The Twelve Apostles: Spanish Galleons Research – Institute of Nautical Archaeology Institute of Nautical Archaeology Thu, 07 Dec 2017 19:17:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The wreck of the “Apostle” San Bartolomé (1597) Sat, 18 Jun 2016 21:17:54 +0000 The archival research I conducted in 2014 and 2015 thanks to the support of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology is finally paying off. One of the objectives of the Twelve Apostle Project is to reconstruct the history of these 12 galleons as well as to determine what happened to them. The information about these vessels is often fragmentary and, sometimes, even contradictory. Therefore, being able to examine the original manuscripts that provide information about them is decisive to reveal the real history of these famous galleons.That is the case of the “Apostle” San Bartolomé.

The General Archive of Simancas (Spain).

This galleon was built by Agustín de Ojeda in the shipyard of Deusto, in the north of Spain, between 1589 and 1591. In 1596, it took part in the Armada sent to seize the port of Brest in Brittany (France) although a storm scattered the fleet near Cape Finisterre in northwest Spain, sinking more than 25 ships. The following year, another Armada was prepared  to invade England and the San Bartolomé was chosen to transport 50,000 ducats to pay the troops because it was one of the strongest ships of the fleet. However, another storm prevented the fleet of reaching its objective.

According to original documents, the San Bartolomé managed to return to Spain although it sank shortly after its arrival. However, its loss has been associated with different locations that include the Bartholomew Ledges in St. Mary’s Sound in the isles of Scilly (England), and the inlet of Viveiro in Galicia (Spain).

Letter about the arrival of the San Bartolomé to teh inlet of Viveiro

Letter about the arrival of the San Bartolomé to the inlet of Viveiro

However, this discrepancy about the location of the wreck of the San Bartolomé has decisively been solved through examination of a series of unpublished documents held in the General Archive of Simancas (Spain). Although the San Bartolomé arrived badly damaged to the inlet of Viveiro, it did not sink there but somewhere else. Moreover, its loss was the result of a series of unpredictable and uncommon circumstances. More than 300 lives were lost and only 40 people survived. The King’s money was also lost as the chest with three locks that contained the 50,000 ducats was found empty.

Viveiro inlet

View of the inlet of Viveiro from the sea. For a long time, it was thought that the San Bartolomé sank here.

If you want to know the more about this fascinating and dramatic story, you can find the results of my research published in the last issue of The Mariner’s Mirror journal:

Next week, we will talk about another “Apostle”.

Stay tuned!

José Luis Casabán MA

PhD Candidate

Nautical Archaeology Program

Texas A&M University

The Twelve Apostles : Reconstruction, Outfitting, and History of Late 16th-Century Spanish Galleons Tue, 18 Aug 2015 04:32:13 +0000


JOSÉ LUIS CASABÁN, M.A., Project Director

Texas A&M University, INA Research Associate



Between 1589 and 1591, a series of newly-designed galleons were built and launched in the shipyards of northern Spain. They were known as the Twelve Apostles because each ship was named after one of Jesus’ disciples. These galleons were constructed for the coastal defense of Spain (Armada del Mar Oceano) and to escort the fleets of the Indies run (Armada para la Guarda de la Carrera de Indias). Their design was the result of a century of constant technological innovations in shipbuilding.

The galleon was the workhorse of the Spanish empire and its design evolved throughout the 16th century. The Spanish crown encouraged discussions aimed to develop ships that could serve anywhere in the world. These discussions produced abundant documents that are currently located in the Spanish archives, probably the richest archives in the world for this period. However, despite historical studies based on these critical documents, the late 16th century has not received enough attention in relation to the ships’ construction, outfitting, and history in comparison to later periods. There is also a negative image on the quality of the late 16th-century Spanish galleon even though there is an absence of research on comparative ship design.

The objective of this project is to reconstruct the original design, appearance, outfitting, and history of the Twelve Apostles. I intend to accomplish this through examining unpublished documentation such as shipbuilding contracts, inventories, official reports, and personal letters located in the Spanish General Archive of Simancas (Valladolid), the Naval Museum (Madrid), and the General Archive of Indies (Seville). The project will culminate in the construction of a 3D computer model of the ships to understand their construction and to assess the mutual influence of technological, economic, environmental, and social factors in ship design and outfitting. In addition, a comparative analysis on ship design between similar European vessels of the 16th and early 17th centuries will be conducted. This study will provide a better understanding of Spanish naval architecture from this period. The results of this research are aimed at students, scholars, and the general public interested in nautical archaeology, naval architecture, and European maritime history.

100_6222(Photo by JOSÉ LUIS CASABÁN).