Juan Perez (friar)

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Juan Pérez, O.F.M. Conv., (died before 1513) was a Spanish friar of the Conventual Franciscans and companion of Christopher Columbus.[1]


At one time Pérez held the office of contador (accountant) to the Queen of Spain, showing he was of noble family. Later he entered the Franciscan Order and Queen Isabella chose him for her confessor.

Finding court life distracting he asked permission to retire to his friary. Soon after he was elected guardian of the friary in La Rábida, near Palos in Andalusia. Father Francisco Gonzaga, Minister General of the Observant branch of the Order (1579–87), declared that La Rábida belonged to the Franciscan Custody of Seville, which, by decree of Pope Alexander VI on 21 September 1500, was raised to the rank of a province.

Here Christopher Columbus in 1484 or 1485 made the acquaintance of Pérez. Friar Antonio de Marchena, a cosmographer of some note, also lived there, and in him the navigator discovered a man bent on the project of discovering a new world. The historian Francisco López de Gómara in 1552 seems to have started the blunder, copied by almost every subsequent writer on the subject, of making the two names Perez and Marchena serve to describe one and the same person by speaking of the Father Guardian of La Rábida as Friar Juan Perez de Marchena.[2]

Both friars materially assisted Columbus, who acknowledges his obligation in one of his letters to the king and queen. He writes that everybody ridiculed him, save two friars who always remained faithful. Martín Fernández de Navarrete, indeed, claims that Columbus in this passage spoke of Pérez, the Franciscan, and Diego de Deza, the Dominican.[3]

It was Pérez who persuaded the navigator not to leave Spain without consulting Isabella, when, footsore and dispirited, he arrived at La Rábida, determined to submit his plan to the King of France. At the invitation of the queen, Pérez made a journey to Santa Fe for a personal interview with her. As a result, Columbus was recalled, and with the assistance of Cardinal Mendoza and others his demands were finally granted.

When the navigator at last on 3 August 1492, set sail in the Santa María, Pérez blessed him and his fleet. Some writers assert that Pérez accompanied Columbus on the first voyage, but the silence of Columbus on this point renders the claim improbable. It appears certain, however, that Pérez joined his friend on the second voyage in 1493. The earliest and best writers also agree: that when the second expedition reached Hispaniola, Pérez celebrated the first Mass in the New World at Point Conception on 8 December 1493, in a temporary structure; that this was the first church in America; and that Pérez preserved the Blessed Sacrament there.[4] He also became the guardian of the first friary which Columbus ordered to be erected in Santo Domingo. There all trace of him is lost. Whether he returned to La Rábida or died in America is uncertain. All we know is that, in the legal dispute between Diego and Columbus, the royal fiscal (attorney general), Dr. García Hernándes, testified in 1513 that Pérez was then dead.


  1. ^ Conventual Franciscans "Our History"
  2. ^ Charles Warren Currier, History of Religious Orders (1894), p. 661.
  3. ^ As the latter was Bishop of Palencia when the navigator wrote his letter, and Columbus on all other occasions speaks of him as Bishop of Palencia, or Lord Bishop, it would seem strange that in this one instance he should omit the title. Deza aided Columbus to the best of his ability among the scientists of Salamanca; but he could not prevent the adverse decision of the Spanish Court.
  4. ^ Conventual Franciscans "Conventual Tradition: The Conventual Franciscans in North America"
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Juan Perez". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.  The entry cites:
    • GONZAGA, De Origine Seraphicœ Religionis Franciscanœ, II (Rome, 1587);
    • LAS CASAS, Historia de las Indias (Madrid, 1875);
    • DAZA, Cronica General (Valladolid, 1611);
    • OLMO, Arbol Serafico (Barcelona, 1703);
    • MELENDEZ, Tesoros Verdaderos de las Indies (Rome, 1681);
    • HAROLD, Epitome Annalium Ordinis Minorum (Rome, 1662);
    • COLL, Colón y La Rábida (Madrid, 1892);
    • IRVING, Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (New York, 1868);
    • TARDUCCI, Life of Christopher Columbus, tr. BROWNSON (Detroit, 1891);
    • CIVEZZA, Storia Universale, V (Rome, 1861);
    • CLARKE, Old and New Lights on Columbus (New York, 1893)