The Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas (or Our Lady of Wonders) sank in 1656 after it collided with another boat from its fleet and crashed into a coral reef off the Bahamas. The vessel was carrying a haul of treasure, some of which was reserved as royal tax for King Philip IV, from Cuba to Seville, Spain. The 891-ton ship contained more cargo than usual, as it had also been tasked with transporting treasure retrieved from another ship that had sunk two years earlier.
An artistic reconstruction of the Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas, built in 1647. Credit: Courtesy The Bahamas Maritime Museum
There have already been several successful attempts to retrieve the ship’s cargo, with almost 3.5 million items recovered between the 1650s and 1990s, according to shipwreck specialist Allen Exploration, which carried out a two-year expedition from 2020.
Using remote-sensing technology, such as sonar and magnetometers, Allen Exploration tracked “a long and winding debris trail of finds” scattered over a 13-kilometer stretch of ocean floor, founder Carl Allen added in a statement.
A glass wine bottle, one of many items that shine a light on life aboard the ship. Credit: Courtesy The Bahamas Maritime Museum
Among the discoveries was a 1.76-meter-long gold filigree chain and several bejeweled pendants that once belonged to knights of the Order of Santiago, a centuries-old religious and military order. One of the gold pendants features a large oval Colombian emerald and a dozen smaller emeralds, which experts believe may represent the 12 apostles, alongside the Cross of St. James. Three other knightly pendants were also discovered, including one shaped to look like a golden scallop shell.
“When we brought up the oval emerald and gold pendant, my breath caught in my throat,” Allen said, adding: “How these tiny harsh pendants survived in these waters, and how we managed to find them, is the miracle of the Maravillas .”
Other recovered artifacts shine a light on daily life on the Maravillas, which sailed during the “Spainish Golden Age,” including Chinese porcelain and olive jars, as well as a silver sword handle. Some of the galleon’s valuable contents may also have been contraband for the purpose of “illegally greasing the palms of Spanish merchants and officials,” Allen said.
A gold and emerald pendant belonging to a knight from the Order of Santiago, featuring a central cross of St. James. Credit: Courtesy The Bahamas Maritime Museum
And Sinclair believes that there may yet be more discoveries to be made.
“The ship may have been obliterated by past salvage and hurricanes … But we’re convinced there are more stories out there,” he said.