Monday, October 13, 2008



To the right of Admiral Christopher Columbus is a picture of the Columbus Chapel in Boalsburg, PA, just outside of Penn State University.  The Boal Family (founders of Boalsburg) married a direct descendant of the legendary discoverer. 

When the Quincentenary occurred in 1992, Father Ken Brighenti and I had the distinct honor and privilege of celebrating a Latin Mass (Ordinary Form) on the altar in that museum, just a few hours from my parish.  Here is what the brochure we picked up said:

Colonel Theodore Davis Boal was married to Mathilde de Lagarde, a French and Spanish woman, and a niece of the family of Christopher Columbus.  One of Mathilde's ancestors had participated in the conquest of Peru and Ecuador after Pizarro's expedition in the 16th century.  His descendants settled in Cuba, and Mathilde's mother, also named Mathilde, was born in Cienfuegos, near which the family had extensive sugar plantations.  The elder Mathilde and her sister Victoria went to stay with their relatives in Madrid, where she married Count Ludovic Denis de Lagarde and Victoria married Don Diego Columbus, direct descendant of Christopher, Discoverer of America and possessor of the family chapel, its relics and heirlooms.  When the younger Mathilde married the young American architect, Theodore Davis Boal, she brought into the family many family heirlooms.  Her aunt, Dona Victoria Columbus, died widowed and childless and left part of her estate to her niece Mathilde, notably Don Diego Columbus' Chapel.      Colonel Boal decided to bring the inheritance to the United States.  He constructed a stone chapel building on his estate, and brought from Spain to Boalsburg the entrance door and the interior of the Columbus Chapel with everything it contained--fine paneling and woodwork, the choir loft (with a great escutcheon of the Columbus family on the railing, its colored panels showing the castle of Castile, the lion of Leon, the Admiral's anchors, the islands of the Indies, and the colors of Spain with an eagle), reredos, the altar draped with fine Spanish linen and lace, the massive silver crucifix, silk and brocade vestments (one maniple is over five hundred years old), sacred church vessels, including large candlesticks, a tabernacle, chalices and a monstrance, paintings attributed to Ribera and Ambrosius Benson among others, handcarved Saints, and family swords.

Of all these heirlooms, the greatest treasure of the Chapel is contained in a silver reliquary: it consists of two pieces of the True Cross which was presented to the Columbus family by the Bishop of Leon, as certified by his signed and sealed document dated 1817, which is on display in the Columbus Family Chapel at the Boal Estate.

For Christopher Columbus buffs, the history of the original Chapel within the family is of interest.  Christopher Columbus's son and heir Diego, Admiral and Viceroy of the Indies, was better situated at court than his father, enjoyed more continuously the royal protection of Ferdinand and Isabella, and married a granddaughter of the Duke of Alba.

To the Discoverer's son fell the wealth his father had earned.  Some of the gold that began to flow from the Indies was transmuted into estates and castles--the trappings of nobility for the Columbus family.  One of the castles was in northern Spain, in the bleak mountains of Asturias, high tide of the Moorish invasion.  Amid these mountains the Moors had built a fortified round tower, which went by the name of "Llamas del Moro" (Flames of the Moor).  When the Moors had been driven out, the Spaniards added to thus rugged structure a large stone castle, two stories high, with higher square towers at each corner.

In the castle was set aside a place of devotion.  There family relics and heirlooms were kept--furnishings and family swords among religious paintings and statuary--dedicated to the glory of God and to the patron saints who had protected the Columbuses from the perils of the sea and of the New World.  Fine wood was carved and gilded, silver was wrought, and each generation added something to what might already have been preserved
there from the days and voyages of Christopher and his son Diego: the little painted statues of saints, carved of wood and embellished with glass eyes, suitable to the narrow chapel-places of the ships of discovery; the small painted wooden crosses which could be used for processions or slipped onto pikestaffs to be planted on the beaches of islands taken in the name of the Sovereigns; the admiral's desk studded with gilt cockleshells, emblematic of St. James of Compostella--a saint particularly revered by Christopher Columbus.  Such a desk could be securely locked with its great key to protect the logs of the voyages; carried ashore or from ship to ship by its strong gilded handles; or open, would provide a surface on which to write those letters the explorers and administrators sent to encourage and reassure their royal patrons.  All of these items, including the desk purported to belong to Christopher Columbus, are now located in the Columbus Family Chapel in Boalsburg.

The Chapel also contains 165,000 pages of Columbus and related family archives dating from 1451 to 1902 which have been catalogued by faculty of the Pennsylvania State University.  At the foot of the stairs to the choir loft is an intricate family tree of the descendants of Christopher Columbus.  There are also some Columbus-period memorabilia in the Boal Mansion, including a painting of Columbus' grandson, Luis Columbus, and a painting of
Queen Isabella.


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