Ministero dei Beni delle Attivitą Culturali e del Turismo Direzione Generale Biblioteche e Istituti Culturali

Christopher Columbus' ashes

Christopher Columbus' ashesIn a small pyramidal casket closed in the safe of the University Library of Pavia, including books, papers and handwritten documents, Christopher Columbus rests. Or at least, here they found shelter some of his remains: a tiny fragment of his bones. Among the many mysteries surrounding the origin, life and death of the discoverer of the Americas there is also this splinter of Pavia.

In Pavia the ashes of Columbus arrived because until the XIX century it was believed that he had been a student of our university, as reported by his son Ferdinando. In fact, apart from the text of the child and another student who quotes him, no document proofs this circumstance. It can’t be demonstrate: the stay in Pavia is not mentioned neither in the biography of Colombus, nor in the book on the New World written by a professor of the time Nicolo’ Scillacio, not even on the rolls of the University. The son Ferdinando wanted perhaps to ennoble his father’s origins.

The fact is that, although on the basis of a mistaken belief, the remains arrived in Pavia in 1880 delivered by the apostolic nuncio to the Library. To celebrate the event, a monument to Columbus still present in one of the courtyards of the University was erected. It is uncertain, however, whether it is just the remains of the great explorer who even after death continued to travel.

Columbus in fact, died in Valladolid in 1506. In 1509 he is transported to Seville in the Monastery of Santa Maria Las Cuevas. The family, however, strives to carry it in Santo Domingo, as the discoverer had always wanted. The transfer takes place between 1537 and 1559. Here, together with those of his son Diego, the remains of Columbus stay until 1795: when the island of Santo Domingo passes to the French, those who are believed as the remains of Columbus are brought into the Cathedral of Havana. Once again, the history does not give peace to the traveler: in 1898 the island of Cuba is occupied by the United States and the body is transported to Seville. Meanwhile, in 1877, in Santo Domingo, while the restoration of the cathedral is ongoing, a box with human remains is discovered. On the cover there is the inscription "Cristobal Colon". Plot twist: whose remains are the ones already arrived in Seville? For historians (but not for the Spanish) they are those of his son Diego. From Santo Domingo, some bones leave heading Pavia, others heading Genoa.

Thanks to these remains a young researcher from Voghera, Natalia Lugli, was able to show in 2007, that Christopher Columbus was Italian and Lombard. Her work, based on over 100 DNA analysis taken from the saliva of many men - Piedmont, Liguria and Lombardy - with surname Colombus, have shown that the great navigator was Lombard as Lombard is the origin of his last name. And so the permanence of Columbus in Pavia is true. Son of a woolen or a prince (and someone says Pope Innocent VIII), uncultured man or educated thanks to the lessons followed at the Pavia University, buried in Seville or Santo Domingo (and from there arrived in Pavia): a life and death shrouded in mystery.