Hernando Colón, el hombre que amaba lo libros

Ferdinand Columbus was the youngest son of Christopher Columbus. He was born in Cordoba in 1488, his mother was from that city. He was the illegitimate son of the Discoverer, but his father recognized him and they always had a close relationship. He died in Seville in 1539 and is buried in its Cathedral.

Ferdinand (in Spanish Hernando or Fernando) lived in Seville almost all his life and was famous not only for being the son of the most famous navigator in History but for his own merits. He was Canon of the Cathedral of Seville, he rubbed shoulders with the most cultured in Europe such as Erasmus of Rotterdam or Antonio de Nebrija. He was a cosmographer, botanist, historian, poet, traveler, he created the most important library of his time and upon his death passed the Cathedral of Seville with the name of the Columbine Library. Because more than anything he was a bibliophile, that is, a lover and collector of books.

Its library was famous throughout Europe, today it is known by the name of the Biblioteca Colombina or Columbine Library and has been kept in the Cathedral of Seville since the end of the 16th century. Originally it was made up of 15000 volumes. It was located in his Sevillian house next to the Puerta de Goles, one of the doors of Seville that years later was called the Puerta Real when King Felipe II entered the city through it. This house was a focus of cultural and scientific activity. Apart from literary gatherings, it included an academy of mathematics and a botanical garden with many of the plants from which came from the New World these early years.

Hernando Colón, el hombre que amaba lo libros

In the nearby Monastery of La Cartuja, where his father Cristobal had prepared his trip and would be buried for a few years, Hernando planted a tree that is still preserved today and would therefore be the oldest in Seville. It is an ombu or Bella Sombra (Beautiful Shade), with the scientific name Phytolaca Dioica. Today we have a statue of Christopher Columbus next to the centennial tree.

Seville in the XVI Century

Hernando Colón, el hombre que amaba lo libros

This Seville where Hernando Colon lived and died was the most cosmopolitan city in Europe and one of the most populated. All thanks to the departure and arrival of ships
from the Indies. Since the Casa de la Contratacion (House of Trade9 was established here in 1503 to control travel and commerce with the new world, the city experienced
a significant economic takeoff and consequently an impressive activity not only commercial but scientific and cultural. Here lived the doctor Nicolas Monardes, who
introduced new products to Europe (tobacco, cocoa, potatoes, corn …) from the new world, his tomato crops were famous, the first ones in Europe. Here was the printing
press of Cromberger, one of the most important in Spain. Seville was the perfect place for Ferdinand to develop his passion for books.

He was therefore a true man of the Renaissance, a humanist and one of the most educated Sevillians of his time. Organized and thorough. His great project could not finish it. It was the Book of the Epitomes, in which he was going to summarize each one of the books that he had in his library.

Its famous 15,000 volume library, however, is not fully preserved. In 1522 Hernando had traveled all over Europe buying books. He sent them to Spain by boat from Italy, with the misfortune that the ship was wrecked and the books ended up at the bottom of the sea. It seems that more than 1500 were lost.

Others were lost at various times since they were not directly donated to the Cathedral. But there are around 4000 that are kept at the Colombina Institution, named after him, although he would have preferred it to be called Hernandina or Fernandina. This does not mean that he denied his last name, he was always very proud of his father. Hernando at the age of 13 accompanied his father Christopher on his fourth trip to the Indies, and later his older brother Diego, Governor of Hispaniola, today Santo Domingo. He was also interested in science. He worked as a cosmographer at the service of Emperor Carlos V. Humanities and Science, perfect combination for a typical Renaissance man.

The “Institution Colombina”

Hernando Colón, el hombre que amaba lo libros

But his best legacy is that library in which several thousand copies of his books are kept. It is on Alemanes street and is an annex to the Cathedral. A simple door is marked with the name of Institucion Colombina. Inside there is a treasure, yes, reserved for historians and researchers who make a pilgrimage here from all over the world. Among his most valuable books are those he inherited from his father Christopher. And many of them are incunable books.

What are incunable books?

Hernando Colón, el hombre que amaba lo libros

The name comes from Latin: in the cradle. These first books were in their infancy since they are the books printed between the invention of the printing press in 1440 by Guttemberg and the year 1500. In addition, a technique with movable types was used, which makes them unique. There are not many and their value is incalculable.

Books on the shelves of the Columbine:

  • The Imago Mundi or Image of the World by Pierre de Aylly that was very popular in his time, on astronomy and geography. In it, the 14th century French Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly stated that the ocean was not as wide as previously thought and could be crossed in a few days. We can imagine that this theory attracted the interest of Christopher Columbus. in fact it was one of the books that Columbus consulted the most before going west and finding a continent. And he even made handwritten annotations in its margins.
  • The Castilian Grammar of Antonio de Nebrija. It was the first work dedicated to the study of the Spanish language and its rules. It was printed in 1492 and therefore considered incunables.
  • Marco Polo’s Book of Wonders, which had been the other major major expedition thus far. The Venetian merchant Marco Polo, following the Silk Road, reached the Far East in the thirteenth century and this led to a knowledge of exotic cultures until then almost unknown.
  • The Historia Rerum, which we can translate as: the History of all Things. It was like an encyclopedia of its time written in the 15th century by Pope Pius II, Piccolomini.
  • The Book of Prophecies. It is not really printed but it is a parchment bound manuscript, it is a collection of biblical texts, church fathers and classics with which Columbus tries to prove that the discovery of the New World had been prophesied in the Bible.
  • Ars Moriendi. It was a popular book in a time of great deaths since it was a kind of guide on “good dying”. Through instructive engravings a series of advice was given on how to pass to the next life in the most Christian way.

The library also includes books from classical antiquity such as Pliny’s Natural History or Virgil’s Aeneid.

In short, the Columbine Institution is a hidden gem in the heart of Seville that tells us about this great book lover who was Ferdinand Columbus