Andres de San Martin

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Andrés de San Martín was the chief pilot-cosmographer of the Armada de Molucca, the fleet commanded by Ferdinand Magellan during the Magellan-Elcano First Circumnavigation of the World. He was a mathematician and scientist with expertise in nautical and astronomy.

Exceptional pilot of the Renaissance

Little is known of San Martín's life before 1512, when King Ferdinand commissioned him royal pilot. His Portuguese, French, or Spanish nationality has been discussed, however a data from chronicler Antonio Pigafetta described San Martín as a “Latinist expert in matters concerning to the sea and to geography.” According to Chilean historian José Toribio Medina, who wrote a biographical sketch, San Martín must have been an exceptional man because the Royal decree had an extraordinary phrase that others had not merited; the King's instruction to him was to " prepared to serve us at sea as on land."

Singular knowledge of cosmography

His knowledge of cosmography (astrology) was singular. He knew more than others during the Age of Discovery how astronomical science could be applied to navigation. Confident of his unique skills he applied for the post of pilot major of Spain upon the death in 1512 of its holder, Amerigo Vespucci. However, he was turned down by the king who appointed Juan Díaz de Solís instead. He again applied for the post in 1518 when Solís died. Again, he was turned down in favor of another foreigner, Sebastian Cabot. Nevertheless, the king consoled San Martín by raising his pay to 10,000 maravedis.

He reported for duty upon order of the king sometime in July 1519. He received advances on 31 July 1519 of 30,000 maravedis and 7,500 maravedis for cost-of-living allowance. As “pilots,” they should be experts in applying astronomy knowledge to navigation. The Seville Contracting House, which was in charge of organizing discovery missions, had expert technicians and navigators who were well-versed in cosmography and astronomy.

In 1518, he replaced Rui Faleiro as pilot in Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition when the latter decided not to join (other accounts said he had a mental breakdown). He first sailed ship in the ‘’San Antonio’’ before being transferred on the ‘’Victoria.’’ He kept a navigation diary in which he described the route they followed. It also contained all the positions of the stars and heights, among other things.

He was the first scientist to reach Argentina. He correctly established the latitude and longitude of the Argentine coast. It was during this trip that San Martín became famous as a cosmographer. It was presumed that he died in the Battle of Mactan.

Navigational feat unequaled for 200 years

According to Tim Joyner who wrote the book Magellan, San Martín was the most eminent cosmographer in the fleet, unequaled by no one in the fleet, not even by Magellan. Twice, he was able to calculate accurately, using astronomical measurement, the longitudes of two places, Port San Julian at Patagonia and Homonhon Island in the Philippines. At San Julian, he brought out his instruments, to quote Tim Joyner, "to test Faleiro's system for using conjunctions of the moon with the planets to determine longitude. His measurements resulted in the astonishingly accurate estimate of 61° west of Seville. Less than one degree in error, this was an accomplishment far beyond the capabilities of the other pilots." Again, at Homonhon Island, in central Philippines, he was able to measure its longitude, according to historian Rolando A. Laguardia Trias. Trias asserted that the reading of 189° longitude "from the meridian" which meant the line of demarcation at 47° west of Greenwich. In today's system of reckoning Homonhon Is. is at 125° 42.8' east longitude.

This reading was only two degrees in error, Trias asserted. No other had shown such mathematical skill. For two hundred years his calculations were not matched by anyone.

Papers possessed by Ginés de Mafra

San Martín entrusted his priceless navigational notes and other papers to Ginés de Mafra sometime before 1 May 1521. These were confiscated when de Mafra, together with co-prisoners Gómez de Espinosa and Hans Bergen, reached Lisbon in July 1526. This lengthy possession by de Mafra of San Martín's papers has led to the belief that the eyewitness account of Ginés de Mafra was nothing more than his recall of what he read from San Martín's papers. This has led to historians overall disregarding the testimony of de Mafra, which has overarching importance in Age of Discovery geography of the Philippine region.

De Mafra's account, more precisely, was critical and indispensable in solving the Mazaua landfall issue which is also known in the Philippines as the First Mass in the Philippines controversy. De Mafra's description of Mazaua located the island-port below today's Limasawa, which was first named Dimasaua by Fr. Francisco Colín, S.J. in 1663 five years before it was rechristened Limasaua or Limasawa by Fr. Francisco Combés, S.J., in 1667.

Papers forever lost

From a Lisbon archive, San Martín's papers were later transferred to Madrid during the union of the Iberian kingdoms, 1580-1640. Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, as asserted by J. Denucé, extensively used San Martín's insights. One of the key observations of the astrologer pertaining the March-April 1521 incident at the island-port of Mazaua remained the sole faithful published account throughout the 16th century until the 19th century with the exact name of the island. Other accounts had either "Messana" or "Massana" as the island's name. These two names were first used by Maximilianus Transylvanus in his report of the circumnavigation contained in a letter to Cardinal Matthäus Lang, the archbishop of Salzburg. Transylvanus' report was published and became an overnight sensation in Europe. San Martín's papers unfortunately got lost and were nowhere to be found. They exist in the various quotes by contemporary Portuguese historians and later Spanish historians like Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas who had access to the original documents.


  • Mena García, María del Carmen (1997). “Pilotos reales en la Armada de Castilla del Oro (1514)”. In Justina Sarabia Viejo; Javier Ortiz de la Tabla Ducasse; Pablo E. Pérez-Mallaína; José Jesús Hernández Palomo (eds.). Entre Puebla de los Ángeles y Sevilla. Estudios Americanistas en homenaje al Dr. José Antonio Calderón Quijano. Sevilla: Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos. pp. 41–60.
  • Bergreen, Laurence (2009). Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe. Harper Collins.
  • “Biography of Andrés de San Martín”.The Biography.(Accessed on 13 February 2021).
  • “Andrés de San Martín”.Real Academia de la Historia.(Accessed on 13 February 2021).



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