Don Isaac Abravanel, Luis De Santangel and Abraham Zacuto medal designed by Paul Vincze, struck by Medallic Art
Company in quantities of 500 bronze, 230 pure silver and 50 10kt gold. Medal commemorates the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first meeting with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Obverse: Cameos of ABRAHAM ZACUTO,
LUIS DE SANTANGEL and DON ISAAC ABRAVANEL, Santa Maria in center, 1492, P. VINCZE.
Reverse: Columbus kneeling before Queen Elizabeth et al, 1486 in exergue, P. VINCZE. 58 mm.

Luis de Santangel

Contrary to popular opinion, it was not Queen Isabella’s jewelry, but Spanish Jewry that made Columbus’ historical trip of discovery possible. Actually it was Luis de Santangel, whose grandfather had converted from Judaism to Christianity under pressure of Spanish persecutions, who lent nearly 5 million maravedis to pay for the voyage. In addition, Santangel’s influence with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella was decisive in gaining their acceptance of Columbus’ proposals. In recognition of his assistance, Santangel was the first to hear of the historic discoveries directly, in a personal letter from Columbus. Showing his allegiance to his former co-religionists, Luis de Santangel made substantial contributions toward the hiring of ships that enabled them to leave when they were expelled en mass from Spain.

First page of the folio edition of the Spanish text of Columbus’ letter to Luis de Santangel,
dated February 15, 1493, printed in Barcelona. Printed copies of this letter were
instrumental in spreading the news throughout Europe about Columbus’ voyage.
The original is currently in the collection of the New York Public Library.

Don Isaac Abravanel

Another of Columbus’ stalwart friends was Don Isaac Abravanel, who had remained loyal to his religion, and who was one of the most distinguished biblical scholars, philosophers and statesmen of the period. He also helped to finance Columbus’ voyage, although he was not there to greet the great explorer upon his return, since Abravanel had been expelled from Spain in 1492 along with all of the other Jews, in spite of his high position in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella.

Title page of the second edition of Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary on the Passover Haggadah, Sefer Zebach Pesacḥ from 1545. Since Venetian law did not permit Jews to own or operate printing presses, it was necessary to employ a Christian printer.

From the collection of the Bridwell Library

Abraham Zacuto

Astronomer and rabbi Abraham Zacuto was also forced to leave his native Spain. He was later named Royal Mathematician to the Portuguese royal court. There, he improved the astrolabe (early navigational instrument) and prepared astronomical tables, greatly improving navigational accuracy on the high seas. A copy of Zacuto’s astronomical tables, along with Columbus’ personal annotations, is still preserved in Seville.  

A page from the astronomical tables of Abraham Zacuto

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