“Whatever happened to Victoria?”
“Victoria – who?”
Not who, what.
Before the name got associated with the famous Spice Girl member or a popular lingerie fashion brand, there was another Victoria who made history.
I’m talking about a ship that made the first journey around the world in 1522, the very ship that was part of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition.
Among the five vessels that Magellan commissioned to circumnavigate the world, only Victoria made it back safely to Spain, carrying only 22 men (out of the original 245 crew). After over a thousand days of voyaging through harsh terrain, unpredictable weather, and mutinies and traveling 32,000 miles, she returned with 27 tons of cloves. That easily covered the cost of the entire exploration several times over, and motivated new proposal to explore the new maritime route across the Pacific Ocean.
A replica of Victoria can be found in the newly-opened exhibit, titled “The Longest Journey: The First Journey Around the World,” open to the public starting March 24, at the National Museum of Fine Arts.
A collaboration between the National Museum of the Philippines and the Embassy of Spain in the Philippines, the exhibit is the Philippine adaptation of the original exhibition curated by a team headed by Antonio Fernández Torres, and organized by Acción Cultural Española and Spain’s Ministry of Culture and Sports, at the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain.
First launched in 2019, the original exhibition was meant to commemorate and recount the first circumnavigation of the world led by Ferdinand Magellan and completed by Sebastian Elcano through a display of objects and artifacts, along with priceless documents preserved at the Archivo General de Indias and other important archives, libraries, and museums.
Commemorating the quincentennial of the circumnavigation, the original exhibit highlighted the entire route of the voyage, often described as “not only the greatest maritime adventure of all time, but a major milestone in the history of discoveries.”
Since its success, a traveling version has been featured in many places around the world, and it has now finally sailed to the Philippine shore.
For the abridged Philippine exhibit, the Spanish curatorial team provided high-quality facsimiles of the world’s most important archives of documents on the ages of discovery, conquest, and colonial administration across the whole Spanish Empire, including the Philippines.
The exhibit has 14 sections, starting with how the whole mission started. Visitors can see the contract made between Carlos I and Magellan, the expenses for the fleet and its supplies, the crew list, the final orders given by the king before the expedition set sail, the treaties made in the Moluccas, the letter of Sebastian Elcano to Carlos I on the completion of the voyage, the last will and testament of Magellan, pages from the chronicle of Antonio de Pigafetta, and the report of Ginés de Mafra, among others.
From looking at the documents, I could surmise what a journey it had been, starting in 1519, when five ships sailed crossing the Atlantic from Spain to South America, then voyaging to the unknown southward.
Then, they discovered the tip of South America, still known today as the Strait of Magellan. Eventually, they reached a vast ocean, which Magellan christened “Pacific,” which cradled them for 98 days before they reached what we now known as Guam in the Mariana Islands.
Onward westward for 10 days, the voyagers sighted the island of Samar and landed on March 16, 1521. They explored the Philippines for 226 days before sailing further.
The Philippine edition presents details that will not be found in any other version of “The Longest Journey” in Spain or worldwide.
NM director general Jeremy Barns shared that to make the exhibit resonate more with the Filipino people, the curatorial team interspersed the archival documents with a number of special archaeological, ethnographic, and devotional art objects and natural history specimens of flora and fauna from the collections of the National Museum and the Intramuros Administration.
Notable are the bronze navigational astrolabe, morion (Spanish helmet), sword hilt, and cannon recovered from the shipwreck of the San Diego, which sank in 1600; the gold death mask and earrings, dating circa 14th and 15th centuries pre-colonial Sugbo, excavated from Plaza Independencia in Cebu City in 2006; a carved relief of the Santo Niño, possibly dating from the 18th to early 19th century, from the collection of the Intramuros Administration and on public display here for the first time; a replica of the original scale model or maquette of the Monument to Magellan erected in 1848 along what is known today as Magallanes Drive in Intramuros.
Also, included in the exhibition are several artworks, including mid-19th century portraits of Ferdinand Magellan and Sebastian Elcano, historical painting “Ang Wakas ni Magallanes” by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, inked and pen drawings by artist Roderick Macutay depicting the Spanish-Filipino encounters, the “Battle of Mactan” by Elmer Borlongan, among others.
The exhibit highlights the historical moments of the first circumnavigation of the globe that were intrinsic to the Philippines – the blood compacts, the first masses, the erection of crosses, the first Christian conversions and baptisms, the presentation of the Santo Niño, the Battle of Mactan and the death of Magellan.
I find it particularly interesting what Luis Morales Fernandez, the First Secretary Embassy of Spain, shared about the then Spanish King’s instructions and how Magellan drifted away from the original mission which eventually cost him his life in a tribal war with Lapu-Lapu.
In a way, the exhibit made me pause and be critical about the things I’ve learned in my history classes. I started to wonder about the consequences – intended and unintended – of the whole Magellan expedition.
Taking all the information from the exhibit, it can be said that this longest journey was not just a maritime feat, but a victory of humanity.
As for what happened to Victoria, the ship… well, you have to visit the National Museum to know (wink, wink).