Gonçalo Velho


Gonçalo Velho : biography

The island’s settlement, as that of Santa Maria, only began after Gonçalo Velho became the Capitain-Donatário, and began to settle Santa Maria with colonists in 1439, and later São Miguel in 1444. During this period he ordered the burning/clearing of lands and donated vast tracts of lands to family members and loyal servants. On April 3, 1443, King Afonso V of Portugal, on the request of the Infante, bestowed on Gonçalo Velho for five-years the title of Commander of the Islands of the Azores, and tasked its settlers to pay a tithe while ordering the transport of all goods to the Kingdom.


During the reign of his brother (King D. Duarte) the Infante, D. Henrique, founded of the nautical school in the provincial village of Sagres. Gonçalo Velho Cabral was one of the mariners and monks, in the devotion to the Virgin Mary that worked for the Infante. On his orders, Cabral was sent to search the Ocean Sea to discover new territories for the Portuguese Crown, promising to name the first island to the Virgin. Gonçalo Velho Cabral scanned maps and nautical charts for days while at sea, noting the currents and wind directions, during several nights, through storms and gales in search of these mythical lands identified by the Greeks outside the Pillars of Hercules.

Finally, on the morning of August 15 (the Feast day of the Virgin Mary), a supposedly calm, warm and clear day, the mariners and seamen could see for large distances. In the distance, though, the mate in the Crow’s nest could see along the horizon a cloudy form, which progressively grew in dimensions and darkened, taken on a distinctive form. Finally, when the seaman realized beyond doubt, he yelled down to the crew, Terra à vista! (English: "Land in sight!"). As was the custom, Gonçalo Velho Cabral and his crew began their day with morning mass, benedictions and oratory to God and the Virgin Mary, to help them on their journey and to request their assistance in finding land. As the legend suggests, as the seaman yelled out his discovery the crew was saying the Ave Maria and were just pronouncing "Santa Maria" when the cry was heard. The commander considered it a miracle and, remembering the promise he had made, named the island as Santa Maria.