History : Aug-Sep 2015
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 17 MILESTONES A Friar Adventurer By the 1550s Spain was increasingly anx- ious to find a faster return route from Asia to the Americas. On a short list of options one man stood out as being capable of achieving this feat: Andrés de Urdaneta. Born in northern Spain, Urdaneta was a leading authority on ocean navigation. At 17 he had sailed with one of the many expeditions that failed to find a return route, and he had then spent almost a de- cade in East Asia. He used this time well, earning a reputation as a skilled leader with a spirit of adventure. Urdaneta studied indigenous languages, native navigation techniques, and the local weather. As at- tempt after attempt to recross the Pacific met with failure, he recognized the need to find a new route to Mexico. Urdaneta returned to Europe in 1536. Two years later he traveled back to the Americas, where he worked in various government jobs. Following a spiritual crisis in 1553 he became an Augustinian friar, but the religious life did little to quell his adventurous streak or his desire to re- turn to the Far East. In 1559 King Philip II of Spain backed an expedition across the Pacific. The viceroy of Mexico recruited Urdaneta to take part in the fateful voyage. The Voyage to the Philippines Over the next five years a fleet was built to Urdaneta’s specifications. The work was carried out in great secrecy so as not to alert the Portuguese. Miguel López de Legazpi commanded the expedition with Urdaneta in charge of navigation. On November 21, 1564, a fleet of four ships and 380 men set sail from the west coast Mexican port of Navidad. Five days out to sea Legazpi opened the king’s sealed orders; they commanded him to make for the Philippines, claim them, conquer them, and then attempt to find a return route to Mexico. Urdaneta felt tricked. He believed the Philippines rightfully belonged to the Portuguese and had moral qualms about participating in a mission in which Spain would conquer the archipelago. Never- theless, he was passionate about finding the elusive route, and Philip II’s orders relating to it were unequivocal: “The main goal of this voyage is to find the return CHINESE PORCELAIN VASE DATED TO THE MING DYNASTY (1368-1644) The route that Urdaneta discovered brought Chinese silk and porcelain to Mexico and from there to Spain. W ORONOZ/ALBUM PRISMA ARCHIVO SAILING THE GREAT SOUTH SEA IN 1513 VASCO NÚÑEZ DE BALBOA was the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean from the New World. He called it the South Sea, as the water seemed to stretch from the coast of Panama far off to the south. It was Ferdinand Magellan who later named it the Pacific because of the calm weather he experienced for the three months and 20 days of his crossing from Tierra del Fuego to the Mariana Islands in 1520-1521. MIGHTY GALLEONS in a 16th-century painting. With their low prows and high sterns, Spain’s battleship of choice clashed with Europe’s other powers in the race to rule the waves. AKG/ALBUM ANDRÉS DE URDANETA, EXPLORER AND SAILOR, SHOWN IN HIS AUGUSTINIAN FRIAR’S HABIT IN THIS 1890 PORTRAIT BY VÍCTOR VILLÁN DE AZA.