First Christian settlement in North America?

Bill Bowman
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British lecturer coming to Carbonear to speak on the subject

Was Carbonear the site of the first Christian settlement in North America?

Did Friar Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis establish a religious colony and build a church there? If so would they have been the first in North America? Is that how Carbonear got its name?

Historians would like to find some definitive answers to those questions. But researchers have already found enough documentation to support some of the claims that had been made by Dr. Alwyn Ruddock, a world expert on John Cabot's discovery voyages from Bristol to North America (1496-98).

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Was Carbonear the site of the first Christian settlement in North America?

Did Friar Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis establish a religious colony and build a church there? If so would they have been the first in North America? Is that how Carbonear got its name?

Historians would like to find some definitive answers to those questions. But researchers have already found enough documentation to support some of the claims that had been made by Dr. Alwyn Ruddock, a world expert on John Cabot's discovery voyages from Bristol to North America (1496-98).

What she was believed to have found out about Cabot's voyages was set to rewrite the history of the European discovery of America. Yet before Dr. Ruddock died in December 2005, after spending four decades researching the topic, she ordered the destruction of all her research before it could be published.

However, her correspondence with her intended publisher, the University of Exeter Press, survived.

Dr. Evan Jones is a senior lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Bristol.

Using the surviving correspondence, Dr. Jones has investigated Dr. Ruddock's research she had worked on and kept secret for so many years.

Through the efforts of Dr. Jones and others, "over the last five years more has been learnt or at least published about the Cabot voyages than in the last five decades."

During that time Dr. Jones and others have been making efforts to relocate the documents Dr. Ruddock claimed to have found in the 40 years she spent researching the voyages of John and Sebastian Cabot.

Dr. Jones writes, "it has now become clear that many of Ruddock's revolutionary claims about these earliest English voyages to the 'new found land' are true.

"Archival research conducted in the last year has found documents in the National Archives (London) to support her claims."

Dr. Jones has written a paper, Cabot and the New Found Land, 1496-1500, which will discuss "the nature and fruits of a remarkable research project that could yet yield a fruit that seemed unimaginable just a few years ago - archeological remains of the first Christian settlement and church in North America, which Ruddock believed was sited in Carbonear," approximately 40 kilometres from the Cupers Cove settlement at Cupids.

The revelations first came to public attention in April 2007, when The Compass, Telegram, Montreal Gazette and other papers published stories based on a press release from Bristol University.

Coincidentally, Carbonear was settled by Nicholas Guy (of Cupids) in 1630, just 20 years after John Guy had founded his colony at Cupers Cove.

Public lecture

Dr. Evan Jones will be in Carbonear next month to give a public lecture on his findings.

Co-hosted by the Carbonear Heritage Society and town council, the lecture is scheduled to take place 7 p.m. Monday, June 14 at the Princess Sheila NaGeira Theatre.

Background

If Dr. Alwyn Ruddock's findings can be proven, "it means that the remains of the only medieval church in North America may still lie buried under the modern town of Carbonear."

In April of 2007, Dr. Jones was quoted as saying: "To describe Alwyn Ruddock's claims as revolutionary is not an exaggeration."

Her apparent findings include information about how John Cabot persuaded King Henry VII to support his voyages and why the explorer was able to win the backing of an influential Italian cleric, Father Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis, and Augustinian friar, who was also in charges of collecting the pope's taxes in England.

Dr. Ruddock's most exciting claims however involve John Cabot's 1498 voyage to America. While the fate of this expedition had long been a mystery, Dr. Ruddock appears to have found evidence of a long and complex exploration of the American coastline, which culminated in Cabot's return to England in the spring of 1500 followed shortly by his death.

Dr. Ruddock intended to reveal that while Cabot was sailing south down the coast of America, his chief support, Father Giovanni apparently established a settlement and built a church. The church, the first to be built in North America was named after the Augustinian church of San Giovanni a Carbonara in Naples.

Not far out

Bert Parsons, president of the Carbonear Heritage Society has spent a great deal of time researching the history of his hometown.

Parsons says in 1910, archivist H.F. Shortis wrote: "John Cabot named Carbonear in memory of a town in his homeland Italy called Carbonier. Carbonier was a small town in the suburbs of Genoa, which was Cabot's home city."

Shortis went on to write: "After landing in Bonavista, Cabot next sailed to Carbonear and thus named the new town."

In light of the findings of Dr. Ruddock and the subsequent research by Dr. Jones, Bert Parsons wonders, "was Shortis all that far out in left field?" Perhaps not, according to researcher Alwyn Ruddock.

Organizations: Bristol University, University of Exeter Press, Carbonear Heritage Society National Archives The Compass Montreal Gazette Augustinian church

Geographic location: Carbonear, North America, America Bristol London England Naples Italy Genoa Bonavista

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