On the Feast Day

Recently I highlighted a couple of places named for holy figures because they were discovered on those particular saints’ feast days. Those included Saint Martin in Southernmost Bangladesh and various Christmas designations discovered on December 25. Many of the European nations with strong seafaring traditions participated. The Spanish, Portuguese, French and English all "discovered" distant lands and used saints as inspiration for place names. Only locations found and named on actual feast days interested me for this exercise. I wondered how many I could find. Well, I found a lot. I don’t pretend to include an exhaustive list although I think I recorded several of the most popular ones.

Here are a few presented in chronological order by feast day.

Saint Helena of Constantinople; May 21

St. Helena Island (NASA, International Space Station Science, 5/7/09)
St. Helena Island. Photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on Flickr (cc)

Saint Helena of Constantinople earned reverence primarily because she gave birth to Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of the Roman empire. She influenced the son who in turn allowed Christianity to flourish without persecution across a massive geographic area. That right there probably should have been enough. However, legends needed to be created and stories needed to be told to further accentuate her sainthood. As the tale went, she traveled to Jerusalem where she supposedly discovered the true cross. Actually the stories said she found all three crosses used in the crucifixion of Jesus and the two thieves executed with him. A miracle revealed Jesus’ specific cross, so they said.

A remote island in the South Atlantic, way out in the ocean all by itself between Brazil and Africa, took her name. This place was so far in the middle of nowhere that the British exiled Napoleon Bonaparte there in 1815 for the remainder of his life so he couldn’t cause any more trouble. Today St. Helena (map) forms part of a British Overseas Territory, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

Conventional wisdom noted for the longest time that João da Nova — sailing on behalf of the Portuguese — discovered and named St. Helena on her feast day, May 21, 1502. Recent research seemed to cast doubt on that claim, however. It may have been mathematically impossible. Still, many sources continued to make the argument so I kept it on the list.

Saint John the Baptist; June 24

St John's, Newfoundland
St John's, Newfoundland. Photo by Robert Ciavarro on Flickr (cc)

I felt I probably didn’t need to provide an in-depth introduction to John the Baptist. He baptized Jesus and served as an immediate forerunner and influence. Naturally several faiths including Christianity and Islam considered him a prophet. His feast day became June 24 based on passages from the Gospel of Luke (specifically Luke 1:36 and 1:561:57). This established John’s birthday as six months before Jesus, so a simple subtraction from Christmas led to the selection of June 24.

John Cabot, an Italian explorer sailing under the English flag, arrived at Newfoundland during his 1497 voyage. He sailed into a harbor on June 24 and named it for John the Baptist. The city of St. John’s later formed there (map). Twelve Mile Circle "explored" St. Johns back in 2010 in St. John’s at Long Last. Today the province of Newfoundland and Labrador celebrates Discovery Day on the Monday closest to June 24.

Portuguese explorers first recorded the St. John River in Liberia on June 24 sometime in the 15th Century. Also the Spanish explorer Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón did the same thing at a river in South Carolina on June 24, 1520. He named the river Jordan to honor the spot where St. John baptized Jesus. Later, English settlers changed the name to the Santee River to recognize a local tribe of native inhabitants.

Saint Augustine of Hippo; August 28

St. Augustine
St. Augustine. My own photo.

Saint Augustine, one of the early Church Fathers greatly influenced Christianity through his theology and philosophy. The Hippo part came from an area he served as bishop, now in modern Algeria. He became the posthumous namesake and primary influence of the Augustinians, and his teachings greatly influenced Martin Luther and the Lutheran Church. St. Augustine died on August 28, 430, so August 28 became his annual feast day.

Spain grew concerned about French incursions on Florida and sent conquistador Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to the New World to protect its colonial claims. He spotted land on August 28, 1565, a date that coincided with St. Augustine’s feast day. In recognition, he named his settlement St. Augustine (map). I decided to feature this location because I went there a couple of years ago. Also the name of a local shop amused me: The Hyppo Gormet Ice Pops, in playful honor of St. Augustine of Hippo.

