Gonçalo Velho Cabral

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Gonçalo Velho)
Jump to: navigation, search
Gonçalo Velho
Gonçalo Velho Cabral
Statue of Goncalo Velho Cabral alongside the city gates in Ponta Delgada, on the island of São Miguel (Azores), Portugal
1st Captain-Donatário of the Islands of Santa Maria and São Miguel
Monarch John I
Alphonso V
Succeeded by João Soares de Albergaria
1st Commander of the Islands of the Azores
Personal details
Born 1400
Died 1460
Citizenship Kingdom of Portugal
Nationality Portuguese
  • Brites Godins
  • Branca de Sousa Falcão
Relations Parents
  • Fernão Velho
  • Maria Álvares Cabral
Religion Roman Catholic
Military service
Allegiance Kingdom of Portugal

Gonçalo Velho Cabral (c. 1400 – c. 1460) was a Portuguese monk and Commander in the Order of Christ, explorer (credited with the discovery of the Formigas, the re-discovery of the islands of Santa Maria and São Miguel in the Azores) and hereditary landowner responsible for administering Crown lands on the same islands, during the Portuguese Age of Discovery.


Early life[edit]

He was son of Fernão Velho, Lord and Alcaide of Veleda, and his wife Maria Álvares Cabral (great-aunt of Pedro Álvares Cabral). His siblings Álvaro Velho Cabral, Teresa Velho Cabral, wife of Fernão Soares de Albergaria, and Violante Velho Cabral, wife of Diogo Gonçalves de Travassos also established settlements in the Azores with their families. Although referenced as Gonçalo Velho Cabral in most modern biographies, he is generally referred to as Gonçalo Velho in historical documents.


In 1431, Gonçalo Velho was in the Vila de Tancos, along the Tagus River, when he received a summons[1] from the Prince Henry, Governor of the Order of Christ, who ordered him to depart from Sagres in a caravel, by Infante D. Henrique, with instructions to navigate to the western sea, and to "discover some land, [and] return with notice".[2] This first voyage was made to determine the location of "islands" first identified by the Portuguese pilot Diogo de Silves, in 1427.[3] Although the noted chronicler Gaspar Frutuoso has attributed to Gonçalo Velho Cabral the discovery of the seven islands of the Azores, modern historiographer contest this record, limiting his discoveries to the eastern islands alone. In 1431, with less than a few days of travel, Gonçalo Velho discovered a scattering of rocky outcroppings, which he examined and were later named the "Formigas". He quickly returned to Sagres, probably due to bad weather.

The following year, and during the reign of his brother (King D. Duarte) the Infante, D. Henrique, founded of the nautical school in the provincial village of Sagres. Gonçalo Velho Cabral was one of the mariners and monks, in the devotion to the Virgin Mary that worked for the Infante. On his orders, Cabral was sent to search the Ocean Sea to discover new territories for the Portuguese Crown, promising to name the first island to the Virgin. Gonçalo Velho Cabral scanned maps and nautical charts for days while at sea, noting the currents and wind directions, during several nights, through storms and gales in search of these mythical lands identified by the Greeks outside the Pillars of Hercules.

Finally, on the morning of August 15 (the Feast day of the Virgin Mary), a supposedly calm, warm and clear day, the mariners and seamen could see for large distances. In the distance, though, the mate in the Crow's nest could see along the horizon a cloudy form, which progressively grew in dimensions and darkened, taken on a distinctive form. Finally, when the seaman realized beyond doubt, he yelled down to the crew, Terra à vista! (Land in sight!). As was the custom, Gonçalo Velho Cabral and his crew began their day with morning mass, benedictions and oratory to God and the Virgin Mary, to help them on their journey and to request their assistance in finding land. As the legend suggests, as the seaman yelled out his discovery the crew was saying the Ave Maria and were just pronouncing "Santa Maria" when the cry was heard. The commander considered it a miracle and, remembering the promise he had made, named the island as Santa Maria.

