Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Tomas de Berlanga, a Dominican friar and bishop of Panama, died on this day in 1551 in Berlanga, Spain.

Berlanga made a career out of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As bishop of Panama, he was directed by Charles V to go to Peru to intercede in the conflict between the joint captains of the newly established Spanish colony in Peru, Francisco Pizzaro and Diego de Amalgro. On his way from Panama to Peru, however, his ship went off course and drifted out into the Pacific Ocean, where he accidentally discovered the Galapagos Islands -- a collection of desolate lava piles which would become important 300 years later in the works of Charles Darwin, whose writings would shake the foundations of the Church which sponsored Berlanga's mission. By the time Berlanga reached Peru, Pizzaro had already sent Amalgro to Chile, rendering fruitless any attempt by Berlanga to arbitrate their dispute. Pizzaro later had Amalgro put to death.

Speaking of fruit, a persistent legend holds that Berlanga is responsible for the cultivation of bananas in the New World, having picked them up in an unscheduled stop in the Canary Islands on his way from Spain to Santa Domingo.

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