The mystery of how a Caravaca cross appeared in Maryland 350 years later | Culture

The traffic signs on Highway 235 leading to St. Mary’s insistently remind you of your destination: the first european settlement of the US state of Maryland. Along the way there are picturesque Amish horse-drawn wagon farms, the “second settlers”, as they are known around here. St Mary’s is a town of a thousand inhabitants founded in 1634 by the British. Its main tourist attraction is an archaeological site between the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay where 17th century buildings have been reconstructed. Last March and after almost a century of searching, archaeologists finally found the underground structure that was missing to complete the map described in historical documents: a fortification the size of a football field.

The underground fort hid native-made pottery, oyster shell bricks, and projectile points, among other things. A hodgepodge of objects that finally proved the archaeologists right. And then last October they found a small copper cross with two horizontal bars, 350 years old, Original from Caravaca de la Cruz, northwest of the Spanish region of Murcia. The specialists made the discovery public a couple of weeks ago. It is still not explained how that relic got there.

A few meters from the covered fortification, archaeologist Travis Parno, director of research at the Historic St. Mary’s City site, comments that his team is not used to finding Catholic remains in the English colonies. The cross, about four centimeters long, “is a very particular, very specific religious object,” he says. “It’s not something we’ve encountered here before. When it turned up, I was very excited because a religious object as small as this means it was deeply personal to someone.” Parno is more used to finding fragments of buildings and pieces of plates than crosses.

Archaeologist Travis Parno, director of research at the Historic St. Mary’s City site, holds up the Caravaca cross discovered there.A.L.

In the early 1630s, English settler George Calvert asked King James I for a land grant with the intention of creating a haven for persecuted Irish and English Catholics. His efforts resulted in the proclamation of The Maryland Tolerance Act, making the state one of two British colonies in America where Catholics could practice their faith without reprisal. In the 17th century St. Mary’s they lived with Protestants and Jews, among others. The religious freedom enjoyed by what was then the capital of Maryland (now Annapolis) makes it strange that more Catholic pieces have not been found. So far there is only one other record of Caravaca cross in the State, about 300 years old, discovered in the settlement of Charles Town.

Specialists had been searching for the exact location of St. Mary’s fort since 1930. English archaeologist and geophysicist Tim Horsley, who managed to find it thanks to the sophisticated technique of magnetometry, maintains that the cross “was clearly a valuable possession” for those who whether he brought it from England or traded it to some Native American. “It is something that is going to be very difficult to explain. Through archeology we can come up with theories and write suggestions. But we may never know for sure, ”he comments by phone.

The fame about the virtues of the cross of Caravaca, to which powers of protection against evils were attributed —particularly storms and lightning— added to the plenary indulgences granted by Roman Pontiffs to the possessors of the object, “generated an important demand for pieces”, according to Indalecio Pozo Martínez, director of the Museum of Vera Cruz de Caravaca. “That, to a large extent, explains the presence of Caravaca crosses in many places and their appearance in archaeological sites, from Prague to Maryland.”

Parno doesn’t agree with any explanation, but thinks the most likely scenario is that she was brought there by an English Catholic, or a Jesuit missionary. “We know that the Jesuits had strong ties to Spain and that at the beginning of the 17th century the Caravaca crosses were present throughout Europe.” Also in territories of America, and some colonies in the Far East and Africa. Before embarking on the New World, the Italian Jesuit missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino commissioned the purchase of “30 or 40 dozen little Spanish or Caravacensi crosses” to “distribute to the natives,” as he narrates in his Epistolary, quoted by Pozo Martínez in an email.

The Historic St. Mary’s City is scheduled to open a new visitor center in 2024, where the religious object will take pride of place among other valuable artifacts discovered at the fort. They have already collected 100,000 pieces and, according to Parno, they hope to excavate the area for another decade or two. At the site, where archaeologists have been working for half a century, 6.5 million objects have been found. And that they have only combed 5% of its 800 hectares.

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