Magellan’s faithMagellan’s religious zeal reached its peak in Cebu, the biggest and most prosperous island yet found. Once its rajah, Humabon, converted to Christianity hundreds and eventually thousands of his subjects followed. Padre Valderrama supervised construction of a tabernacle like the one at Port St Julian and baptised hundreds per day. A trading post was established and the ships brought their trade goods ashore: axes, knives, hammers, pewter and bronze pots and pans exchanged for gold in the ratio ten weights of gold for 14 of iron.
It was not the Spice Isles and Magellan was diverted from that objective by the quest for heathen souls. He took to wearing long white robes like a biblical figure. When Humabon mentioned his nephew was ill and sacrifices to their god Abba were of no avail, Magellan responded, “Sacrifices to Abba will not cure him. If he believes in Jesus Christ our lord and destroys the idols and consents to baptism he will be cured immediately. If this prophecy does not come to pass you can cut off my head.”
Humabon agreed to this extreme bargain and they went in procession from the tabernacle to the sick man’s house; the captain general in his biblical robes with a crucifix at his belt attended by Henriqué, for translation, by Humabon and his chieftains, by Pigafetta and, as always, by a retinue of children and dogs.
The sick man lay on a woven mat in his elevated house. His two wives and ten children clustered around him. He moaned in the grip of some mysterious disease, not unlike a man dying of scurvy.
Magellan knelt to examine him more closely. He sprinkled the patient with water from a container at his belt, made the sign of the cross and said through the interpreter, “I baptise thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Accept Jesus Christ as your saviour and earn everlasting life.”
The patient tossed and turned on his mat. Magellan made the sign of the cross and said “Are you well?”
“Yes, yes, “ the sick man said. He tried to sit up but fell back, exhausted. The onlooking crowd were astonished. This man had not spoken for four days and yet at the command of the black-bearded one had broken his silence. The two wives threw themselves upon him and the ten children threw themselves on the wives.
News of the miracle spread quickly and soon Magellan could not appear in public without a train of followers. He visited the sick man each morning and brought him coconut milk, which seemed to work in curing scurvy. Clearly, Magellan’s god was greater than Abba. Hundreds more were baptised but the captain general learned of a chieftain on the nearby island of Mactan who refused to accept the Christian faith. He determined to bring the renegade into the arms of Jesus and called for volunteers as soldiers of Christ. The plan was opposed by all his senior officers including Duarte, his brother-in-law , and Juan Serrano, his old shipmate. Even Pigafetta urged restraint.
“Captain General, will you not desist and listen to your captains?
“I march in the name of God, Pigafetta; in the name of truth and righteousness.”
“Can nothing change your mind?”
“Then with great reluctance I volunteer to join your army and may God protect us.”
“God will protect us, never fear. Pray with me, Pigafetta.”
It remained to be seen whether God was listening.