With his crew he disembarked on a small beach in the north-western part of the island, which he named Lobos owing to the existence of many Eared seals (from the Portuguese for lobos-marinhos). As was the obligation, the Captain ordered the release of herd animals on the island for future colonization, a point that was later repeated in successive voyages through the archipelago's islands. His group circled and explored the island, examining the forested interior, before finally returning to continental Portugal. For his discovery, Gonçalo Velho was given the hereditary fief (Portuguese: capitania) of the island of Santa Maria.[4]

In the following year, on the island of Santa Maria, a runaway slave, upon reaching the summit of a mountain, noticed another object in the northern horizon. As the story suggested, the slave returned to his master telling of the story, who along with others, verified the sighting and eventually related it back to the court of Prince Henry the Navigator, of a mysterious island. The Infante, upon receiving the communique, sent orders to Gonçalo Velho to explore the sea to the north of the island. He made port in Praia dos Lobos on Santa Maria, before embarking to discover a large island, that he named São Miguel on 8 May. His expedition landed at the mouth of a large ravine in the southeast corner of the island (that was later named Povoação Velha), naming the island in honor of the archangel Michael.


The island's settlement, as that of Santa Maria, only began after Gonçalo Velho became the Capitain-Donatário, and began to settle Santa Maria with colonists in 1439, and later São Miguel in 1444. During this period he ordered the burning/clearing of lands and donated vast tracts of lands to family members and loyal servants, who began to cultivate wheat, raised honey bees and planted grapevines from Crete.[4] On 3 April 1443, King Afonso V of Portugal, on the request of the Infante, bestowed on Gonçalo Velho for five-years the title of Commander of the Islands of the Azores, and tasked its settlers to pay a tithe while ordering the transport of all goods to the Kingdom.[4]


His sister Teresa's only child João Soares de Albergaria, a physician by profession, succeeded Gonçalo Velho Cabral as second Donatary Captain of Santa Maria and São Miguel; João Soares was married twice: to Brites Godins (d. 1474), with whom they had no heirs, and later Branca de Sousa Falcão (daughter of João de Sousa Falcão, Lord de Figueiredo and Lord of the Manor de Fataúnços) whose son inherited the Capitania of Santa Maria.


  1. ^ Prince Henry's summons was based on a general acceptance of the commander's virtues and prudence, that made him trustworthy.
  2. ^ Ignacio da Costa Quintella (1839), p.74
  3. ^ It was believed that Gonçalo Velho was the discoverer of the first seven Azores islands, in 1432, until the Portuguese historian Damião António Peres established that the first discoveries had occurred in 1427, after a reading of a Gabriel de Valsequa nautical chart of 1439, which credited Diogo de Silves with first identifying the islands.
  4. ^ a b c Carlos Melo Bento (2008), p.20
  • Bento, Carlos Melo (2008), História dos Açores: Da descoberta a 1934 (in Porutguese), Ponta Delgada (Azores), Portugal 
  • Furtado-Brum, Ângela (1999). Açores, Lendas e Outras Histórias [Azores: Legends & Other Histories] (2nd ed.). Ponta Delgada, Azores: Ribeiro & Caravana Editores. pp. 25–26. ISBN 972-97803-3-1. 
  • Quintella, Ignacio da Costa (1839). Annaes da Marinha Portugueza por Ignacio da Costa Quintella, Vice-Almirante da Armada Real, Conselheiro d'Estado Honorario, Conselherio do Real Conselho da Marinha, e Socio Honorario da Academia Real das Sciençias [Annals of the Portuguese Navy] (in Portuguese). Lisbon: Academia Real das Sciençias, Typografia. 
  • Lima, G. (1926). Frei Gonçalo Velho: O centenário dos Açores. Angra do Heroísmo, Azores: Tip. Insulana Editora. 

External links[edit]