In 1656, an 891-ton Spanish galleon was tasked with carrying kingly riches across the Atlantic. The Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas (Our Lady of Wonders) was weighted down with more gold than usual, as it had taken on the precious cargo of another treasure-filled ship that had sunk two years earlier. Unfortunately, the giant vessel collided with another member of its fleet and then hit a coral reef in the warm waters off the Bahamas and sank to the ocean floor. It took its treasure with it. A recent expedition by Allen Exploration, in partnership with local divers and researchers, has raised some of this glorious treasure to the surface.
Underwater for over 350 years, the ship has been an object of salvage expeditions for centuries. Millions of items have been removed. However, this recent expedition wanted not only treasure, but also insight into how the ship itself met its watery grave. With remote-sensing technology such as sonar and magnetometers, the explorers discovered a trail of debris stretching about eight miles of ocean floor. This debris illustrated the floundering of the ship in its final hours.
Among the finds made by the team were glass wine bottles, a silver sword hilt, and other objects indicative of life on a warship in the 17th century. Even more spectacular was the treasure: an almost six-foot-long gold filigree chain, raw gemstones, and several bejeweled pendants that once belonged to knights of the Order of Santiago. One pendant contains a stunning green Columbian emerald set in gold, surrounded by 12 other emeralds. This may represent the 12 apostles grouped around the central motif, the cross of St. James.
“When we brought up the oval emerald and gold pendant, my breath caught in my throat,” Carl Allen, founder of Allen Exploration, said. “How these tiny pendants survived in these harsh waters, and how we managed to find them, is the miracle of the Maravillas.” Certainly, the ship is living up to its name as a treasure trove of wonders. The jewels and other objects will go on display at the new Bahamas Maritime Museum, while researchers continue to probe what other wonders the wreck might hold.