Jeronimo de Santisteban O.S.A. was one of the four men who without intending it became the first priests and the first members of a religious order to sail all the way around the world. The description he left of this adventure indicates that this task had proved to be both lengthy and dangerous.
Of the four, Santisteban is singled out here because his written reports are one of the best descriptions of the major part of this venture. His writings still exist, and some of it has been published. The rest of it in his own handwriting is stored in the official archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain. (This Augnet page needs to be read in conjunction with the Augnet page that describes in general the expedition led by Ruy Lopez de Villalobos in 1542 from Mexico across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines and beyond, in which voyage Santisteban took part: click here. and click here. The background information that is provided on that page will not be repeated here.)
Jeronimo de Santisteban was born in Spain, where he joined the Order of Saint Augustine and was sent to Mexico. It was there in 1542 that he was one of four members of the Order chosen to travel with an expedition of four ships on behalf of Charles V, the king of Spain, that was led by Ruy Lopez de Villalobos. Four excellent men of the Order of Saint Augustine in Mexico were selected. The choice was the task of the Province of Spain (later called the Province of Castile). The leader of the Order in that Province was Alonso de la Vera Cruz O.S.A., who previously himself had served in Mexico with distinction. The members of the Order appointed to the expedition were Jeronimo de Santisteban O.S.A., Nicolas de Perea O.S.A., Sebestian Reina (or de Trasierra) O.S.A., and Alfonso de Alvarado O.S.A..
Because of an unexpected outcome of this expedition, these four members of the Order became the first priests and the first members of any religious Order to sail around the world, although doing so had not been part of the purpose of the expedition. One of these men, Nicholas de Perea O.S.A., was to be one of the Council of the Order in Mexico who twenty two years later in 1564 signed a letter of authority to Andrés de Urdaneta O.S.A, and the four other members of the Order for the successful expedition that sailed from Mexico to the Augustinians in Cebu in the Philippines in 1564.
For these four members of the Order of Saint Augustine (Jeronimo de Santisteban O.S.A., Nicolas de Perea O.S.A., Sebestian Reina (or de Trasierra) O.S.A., and Alfonso de Alvarado O.S.A.), accepting a position in this expedition like this could be regarded as an adventure. But realistically it also had to be accepted as a potential sentence of death. They may well have anticipated death more than they could have guessed that this expedition was going to take them away from Mexico for ten whole years.
The expedition was meant to sail across the Pacific Ocean in an effort to make a settlement for Spain in the area where spices could be profitably grown and harvested. It was also hoped that spice plants and knowledge about growing them could be obtained so that they could be conveniently grown in New Spain (Mexico). The four Augustinians were to offer the Christian religion to any native peoples with whom the planned settlement came into contact.
The expedition left Mexico on 1st November 1542 with four ships. It sighted Mindanao in the Philippines the following February, and made an initial settlement. Villalobos then sent three of his four ships back to Mexico to obtain more food and ammunition. All three ships capsized, however, shortly after leaving the area. All Villalobos now had was one remaining ship. He had no way of knowing that Mexico had not heard of his needs, and hence no help would be coming. Villalobos held out for as long as he could. They were at Tidore, and had a relationship with the native people that sometimes was tense. Their commercial rivals from the settlement of Portugal in the Muloccas (Spice Islands) soon knew of their presence and their plight.
But they were not moved to assist the expedition on any conditions that initially the Spanish were willing to accept. Months went by, no help arrived from Mexico, and their supply of food became exhausted. The situation gradually worsened from early in 1543 until 16th May 1545, when Villalobos took the risk of deciding that the remaining ship should try to return to Mexico. It was in such poor condition, however, that it was unable safely to get beyond range of the islands, and returned to Tidore 3rd on October 1545.
There was now no practical way for the Spanish to leave the island except by accepting the harsh terms offered by the Portuguese. Some Spaniards began to desert to the Portuguese, arousing the suspicions of the king of Tidore. The negotiations with the Portuguese and the discord among the men from Spain and Mexico were minutely detailed by Santisteban. Those wishing to do so embarked in the Portuguese fleet for the port of Ambon, the main centre conducted by Portugal in the Muloccas (the "Spice Islands").
