The Maravillas
1656


I. Sinking of the Capitana and Cargo Recovery

II. Capitana’s Treasure Transferred to Las Maravillas

III. Departure and Sinking

IV. 17th Century Salvage Attempts

V. 20th Century Salvage Attempts

Sinking of the Capitana and Cargo Recovery
The story of the Nuestra Senora de Las Maravillas (the “Maravillas”) actually began with a Spanish galleon called the Capitana. The Capitana set sail from South America in October 1654 headed for the Pacific coast of Panama. It carried a treasure of freshly minted gold escudos, silver pieces of eight, chalices of gold and silver, and crosses encrusted with emeralds. The main cargo, however, was a 400-pound, solid-gold statue of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus commissioned by King Philip IV of Spain. He believed he could buy his way into heaven by presenting the gold statue to the mother church in Spain. Unfortunately, the Capitana sank eight days later in a storm off the coast of Ecuador. The treasure lay in 40 feet of water and King Philip was adamant that it be recovered no matter what the cost. Slaves and divers recovered most of the treasure, including the solid-gold statue.

Capitana’s Treasure Transferred to Las Maravillas
The treasure recovered from the Capitana was shipped to Havana, where a larger fleet was preparing to set sail for Spain. To ensure that nothing would go wrong this time, King Philip had the treasure loaded on the 650-ton Maravillas (Nuestra Senora de Las Maravillas translates to Our Lady of Miracles)
 
Departure and Sinking
The Maravillas was blessed by the Archbishop of Havana and set sail for Spain on New Year’s Day, 1656 along with 22 armed warships. The chief navigator was sure they had cleared the sand shoals and coral reefs of the Bahamas when all of a sudden; a reef appeared on the horizon. A cannon was fired to warn the rest of the fleet to alter their course. Not all the ships responded to the warning and as the Maravillas came about, she was rammed head-on by a smaller ship. Water began pouring into the Maravillas’ hold and the masts of the two vessels became tangled. As the crews worked frantically to free the rigging, water continued to flood the Maravillas and she finally settled in 30 feet of water. The crew knew the treasure had to be saved. As plans were made to recover the treasure, a storm moved in and within hours the Maravillas disappeared into the sea. Only 45 of the crew survived and the king’s treasure was lost again. King Philip IV died in 1665 without ever recovering the solid-gold statue.

17th Century Salvage Attempts
The Spanish spent the next 40 years attempting to recover the treasure with little success.
 
20th Century Salvage Attempts
During the last century, the Maravillas shipwreck has been salvaged twice – first in the 1970’s and again in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. The first salvage recovered a few gold escudos from the Santa Fe de Bogota mint, silver cobs, and countermarked Potosi coinage. The second salvage yielded over 70 gold escudos from the Santa Fe de Bogota mint, silver cobs from Potosi and Mexico, and several important artifacts. Some believe the bulk of the treasure (over 5 million pesos) remains to be found.
 
©2008 BBWS, Inc.

 

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