Oct 02, 2019 Print this article

10 Things People Get Wrong About Columbus

Every Columbus Day is the same: Christopher Columbus is attacked. His statues are desecrated. Public monuments in his honor are threatened or removed. Every year, more states and cities change Columbus Day to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” or “Native Americans’ Day.” And left-wing professors smear the once-revered hero who discovered America in 1492.

Should Columbus be vilified instead of honored? Was he really a villain? Should we believe these attacks on his good name and character?

This post will debunk the most common lies about Columbus.

Myth #1: Columbus was sailing to prove the world was round.

Everyone in Columbus’s time knew the earth was a sphere. This fact was known since antiquity. Scholars disagreed about its size. Based on the known world, Columbus underestimated it by one fourth.

In the late nineteenth century, enemies of Christianity spread the lie that medieval men believed in a flat earth. They claimed that because people in Columbus’s time were religious, they were therefore crude and ignorant. These enemies wanted to discredit the Church by portraying it as the enemy of science. But Christopher Columbus, a deeply religious man, would be the first to disagree.

Myth #2: The Indians lived in peace and harmony, ruined by Columbus and his fellow Europeans.

History tells us otherwise. War, slavery, cannibalism, and sexual immorality were all common practices among the Indians. As the Spanish would later find out, human sacrifice and infanticide were the norm among other Indians, like the Aztecs. The Aztecs slaughtered upwards of 20,000 in a single day sacrificing many of their enemies by removing their still-beating hearts.

On Columbus’s second voyage, he brought the first of many Catholic missionaries. These men tried to convert the Indians from their barbaric pagan practices. Many missionaries suffered martyrdom to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Myth #3: Columbus brought slavery to the New World.

Slavery was widely practiced by the Indians when Columbus arrived. Reading Columbus’s log, it is clear he insisted on the fair treatment of the people he encountered. Upon his first meeting with the natives on San Salvador, Columbus concludes, “I recognized that they were people who would be better freed [from error] and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force.”

The mass importation and subjugation of Africans did not begin until long after Columbus’s death.

Myth #4. Columbus was responsible for genocide, deliberately wiping out millions.

Genocide is defined as the deliberate systematic and widespread extermination of a national, racial, religious, or ethnic group.

Yes, many Indians died in the initial contact with Europeans. However, any talk of deliberate extermination on the part of Columbus is a lie. Columbus always treated the natives fairly, even when some of his contemporaries did not. Indian conquests among themselves had been going on long before the arrival of the Spanish. Columbus actually helped to establish the foundations for the fair treatment of the conquered.

The real culprit of so many deaths, however, is tied to the next lie.

Myth #5: Columbus and his men deliberately spread diseases.

Wait…weren’t people back then crude and ignorant? If they did not know if the world was round, how did they know how to spread disease? No one knew what a germ was until Louis Pasteur discovered them in 1870, over 350 years later. Columbus and his contemporaries could not have deliberately spread diseases they themselves did not understand.

Myth #6: Columbus was a philanderer.

This allegation was first made 200 years after Columbus’s death, and has been repeated ad nauseum. Columbus had jealous rivals who would have taken advantage of any sign of marital impropriety to defame him. On this point, however, his enemies are silent.

Columbus’s first wife died shortly after the birth of his first son, Diego, in 1477. After he moved to Spain, he married Beatriz de Arana in 1487. His son Fernando was born the following year. All evidence indicates Beatriz de Arana was Columbus’s lawfully wedded wife. Some of her relatives served aboard Columbus’ ships.

Columbus lived out the Catholic Church’s teaching on chastity in one’s state in life. In Columbus’ own language, sins of impurity would consign souls to eternal punishment.

Myth #7: Columbus didn’t discover anything. He died thinking he had found Asia.

Yes, the Vikings and others before him came and visited these lands. However, to discover means to uncover, or make known. The illiterate Vikings never wrote about or told others of their travels. Knowledge of cartography, navigation, and wind patterns in America did not exist until Columbus came and discovered. The Indians were ignorant of the extent of the lands they occupied and the world at large. Columbus deserves credit for establishing lasting contact between the continents.