Ambon Island, one of the Moluccas in the Banda Sea, lies in the eastern portion of Republic of Indonesia. It is part of the Malay Archipelago. While at Ambon as virtual prisoners of the Portuguese, a number of the Spanish died from their previous period of sickness and hunger experienced at Tidore. Among those who died was the leader of the expedition, Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, who was in deep melancholy. Even so, Santisteban justified all the actions that Villalobos had taken. He did this in his report to the Viceroy in Mexico who organised the expedition on behalf of the king in Spain. He also requested the Viceroy to provide for the children of Villalobos back in Mexico.
While in the custody of the Portuguese in the port of Amboyna, the Augustinians met Saint Francis Xavier. He was the first member of the Society of Jesus to set foot in India, which he had done on 6th May 1542. Born in Spain, Francis Xavier was sensitive to the plight of the four Spanish Augustinians. In a letter, Francis Xavier commended them to his superiors in Goa, "because they are very religious and holy men, who are worthy of every consideration." (Members of the Order of Saint Augustine from Portugal did not estabish an Augustinian convento in Goa until 1752.)
The Spanish were permitted to leave Ambon in a Portuguese ship on 17th May 1546. The ship went by way of Java to the Portuguese settlement of Goa on the coast of India. It was there that Santisteban wrote his report to the Viceroy in Mexico who had organised the expedition. The horrors of the voyage were still very clear in his memory. The report of Santisteban, which still exists, described these tense months of privation and uncertainty that had been endured at Tidore. It is a story of famine and sickness, of bad relations with the natives, and the hostility of the Portuguese.
He wrote, "Before accepting the harsh terms offered by the Portuguese, the men of the expedition had faced starvation. Then began the hunt for food in various places, but much opposition from the natives was encountered. Jeronimo de Santisteban continued, "If I should try to write, to your lordship in detail of the hunger, need, hardships, disease, and the deaths that we suffered in Sarragan, I would fill a book .. In that island we found a little rice and sago, a few hens and hogs, and three deer. This was eaten in a few days, together with what remained of the ship food. A number of cocoa palms were discovered; and because hunger cannot suffer delay, the buds which are the shoots of the palms were eaten. There were some berries and other fruits. Finally we ate all the dogs, cats, and rats we could find, besides worms and unknown plants, which all together caused the deaths, and much of the prevalent disease. And especially they ate large numbers of a certain large variety of gray lizard, which emits considerable glow; very few who ate them survived. Land crabs also were eaten which caused some to go mad for a day after partaking of them, especially if they had eaten all the interior parts."
Of the three hundred and seventy men who had left New Spain (Mexico) in the expedition in November 1542, only one hundred and forty-seven survived to reach Ambon in February 1546. It would take another twenty years before there was another attempt by Spain to conquer "Las Islas Felipinas" (the Philippines). From Goa, the Portuguese arranged passage for the Augustinians back to Portugal.
They sailed to the west across the Indian Ocean, and via the Cape of Good Hope arrived in Lisbon and Madrid. The moment they reached Madrid, they had circled the earth from east to west. Finally they sailed westwards from Seville across the Atlantic Ocean during 1549 to return to Mexico, which they reached early in 1550. The first four priests and members of a religious order to sail around the world were these four men: Jeronimo de Santisteban O.S.A., Nicolas de Perea O.S.A., Sebestian Reina (or de Trasierra) O.S.A., and Alfonso de Alvarado O.S.A..
In the years between 1542 and 1550 they had sailed always to the west from Mexico to the Philippines, from the Philippines to India, from India to Portugal and Spain, and from Spain back to Mexico.The diary of one of the other members of the expedition praised the spiritual contributions of the four Augustinians during their years of travelling from Mexico to Portugal via the Philippines and India. The work of Jeronimo de Santisteban O.S.A. and his three companions had been appreciated. AN4368