Saint Ursula; October 21

Virgin Islands 2009
Virgin Islands 2009. Photo by Mike Buedel on Flickr (cc)

Saint Ursula might have been my favorite. Well, maybe it could have been the 11,000 virgins. A couple of legends existed. In the more common one, the princess Ursula along with ten ladies in waiting — each attended by a thousand maidens — went on a pilgrimage to Rome sometime around the year 451. They arrived successfully and did whatever pious things 11,011 virtuous women would do when visiting the Pope. On the way back, however, vicious pagan Huns captured them near Cologne. Ursula refused to marry the Hun leader so he ordered all of them slaughtered. Scant evidence of such a massive carnage ever existed so modern church historians took it all with a grain of salt. October 21 became her feast day although the Roman Catholic Church removed the event from its General Roman Calendar in 1970.

Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage, encountered and named a Caribbean archipelago on October 21, 1493: Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes. Later cartographers shortened it down to the Virgin Islands (map). Something similar happened on October 21, 1520. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan discovered a straight at the tip of South America that he named for himself. The cape at the end of continental South America, however, became Cabo Virgenes (Cape Virgins).

There were plenty of other places discovered on feast days. Those involved more obscure places so I’ll stop writing now.

Southernmost Bangladesh

Twelve Mile Circle explored the Ends of the Earth recently, including the southernmost tip of Bangladesh. However, more accurately, the article reached the end of mainland Bangladesh. In the course of my research I found a spot even farther removed in the Chittagong Division, a place called Saint Martin’s Island (map). I never knew it existed until then. It could have belonged to Myanmar (Burma) just as easily. In fact the island fell closer to Myanmar than to its own nation.

About That St. Martin Name

How odd to find another island of Saint Martin. It shouldn’t be confused with that weirdly divided island in the Caribbean. I enjoyed exploring that one a few years ago in person, recording border markers between French Saint-Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten. I’d also experienced the weirdly bifurcated Saint Martin Parish in Louisiana. Apparently things with that name attracted geo-oddities. Who knew?

The same saint underpinned both the Caribbean island and the Louisiana parish. They honored St. Martin of Tours. Christopher Columbus spotted the Caribbean instance during his second voyage in 1493. It happened to coincide with the saint’s feast day, November 11, thus the name. I saw earlier that certain locations discovered on December 25 sometimes came to be called Christmas so it didn’t surprise me to see a similar naming convention here. The same could be said for Easter Island too, I supposed. The European discovery in the Caribbean fell on St. Martin’s Day and Columbus named it accordingly

As for Louisiana

Similarly, Saint Martin of Tours inspired the name of the parish in Louisiana, albeit in a roundabout way. The town of St. Martinville, the seat of local government for the parish, described what happened in 1765:

[Charles-Philippe] Aubry had also sent a French priest, Fr. Jean Louis Civrey, to accompany the Acadians and serve the Attakapas district, where he became the first resident curate. In his records, Civrey refers to his new home as "la Nouvelle Acadie". He calls his new parish "l’Église des Attakapas (Attakapas Church)" and later, "l’Église St-Martin de Tours (St. Martin de Tours Church)", for which it is said St. Martinville is named.

St. Martinville predated the parish, which then adopted the town’s name upon its creation in 1807.

Did Saint Martin’s Island in Bangladesh memorialize the same saint? Honestly, I never found out. It seemed likely. The Anglican Communion venerated St. Martin of Tours too. He would have been a familiar figure to British adventurers who named the island.

