peaking out of the seabed in just 25 feet of water, about 150 yards from the beach.
Mazzara said his buddy yanked on the metal so hard it broke — apparently causing at least part of the hole that mars the bell today.
Mazzara was puzzled. The bell had been found in what was the San Salvador’s cargo section rather than its mast, where it should have been if it had been the galleon’s bell.
Also, the bell was too small and plain for such a powerful, well-armed vessel.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘This thing should not be here,’ ” Mazzara said.
An important clue appeared on the bell itself. The small hole at the top, for hanging the bell, showed signs of erosion caused by a metal object. While in use on the ship, the bell would have hung from rope, so there should be no erosion.
The use of metal — nails, which were square back then and thus abrasive in the hole — suggested the bell was attached to a wall or tree. At some point, someone in Spain decided the bell should be brought home.
Mazzara hypothesized — and Bonifacio and other academics agreed — that the bell was used at the fort Columbus ordered built on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The bell was taken ashore when the Santa Maria ran aground Dec. 25, 1492, along with wood from the ship, to build the fortress named Navidad, or Christmas.
Archives of the Indies documents and other records show that in 1555, Columbus’ grandson Luis was expecting a shipment of family belongings from Santo Domingo, the city founded on Hispaniola. In addition, the manifest from the San Salvador, the wreck Mazzara found, said the cargo included a bell from a fortress called Navidad.