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Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, in the Canary Islands, was for all of them the first contact with a non-European country. They were met on the jetty by the French consul, who, helpful and charming, took Pompallier to meet the Governor and accompanied him on a visit to the cathedral; in Claude Bret’s description: ‘a Frenchman all over’, il était tout français. The next day Pompallier, in episcopal robes (in splendoribus), plus the whole group went to the central church of the town, where they were met by the assembled clergy. While the organ played, all said Mass. A few days later Pompallier visited the bishop of Tenerife in the nearby town of Laguna. The bishop offered him the hospitality of his residence, but Pompallier preferred to stay with his men in Santa Cruz.[1]

Staying on the ship while in port proved to be very uncomfortable, especially when one night a fierce storm endangered the ship. Moreover, getting ashore and back to the ship was more dangerous than crossing the Ocean! One of the Picpus missionaries had to be fished out of the water when stepping from the ship into the dinghy, another one fell into the water when climbing from the dinghy onto the jetty. Being the only one who could swim, Pompallier feared for the life of his missionaries. So he rented a house on the shore with a certain Louis Caprario, a widower with eleven children. The missionaries made themselves as comfortable as possible, while sleeping on the hard floor.[2]

On 18 January, a week after their arrival, Pompallier wrote Colin a lengthy letter.[3] He enclosed Claude Bret’s diary of which a copy had been made for Colin.[4] He also wrote to several other people in France, among whom Archbishop de Pins. He wrote two letters to Cardinal Fransoni, one of them with a ship sailing from Santa Cruz to Marseille. He let the Cardinal know that he had appointed Colin to be his pro-vicar in France and that Colin had accepted. He also told the Cardinal of ‘the present organisation of the mission and the missionaries’, presumably meaning his own appointment to religious superior.[5]

The ‘present organization of the mission’ that Pompallier wrote about to Fransoni included probably also the appointment of Peter Chanel to be his pro-vicar in Oceania. While in Le Havre he had preferred to take no decisions other than enclosing under sealed cover the appointment of somebody to take his place in case of his death. Chanel’s last letter from Le Havre (29.12.36) is still signed missionnaire apostolique. The next letter we have of him is from Valparaiso (23.07.37) and signed provicaire apostolique. Some time during the voyage Pompallier must have appointed him.[6]

It is odd, that while they all had plenty of time in Santa Cruz with little else to do but sightseeing, only Pompallier wrote to Colin and only once. None of the others wrote to either families or confreres. The only likely explanation is that they agreed not to write for the reason that Pompallier gave later to his mother, namely not to upset anyone by the story of the damaged rudder.[7] Father Coste wrote to his superior Coudrin. The Picpus and the Marists got along very well, he said, they had very much the same spirit.[8]

Pompallier picks up the thread of giving conferences to the missionaries on the rule. Bataillon’s diary does not say if they showed any more interest than in Le Havre. True to his old ways, Pompallier composes a spiritual rule book that he distributes to his missionaries.[9]

Claude Bret in his diary, proves a good observer of the strange world they now have landed in. The mild climate, in midwinter as pleasant as in June at home; the abundance of fruit, both tropical and familiar; the small horses and the ill-treated donkeys; the near absence of wagons; the easy-going people, gentle like the climate. Naturally, they do not escape a touch of culture shock:

What a pity, these people so gentle, but also so poor and miserable, as children already accustomed to beg. Pitiable to be surrounded by men, women and children in rags, a half naked woman with two children that make you turn your eyes away; a negro who is human only insofar as he speaks, naked men pushing a boat, it all gives us already an idea of what is in store for us with the peuples sauvages deprived of the benefits of religion and civilization… A spectacle of misery and laziness. These begging drifters want to live without working and live like the sauvages of the South Sea. Nothing to eat but a few fish roasted on a fire, no bread. At night the nonchalant islander lies on the pavement and plays a guitar to accompany his monotone songs. Stones for bed and the sky for his roof. Santa Cruz is full of prostitutes ready for every stranger to sow his vices… At table especially you feel that you are no longer in France: different things to eat, different ways of eating, pure wine during the meal and just water for dessert.[10]

Chanel too was a bit shocked to see the islanders enjoying such a fine climate without any sign of being industrious. Bataillon’s diary is more matter-of-fact.[11] On Sunday 15 January, they assist at High Mass, in a nearly empty church, whereby Bret comments:

The churches are big and richly decorated… The priests are more respected than is the case in France, but our ceremonies are more attractive, our faithful more prayerful and our churches better filled. We miss the beauty and the reverence of our French ceremonies. In this country, entirely catholic, they keep the abstinence only on Fridays in Lent and during Holy Week. The Mardi Gras was celebrated exuberantly but on Ash Wednesday the church was just about empty. Little in the way of instructions, no catechism classes. No first communion ceremonies. What good a mission could do here.[12]

They found out that a tropical climate can be less benign than its first impression may make one believe. Servant and Brother Joseph fell ill and had to be attended to by a doctor. It took Servant a week to get over it and Joseph even longer. Chanel caught a dysentery and Pompallier walked a few days around with a nasty toothache. Bret suffered of a serious headache that still bothered him when they left.[13]

The expectation had been that the damage to the Delphine would be repaired in ten days or so. In fact, it took the local labour force ten attempts before they succeeded, on 18 February, to forge the three brass pins that had to be replaced on the stern of the Delphine. The rudder too had in the meantime been repaired and only on 24 February it was put back in place. Another few days to settle payments (whereby Pompallier had to lend the captain 8.500 francs), and to procure stores and provisions, and finally, 28 February, after fifty-two days, the ship was ready to sail. They left at nine and around noon Santa Cruz had vanished over the horizon. They continued their voyage, eager ‘to run by patience to the fight proposed to us’, as Pompallier had written to Colin, quoting from the letter to the Hebrews.[14]


  1. LRO, 1 [39 – 40] & 12 [17 – 45].
  2. LRO, doc. 13 [2 & 15].
  3. LRO, doc. 13.
  4. Reproduced in LRO, doc. 1.
  5. Cf. above, p. 36.
  6. LRO, doc. 4 [12] & 17 [11]. EC, docs. 33 & 34.
  7. LRO, 16 [2] & EC, 35 [1]. Even so an odd motivation since he could have known that the story would be published in the Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, as in fact it was, with extensive quotes from Fr. Bret’s diary. LII, May, 1838, pp. 507 – 511.
  8. E. Coste to Coudrin, 24.02.1837: ils ont au plus haut degré l’esprit que nous aimons. Archives SS.CC. By courtesy of Fr. A. Marc.
  9. LRO, docs. 12 [34] Cf. above, p. 5f & OM II, doc. 625 [25].
  10. Culture shock has been described as cuisinophobia
  11. LRO, doc. 1 [52 – 53]. EC doc. 35 [1]. LRO, doc. 12 [16 – 64].
  12. LRO, doc. 12 [23, 46, 47, 53].
  13. LRO, 12 [52, 59, 45, 67]; Ronzon, Delorme, p. 36.
  14. LRO, 12 [29 – 58]; 13 [1].

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