THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF TRINIDAD
Publication No. 31o.
The Discovery of the place where the three Franciscan Fathers were
killed on the Ist December, 1699, at San Francisco de los Arenales.
Scurce:--Journal d'un missionaire dominicain des Antilles Anglaises.
1893. by R. P. M. Cothonay, o.p., Trinidad.
Translated from the French.
Last week I went to preach a retreat for First Communion
in the Spanish Parish of Tumpuna about five or six miles
from Arima. I believe that I have already acquainted you
with this beautiful district watered by the Caroni, the Tumpuna
and the Cumuto, &c. ; I shall therefore tell you nothing about
it for I wish to entertain you with a far more interesting subject.
This vast plain was peopled by numerous Indian tribes
and history tells us that they were christianised by the Capuchin
Fathers in the 7lth century. Moreover we know that at a
certain spot called San Francisco de los Arenales, there
existed a mission, an Indian village where two Franciscan
Fathers and a lay Brother had been cruelly put to death by
revolted Indians. But where was this San Francisco de los
Arenales ? Nobody could say.
One reads in L'Iistoire de la Trinidad" by Borde:
"Cette mission, frappe d'anath/me ne se relevant jamais de ses ruined
et il serait impossible d'en indiquer aujourdhui le site certain".
However I had long desired to find it out and was morally
certain that I could do so. Every time I saw the Cure of
Tumpuna I urged him to make enquiries among the old
men to see if he could find out through tradition, this venerable
place which had drunk the blood of martyrs. But how many
heedless generations had passed away since the year 1699.
The Curd of Tumpuna had been able to find only one old
Spaniard who had arrived sixty years since from the Main
and who had heard old men of this district say that towards
such a place there had formerly risen an Indian village where
some priests had been killed." I made the old man come to
me and questioned him in every possible way and I became
convinced that he knew nothing of the precise place of the
martyrdom. I then asked him if he did not know some old
Indian in the place where they told him that this mission
had existed. He replied in the affirmative and I then begged
him to lead me to the hut.
It was on the 6th November, 1885, and we were celebrating
according to our custom, the Feast of the daughter of St. Francis,
St. Angle de Merici, I invoked her with fervour as well as
the Holy Martyrs of the Indian Mission which I so wanted
About half past eight in the morning we left on horseback
by the path which leads to 'lumpuna-the Cur( of Tumpuna,
the old Spaniard and myself; we had taken a negro who
went ahead of us with a large cutlass to cut down the straying
branches and clear the way. We continued about an hour
along this path which was rather bad, for it had rained the
night before; then we left it to penetrate into the thick
forest on the right. There it was that our negro was of the
greatest use preceding us in the capacity of a pioneer. I shall
not stop to describe this forest to you. It is one of the finest
I have seen in Trinidad ; giant trees of hardwood and excellent
for building purposes, fonimd incomparable vaults of green
with festoons of blossoming vines lirkirg them one to another.
Though the sun was blazing hct, we walked in continuous shade.
We advanced but slowly and with difficulty for we had to
climb up and down hills continuously. No accident occurred
except that my left leg was bruised against a tree trunk and
my horse nearly threw me to the ground when he himself
nearly fell into a hole hidden by leaves.
At length we left this forest and found an open space
cultivated with the vegetables of the district-figs, carib
cabbages, yams, &c.-soon we perceived the Indian hut.
There I found about a dozen people including children,
assembled for the midday meal. All gazed at us with wide
open eyes and some of these poor inhabitants of the wocds
were afraid and went to hide. This family is of Indian blocd
and if they are mixed with Spanish, the Cur: of Tumji4na
told me, it is in an imperceptible degree.
The chief seemed to me to be a man comparatively civilised
and might have been about forty years old. He came to meet
us and went on his knees to ask our blessing as did all his
family afterwards. He spoke Spanish, the only language
he knew. I first asked him whether he was of the race of
Indians of Trinidad and he told me he was not. His
grandparents had come from Venezuela after the War of
Independence (1810-1820). Continuing my questions I wished
to know if nevertheless, he had heard tell of some place in the
neighbourhood where some priests had once been killed.