The Saint Himself

Basilique Saint-Martin (Tours)
Basilique Saint-Martin (Tours). Photo by Hocusfocus55 on Flickr (cc)

Saint Martin lived during the Fourth Century and became a conscript in the Roman army. He converted to Christianity as a young adult around the time it became legal to do so in the Empire. The most well-known story recounting his pious acts involved an incident during his time as a soldier. A beggar dressed in rags on the verge of freezing to death sat by the side of the road. Martin removed his tunic, sliced it with his sword, and gave half of it to the beggar. That night God came to him in a vision and set him on a course that would guide him for the rest of his life. Martin became a conscientious objector, founded a monastery and eventually became Archbishop of Tours (now a city in France).

I’ll take a moment for an interesting tangent. The portion of the cloak retained by St. Martin became an important relic to the early Christian church and to the Frankish kings. In the Latin language a cloak of this type was called a "cappella." The priest in charge of guarding the cloak became a cappellani. The modern English words chaplain and chapel both descended from the people and places designated to protect this sacred cloak. Indirectly, the musical style "a cappella" (in the manner of the chapel) descended from the same etymology.

He became the patron saint of an eclectic group of people, both soldiers and conscientious objectors, as well as the poor, tailors and winemakers. The Basilica of St. Martin in Tours, France marked his tomb (map) and became a place of pilgrimage.

Onward to Bangladesh

Bangladesh  - St Martin's island - boats
Bangladesh – St Martin's island – boats. Photo by ulricjoh on Flickr (cc)

Nobody lived on the Bangladeshi island of St. Martin’s until about 250 years ago when Arabian sailors occupied it. The British came soon thereafter and took control. It wasn’t a large place, just 8 square kilometres (3 square miles) at high tide and a good bit less at low tide. It was also the only coral island in the entire nation of Bangladesh. St. Martin’s became its English name, of course. In Bengali it went by a phrase that translated into something like Coconut Island.

Most people who moved there became fishermen. They prospered quite nicely until recent decades. Since then, a number of tourist hotels and resorts opened, stressing the island ecology and the coral reefs around it. Fish populations declined. The reefs began to erode. The island began to shrink. Still it seemed to be a mostly idyllic place where tourists came to escape a hectic pace found elsewhere. Ferries crossed from Cox’s Bazar on the mainland, a two hour ride away. Electricity didn’t exist except for the generators at some of the larger hotels. No motorized vehicles were allowed, the only mechanized transportation being pedal-powered rickshaws. Wikitravel noted "not even a hint of nightlife."

Chera Dwip

Chera Dip
Chera Dip. Photo by Taufiq Ahmed on Flickr (cc)

Even farther south, the true southernmost tip of Bangladesh, culminated at an area called Chera Dwip (or Chera Dip, or Chera Deep). At low tide Chera Dwip attached to St. Martin’s Island. At high tide it separated and formed its own distinct island. Tourists enjoyed the area although they needed to be careful to keep from being stranded there when the tide rolled in.

The Stalker

Street View Follower
He Followed Street View Everywhere
via Google Street View, October 2015

Unbelievably, the island included Google Street View coverage! Someone carrying a backpack recorded it in October 2015. I noticed something peculiar, however. The same man appeared in every single Street View image. He wore a uniform. He didn’t seem to be wearing a military uniform, although he might have been a policeman, a crewman from a ferryboat or a tourism official. I couldn’t tell. Regardless, he escorted the Street View camera all over the island. The day warmed up and he removed his tie. He got bored and talked on his mobile phone. Occasionally he helped himself to a bottle of water that he carried around in a red translucent plastic bag. Then he carried a different bag. Then he wore a different shirt, I think because filming probably took place over a couple of days. Was it weird that he followed the camera or that I tracked him obsessively from the other side of the world?

He probably appeared in hundreds of distinct images, sometimes right by the camera and sometimes lurking in the shadows, our own South Asian Where’s Waldo. I finally found an image of him where Google forgot to blur his face. I figured I’d give him a little Intertubes recognition. He deserved it.

