The Treasure of Maravilla

Legend said the Maravilla was cursed. She sank in January of 1656, the Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas was officially filled with over five million pesos of treasure. That treasure included much of the silver salvaged from the South Seas Fleet’s Capitana of 1654 that wrecked on Chanduy Reef off Ecuador. The ill-fated treasure sank once again when the Maravillas unexpectedly ran into shallow water and was subsequently rammed by one of the other ships of its fleet, forcing the captain to try to ground the Maravillas on a nearby reef on Little Bahama Bank off Grand Bahama Island. Over six hundred lost their lives while the lucky forty-five escaped the curse and returned to Spain to tell the story.

Robert Marx, the world renowned underwater archaeologist and treasure hunter, says “The Maravilla was nothing but trouble. It’s a cursed wreck.” His quest to find the Maravilla, the second-richest Spanish galleon ever lost at sea, became an obsession and required a twelve year search. The vessel was carrying 650 passengers, and according to the manifest, 5 million pesos of gold, silver, jewelry, emeralds, pearls, and other precious artifacts back to King Philip IV of Spain. Marx had first read about the galleon in 1960 when fascination with sunken treasure took him to the Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain. The Spanish had kept track of everything from the time of Columbus, and he made a number of trips to the archive and went through fifteen thousand documents for clues. One was a prayer written by a priest who survived :

"Blessed by the light of the day
And the holy cross we say:
Blessed be the immortal soul
And the Lord who keeps it whole
Blessed by the light of the day
And he who sends the night away"

According to Marx’s research, the priest actually was Diego Portichuelo de Ribadeneyra, head of the Spanish Inquisition for South America.

Finally, Marx know what really happened after the fleet, based on various documents he had read. It was New Year’s Day January 4th, 1656 a fleet led by the Maravilla left Havana Harbor. For all the ships returning to Spain from the New World, the last stop was Havana and then up through the straits of Florida. They would try to spot what is now Cape Canaveral and then they knew they were far north enough to head for the northeast, Bermuda, the Azores, and home. Unfortunately, the whole fleet turned to the northeast too soon. They didn’t see the Cape but assumed they were far enough north, but were really 50 miles further south. It was a disaster. After midnight and all passengers were asleep when a lookout realized they were in less than 20 feet of water off Little Bahama Bank. The captain ordered a cannon to be fired to warn the other ships and then all hell broke loose. One of the other ships hit the Maravilla on the side and put a large hole in it. The captain tried to get the ship up higher on the bank but it hit a reef and broke into two pieces.

Marx says that although they were not far from land, many people in those days did not know how to swim. Even those who could had such heavy clothing it held them back. Over six hundred people on board the ship died in the night, and the wreckage scattered. Spanish salvagers soon recovered almost half a million pesos of treasure quickly, followed by more recoveries over the next several decades, yet with over half of the official cargo still unfound.

In 1968 Marx intensified his search for Maravilla. From the Spanish documents, he knew he had 36,000 square miles of ocean to search, and while he was combing the bottom of the sea he saw sixty other ancient wrecks. His optimism never wavered and he awoke every morning thinking it might be the day the Maravilla would be found. Finally, on August 1972, was the climax of a twelve year search. He observed one of his magnetometer apparently hit something. After removed about thirty feet of sand away, the first thing he found was a cannon ball. He took his hammer and knocked the core off and saw the English broad arrow mark which showed it was British property. While he removed the sand from a second spot, he opened there were thousand of silver and gold coins, jewelry and candlesticks. It was the Maravilla.

Marx also soon discovered that the main part of the Maravilla was 6 to 8 miles south and parts of the wrecks were spread out over 15,000 square mile area. Many hurricanes over the years had moved the pieces and deposited 30 feet of sand on top. Among of the first items he found was an eighty-pound silver bar with the name of the ship’s captain on it. There were porcelain bowls and other items from China. Also smuggled pieces such as twenty-five-pound solid gold bar with no markings.

After six weeks, his ship was crammed with treasure and artifacts, and he arrived in the Bahamas, where he had an agreement with the government to share the treasure. However he was greeted by the armed guards and banished by the government. The Bahamians demanded the return of all the treasure that Marx's group had recovered, while the treasure hunters did not want to give up their hard-found artifacts. The controversy became an international incident, with new Prime Minister Darrell Rolle, ordered the treasure hunters to return all items to Nassau within the week. He think it must be the curse of the ship. He could never return to the site again, but he was the only one who knew exactly where it was.

An excellent Maravillas piece of 8 coins, owned by Marex

After 15 years, Marx made arrangements with other divers that were not banned by the government of the Bahamas. Memphis-based Herbo Humphries and his company, Marex, have worked the wreck with their ship, Beacon and have brought up millions in gold, jewels and other artifacts, with Marx receiving a percentage of the profits. He said, “I’ve found multi-millions on the Maravilla, but there were many debts to investors, the governments of the Bahamas and then Spain stepped in, it’s been both a blessing and a curse.”

Sources :
The Hunt for Amazing Treasures by Sondra Farrell Bazrod;;

Pic Source :;
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