Without hesitation he replied that certainly he knew this
place and that he would take us there immediately if I
Very soon we were once more on the march through
the high woods. On the way I made him tell me how he had
learned of this tradition and all that he knew about it. When
his grandmother came to settle in the district, he told me,
there were still living a good number of the Indians of the
place who are now dead or who had gone to settle elsewhere.
It was common knowledge that a village had existed nearby
where a number of priests had been massacred. The site
of this village was quite well known and on many occasions
had been pointed out to his grandmother who had often
spoken to him about it. At various times of the year these
Indians went to pray at this place and he himself had gone
there many times with his parents.
Again we reached the path to Tan'ani, almost at the
spot where we had left it two houis previously, and we went
down it again for some time. Suddenly our guide said that
here was the old path. We therefore entered the wocd on
the side opposite to that where we had gone to seek the Indian's
hut. We had not gone fifty paces when we fov cd a little
ravine ,which our horses could not cioss so we left thin at
that spot and continued our journey on foot. After having
climbed the opposite slope once more, we again advanced
fifty paces and the Indian said to us that it was here that the
village was and here that the priests w\ e massacred by the
Indians. I asked him if he could show me sole iie e of the
old village and he said that they were plenty, pointing to
some fruit trees and indicated two axccado trees and two
pomn'iers du pays, one of which had been planted, it seems,
at the place where the church door had been, as a r:.m;nder
for future generations. See, he added, these bits ol bottks
and broken plates.
In face of this so clearly established tradition, befoic
these living witnesses of civilization in ihe hcart of so great
a forest, I had sufficient proofs that I was indeed on the spot
hallowed by the blood of martyrs. Immediately kneeling,
I invoked the glorious apostles of Trinidad who had come
here before us when times though still difficult, were different.
I looked to heaven through the great trees which had grown
up amidst the ruins of their church, in this place wheree theii
souls had gone to Paradise with the palm of triumnFh ard
methought I could see these illustrious predccessois in the
apostolate smiling down upon me and blessing me from their
heavenly thrones. The trees seemed to give voice and tell
me of the moving scene which had taken place a hundred
and eighty-six years previously.
Almost all were aromatic trees and I took a few pieces
of their perfumed resin from the trunks and kept them as
relics, to take the place in some way, of the bones of our
martyrs which I knew, did not rest in this place and to remind
me unceasingly, of the good savour of their virtues.
On the site of the church pointed out by the Indian.
I then gathered three species of orchids which I have planted
near my cell in Port-of-Spain in memory of thlse martyrs
of San Franciso de los Arenales. We noticed nothing further
except a hollow stone in which the Indians used to crush,
it was said, their maize but I believe that if one were to dig,
many other fragments would be brought to light.
On tlhe way back I again made my guide talk and I noticed
that he hesitated for certain answers. I still insisted and he
addressed me something like this Father, you will think
what you like of this place but for me it is really that where
some wicked Indians (who were not of my race, he hastened
to add) cruelly killed some poor priests. I know that by
having learned it from my grandparents who themselves
heard it said by others. I know that because each year on
Holy Thursday and Holy Friday, remarkable things happen
in this deserted place; I myself have heard the crowing
of cocks several times and then voices talking and singing
in the distance. A few years ago on Holy Thursday, an old
woman I know was following the path to Tamana when
arriving at this place, she heard as it were, the accents of a
priest saying Mass and the murmur of people praying aloud.
She went towards the place whence the sounds proceeded
and the farther she w\\nt on, the more distinctly the voices
were heard. But 'vh(ii she had climbed the little slope at
the other side of the ravine, she saw and heard nothing further."
I relate these s'a ngs of the ndctian as a tresh proof tnat
this place -vas indeed the site of the Mission of San Francisco
de los Arenalcs. \Wih these Franciscan Fathers yet others
fell on December ist. iG)(9, under the arrows of the Indians;
Governor Don Jose de Leon, a Dominican Father, Juan
de Mosin Solomayoi and t(11 Spanish nobles. What has
become of their remains ? IHas a pious hand given them
a grave ? The historical d';cumenct that have come down to
us are silent on this Ioint ; but we do know the fate of the
Venerable Fathers Esteban de San Felix, Marco de Vique
and the Holy Brother Ramon de Figuerola; documents
absolutely authentic tell us. It pleased God to signify by an
obvious miracle, the sancitv of His Servants sacrificed for
love of Him.