Columbus Name Symmetry, Part 2

It doesn’t take much to please Twelve Mile Circle and I’d been particularly fascinated by the first name / surname symmetry of Cristóbal, Colón, Panamá. Never one to stop beating that dead horse I considered that Christopher Columbus had lots of other places named for him that remained unexplored. Certainly there must be plenty of other examples with similar symmetry buried deep within those thousands of potential spots around the globe.

First, I pondered the many language variations of the name: Cristóbal Colón in Spanish; Christopher Columbus in English; Cristoforo Colombo in Italian; Cristóvão Colombo in Portuguese, and so on. Plus there were other permutations like the Latinized version, Columbia/Colombia. One had to be careful to avoid going overboard though. Words like columbine and columbina derived directly from Latin too (meaning dove-like) and had an etymology independent of Christopher Columbus.


Alright, I thought, let’s get right down to it. There was that big hunk of South America that formed the nation of Colombia. Certainly there must be a Cristóbal hiding within its borders somewhere. If it existed, I certainly couldn’t find it. I did uncover three sort-of near misses that provided modest comfort though.

Pico Cristobal Colon
Pico Cristobal Colon via Wikimedia Commons (cc)

There was a San Cristóbal on the southeastern side of Bogotá. However this neighborhood referred to the actual Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, who was probably more legend than fact and "died a martyr during the reign of Decius in the third century. " Then there was Pico Cristóbal Colón, the tallest mountain in Colombia (map), rising an impressive 5,700 metres (18,700 feet). That was pretty spectacular although it didn’t fit the first name / surname symmetry. Someone would need to rename it simply Pico Cristóbal for that to occur. Finally, as a consolation prize, I considered that Cristóbal in Colón Province, Panamá was once located in Colombia. Cristóbal would have maintained the requisite symmetry within Colombia from its founding in the 1850’s until Panamanian independence in 1903.


British Columbia

Maybe Canada would bail me out of this dilemma. British Columbia was a large place, and certainly named for Christopher Columbus. Natural Resources Canada contained three Christopher names in British Columbia within its extensive database; a creek, a lake and a point. I doubted that any one of them would actually be named for the proper Christopher. Still, on some tenuous level it maintained the integrity of the first name / surname symmetry even though it required a little imaginative thought.

Christopher Point, BC

I focused on Christopher Point because it seemed to be placed unusually far south on Vancouver Island (map) and that fascinated me. In fact it turned out to be the southernmost tip of the island so that was a nice surprise.

Christopher Point was part of a Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot, a sub-unit of CFB Esquimalt. This area had also been fortified during World War II. The battery still existed although guns were removed long ago.

The Magic of Lassie Lunch Box
The Magic of Lassie Lunch Box by National Museum of American History Smithsonian via Flickr (cc)

The most bizarre reference to Christopher Point turned up in a book, "World War II Goes to the Movies." It claimed that some scenes in the movie Son of Lassie (1945) were filmed on Vancouver Island, including Christopher Point. It was quite common for movie franchises of that period to weave Nazi plots into their narratives as a mix of propaganda and patriotism. Even a fictional dog could contribute to wartime efforts and the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.

The sequel to ‘Lassie Come Home’ (1943), which now focuses on the adult Joe Carraclough, who joins the RAF during WWII and is shot down over Nazi-occupied Norway along with the stowaway, Lassie’s son ‘Laddie.’ The two are forced to parachute when they are hit by enemy fire. Laddie then seeks help for his injured master and race for their lives through Nazi lines to safety.

I don’t know how Eric Dunn got his lunchbox into the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, although it seemed pretty cool. It made me jealous that I threw away my Hot Wheels lunchbox right around the time I hit puberty.

Even More Tenuous

Not hitting a lot of pay dirt for most of the research although enjoying the hunt, I turned to what I hoped might be a ringer. Certainly within the United States, where many places bore the name Columbus or Columbia, I should be able to find something named Christopher.

Christopher Park Lane

Behold, Christopher Park Lane in Columbus, Ohio.

Good enough.