On his third and fourth voyages, Columbus wrote about finding something new. He spent his last voyage trying to find a passage between North and South America. Though his name was not given to the continent, it’s a lie to claim he died thinking he had found Asia.

Myth #8: What Columbus did was nothing special. Anybody could have sailed west to the Americas.

Only after Columbus opened the way did others have the courage to sail to the Americas. What Columbus did was risky. He spent years finding money for the voyage. Despite many obstacles, he never gave up.

He firmly believed it was his God-given mission to explore new lands and bring the light of the Gospel. His first prayer on reaching land was:

“O Lord, eternal and omnipotent God, Thou hast, by Thy holy word, created the heavens, the earth, and the sea; blessed and glorified be Thy name; praised be Thy majesty, who hast deigned that, by means of Thy unworthy servant, Thy sacred name should be acknowledged and made known in this new quarter of the world.”

Myth #9: Columbus was sailing to become wealthy, seeking gold, spices, and other valuables.

Yes, Columbus sought gold and other valuables, but not for personal gain. After he founded La Navidad on the island of Hispaniola on December 25, 1492, he writes:

“I hope to God that when I come back here from Castile, I will find a barrel of gold, for which these people have traded, and that they will have found the gold mine, and the spices, and in such quantities that within three years the Sovereigns will prepare for and undertake the reconquest of the Holy Land. I have already petitioned Your Highnesses to see that all the profits of my enterprise should be spent on the conquest of Jerusalem, and Your Highnesses smiled and said that even without the expedition they had the inclination to do it.”

The Muslims were finally pushed out of Spain in 1492.

Columbus sailed for a much higher goal than wealth. His greatest unfulfilled desire was to reclaim Jerusalem and the Holy Land where Christ shed His most precious blood.

Historian George Grant concludes: “Christopher Columbus wasn’t sailing to find a New World, but to find a way to rescue the old.”

Myth #10: Columbus died a pauper in a Spanish prison.

Columbus had considerable wealth as he approached death. On May 20, 1506, the Vigil of the Ascension, Columbus, a third-order Franciscan, lay on his deathbed in his apartment at Valladolid, surrounded by his fellow Franciscans and his sons. As the friars chanted Compline, his last words echoed those of Christ on the cross: In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum. Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.

The Real Target: Christianity

Christopher Columbus is treated as a scapegoat. The real target is Christianity, which formed Western civilization. Christians and all men of good will should have no qualms about celebrating Columbus Day. We need to fight back, giving due honor to this great man who spread the Gospel and civilized a hemisphere.

In a letter after Columbus’ first voyage, he gives us the best reason to continue celebrating:

“Let Christ rejoice upon earth as he does in heaven, to witness the coming salvation of so many people, heretofore given over to perdition. Let us rejoice for the exaltation of our faith, as well as for the augmentation of our temporal prosperity, in which not only Spain but all Christendom shall participate.”


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Lawrence Keeley: War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage. Oxford University Press, 1996.

Ann Ramenofsky: Death by Disease. Archaeology, Mar/Apr 1992. https://web.archive.org/web/20...

Fr. John Hardon, SJ Christopher Columbus, The Catholic. 1992. http://www.therealpresence.org...

Clark Hinckley: Christopher Columbus: A Man Among the Gentiles. Deseret Book, 2014.

Pope Leo XIII: Quatuor Abeunte Saeculo (On Christopher Columbus). https://www.papalencyclicals.n...

Xavier Donald Macleod: History of the Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in North America. p. 1-3. Virtue & Yorston, 1866.

Carol Delaney: Columbus’s Ultimate Goal: Jerusalem. https://www.amherst.edu/system...

George Grant: The Last Crusader: The Untold Story of Christopher Columbus, Crossway Books, 1992.

Roselly de Lorgues: The Life of Christopher Columbus: From Authentic Spanish and Italian Documents p. 541-543. Catholic Publication Society, 1870. https://archive.org/details/li...