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Someone special: the pilot Andrés de San Martín



Moretti’s transcript of Pigafetta's relation, in Italian in the original: "our astrologer named Sanmartino of Seville".



Route of the Loaysa Expedition, highlighting the day in which Juan Sebastian Elcano died in the Pacific Ocean.

The Pilot of His Highness, Andrés de San Martín, is mentioned several times throughout the better known sources about the journey, such as Pigafetta’s Relation, or the chronicle of Antonio de Herrera. However, there are few references to his role as a pilot and cosmographer, which included determining the geographical longitude on the coast of Brazil. We suspect that San Martín stood out from the other pilots of the House of Trade who were also part of the crew, despite not being cited as much.

We will also read that he found death in Cebu (Philippines) along with 26 other companions, in that infamous night where, after an invitation from the natives to eat, the attendees were betrayed and murdered.


However, we can find other archived documents in which we obtain details that both astonish and excite us, and of which there is only one conclusion: Andrés de San Martín was a special and beloved man, undoubtedly by Juan Sebastián Elcano, but surely also by the other expedition members.



In Elcano’s will, “if he were found”.

In 1526, Elcano found death in the Pacific Ocean during his second trip to the Moluccas. A few days before he had dictated his will and in it he remembered his friend, who was officially considered dead. It is clear that, since Elcano had not seen San Martín dead, he hoped for him to still be alive after that day in Cebu.



Accounts of the officers of the House of Trade of the box of clove they received, and for which they paid an amount of 88,587 maravedies to the brother of Andrés de San Martín.


"Another item, an astrology book, and if Andrés de San Martín were to be found, he will be given the two books."


“Item, I command that three yards of coloured cloth from London must be given to Andrés de San Martín, for a coat”.

It is very moving. It also shows how painful it must have been for the ships to separate in Cebu.


A box of spices in his name

After the trip concluded, the officers of the House of Trade registered the accounts of the salary that had to be paid to the expedition members. With great detail, they wrote down the days served, and calculated based on the monthly salary stipulated for each one the resulting amount that they had to be paid, adding, in the case of the survivors, the sum that was collected by the clove that each of them brought in a personal capacity.



It is striking that in the case of Andrés de San Martín there was a box loaded with clove in his name. Someone who returned to the ship Victoria took care of filling his friend's box with clove, and delivering it in his name upon arrival in Seville. Cristóbal, brother of Andrés de San Martín and his heir, received nothing less than 88,587 maravedies, a sum that today would amount to approximately € 100,000.


Favour of the Emperor Charles V to the daughter of Andrés de San Martín

The facts show that the Emperor appreciated San Martín, as he did something unheard of: in the year 1530, eight years after the trip ended, he commanded that the daughter of Andrés de San Martín, Juana, were paid 12,000 maravedies as a support for her wedding. Because she was still a child at that time, the money had to be kept by his uncle Cristobal until the moment of the union.

“It is commanded to you [officers of the House of Trade] that from the maravedies there were in the House, or from the first that came in, twelve thousand were deposited as a favour to Juana de San Martín, daughter of Andrés de San Martín, pilot, who went with Ferdinand of Magellan to the discovery of the Islands of Spices, as a support to her wedding, for the help provided by his father during the journey”.


ES.41091.AGI / 23.15.2019 // INDIFFERENT, 1952, L.1, F.87


Hernán Cortés’ assistance to Elcano and the Trinidad

ternate, tidore

In 1526, five years after Tenochtitlan was taken, Hernán Cortés was writing from New Spain to the Emperor Charles V to inform him that he had built four ships on the Pacific coast, and that they were ready to begin a voyage of discovery.

At that time, Elcano had been heading back to the Moluccas for a year, in order to trade and settle a permanent Spanish position there, in the so-called Loaysa Expedition.

In addition, a third Spanish expedition with the same purpose had also set sail, commanded by Sebastian Caboto.


Elcano and the other survivors of the ship Victoria had reported that the rest of the crew of the captain ship of Magellan’s armada, who were going to try to return through the Pacific, were still in the Moluccas. However, four years had passed and they had not heard from them yet ... or maybe they had.

The Emperor Charles V responded to the letter of Hernán Cortés on June 20, 1526, asking him to direct his ships to the Moluccas with a two-fold goal:

  • Find out what had happened to the crew of Magellan’s Trinidad, from whom there had been no news yet.

  • Support and bring news about the success of the expeditions of Loaysa and Caboto, who were heading there at that time.


Cortés names his cousin, Álvaro de Saavedra, captain of the expedition, to whom he leaves written in May of 1527 the instructions that he must follow in his trip. In this document we observe that he knows new details about Magellan’s men and the Moluccas that the Emperor had not told him in his letter of June 1526, referring to an instruction from the Emperor that apparently has not lasted.

“because one of the instructions of H.M, says (…) he has been informed that the Portuguese have a fortress in one of those said islands of the Moluccas”.


It is very possible that this information was received by the Emperor through the letter dated January 1525, two years before, written by the captain Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa from the Portuguese prison of Cochin (India), after he had been captured whilst trying to return with the Trinidad, captain of Magellan’s expedition:

“Sir, the homage tower of the fortress of the Moluco is fourteen feet wide; I measured it with my feet.”

While the ships are being rigged and crew members are being sought, Cortes has news of the arrival on the Pacific coast of New Spain of a Spanish boat, the Santiago, with Captain Santiago de Guevara in command.

The Santiago turns out to be one of Loaysa's ships, which had been left alone in a storm in the middle of the Pacific. Because it was smaller, it depended on the captain ship, so it did not have enough food to get to the Moluccas, and it went to New Spain in a hurry to prevent the crew from dying of hunger.

With the reinforcement of most of the crew of the Santiago, who wanted to join their army, Saavedra's expedition sailed to the end of the port of Zihuatanejo on October 31, 1527, with the ships Nuestra Señora de la Florida, Santiago and Espíritu Santo.

Cortés writes letters of friendship to the kings of Cebu (Philippines) and Tidore (Moluccas), which are worthy of being read as proof of the personality of this great leader. In that directed to Cebu he refers to Magellan in a curious way.

“To you, honoured and good King of Tidore Island, in the Moluccas area, I, Hernando Cortés. Because around seven or eight years, mandated by the Emperor, our Sir, came to that area a captain of his, whose name was Ferdinand of Magellan…”

“…willing to know the trading ways of those lands he sent a captain named Ferdinand of Magellan with five ships, who did not provision them properly, and thus only one returned to His Kingdoms”.

Saavedra managed to arrive to the Moluccas, although with just one ship, losing forever the other two.

At his arrival, he met there the people of the Loaysa expedition, very reduced in number because only the captain ship had arrived. They were fighting a war against the Portuguese, who had established themselves in Ternate.

Elcano and Loaysa had died a few months before, in the Pacific. Caboto decided to return to Spain from the Rio de la Plata.

Saavedra tried the circumnavigation two times, but did not succeed.

Other bibliographical sources:

  • Letter from Hernán Cortés to the members of Sebastián Caboto’s armada.

  • Letter from Hernán Cortés to Sebastián Caboto.

  • Letter from Hernán Cortés to the king of the island or land to which Saavedra arrived.

  • Relation of Saavedra’s journey, from the book of Fco. Granado, writer of the armada.

  • Relation of the events of Saavedra’s armada, presented in 1534 by Vincent of Naples.


Elcano’s legacy in Santa Faz Monastery in Alicante

Although it may seem strange, one of the places where we can feel closer to Juan Sebastián Elcano is in Alicante, in the Santa Faz Monastery. As we will see, the story that links Elcano to this site is very exciting.

We actually do not know much about the life of Elcano, but it is clear that he participated in the Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros expedition to Algiers (1509) and in the Italian campaigns of Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, the Great Captain. It would be quite logical to deduce that in the preparation of any of them he would spend time in Alicante.


One of the main sources of information is his will, written on board of the ship Santa Maria de la Victoria, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, when he already felt he was dying.

Elcano Santa Faz
Elcano Santa Faz
Santa Faz Romería

Elcano dictated his will on July 26 of the year 1526, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, being again embarked towards the Islands of Spices after his memorable trip of the first circumnavigation. In the will we see that he leaves 24 ducats to the monastery of Santa Verónica in Alicante, where he wanted to have come in pilgrimage, "but I was not able to go".


24 ducats were a very large amount. It is difficult to establish how large, but the current equivalent could be between 12,000 and 15,000 euros. Undoubtedly, there was a strong link between Elcano and this place.

The Santa Veronica Monastery, better known today as the Santa Faz, was completed in 1518, just one year before Elcano set sail on the epic expedition of Magellan.

So that man, knowing how close he was to dying in the Pacific, wanted to leave a large sum of money to that monastery in Alicante to which he knew that he would never go on a pilgrimage, as he would have liked. And he arranged for someone to do it for him. Literally, this is what he wrote:

“Item, because I promised to go on pilgrimage to the Santa Veronica of Alicante, and because I cannot go, I want a pilgrim to go, and said pilgrim will receive six ducats”.

“Beyond that, I command that the said pilgrim be given twenty four ducats for him to give to the Church of Santa Veronica, and to bring proof that the administrators have received said twenty four ducats”.

It was a miracle for the will to get to Spain, but it did, although at least ten years after it was written. No one conducted Elcano’s will, and it was almost forgotten, when the Army decided to honour Elcano’s last dispositions.  

It was the year 1944. A sum of money was given to the monastery, and a tile was placed in Elcano’s memory. There was a solemn act that was heard of throughout all of Spain.


We can see in the Monastery a recreation of the act in which the Army fulfilled Elcano’s will.


As a matter of fact, the pilgrimage to Santa Faz of Alicante is still done. Not only, but the affluence is massive every year. As it always was. The pilgrimage Elcano wanted to do.

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