Faraway: Get Out of Your World
A Kiss from the Queen
Back in the 1400s, if you were planning a trip across the ocean, let’s say, with the intention of discovering a new world, you’d not only need a really good plan, but you’d also need several deep-pocketed backers. Along with the plan and the backers, it would help to have the blessing of the Queen. But what does that mean? That she merely sanctions your endeavor by kissing your bowed head? In the case of Christopher Columbus, it meant that she blessed an object that he could point to as proof of her endorsement. This object was not just a mere piece of paper with her glorious signature, but was a six-foot iron cross. Today, this very cross is domiciled in Hudson, Ohio, hanging on the wall of a little chapel on the campus of a boarding school, Western Reserve Academy. Of the thousands of people who have sat in the pews of this chapel and looked at this unadorned cross at the head of the sanctuary, very few are aware of its royal significance.
The story of how this cross took a voyage of its own, begins in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, named in honor of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus discovering America. One of the main developers of this exposition was a man named James W. Ellsworth, who happened to be from Hudson, Ohio. Mr. Ellsworth had quite a knack for business and became a very successful coal baron. In 1869, he moved to Chicago to further his fortunes. With his gift of leadership coupled with a desire to improve his community, he soon became involved in city organizations. Because of his love for all things beautiful, he joined the South Parks Board and quickly rose to become president. From that association, Mr. Ellsworth set his sights on Chicago hosting the World’s Fair in 1893. He presented his dream to Frederick Olmsted, noted landscape architect of the time. It was later said that it was James Ellsworth’s vision and determination that brought the World’s Fair of 1893 to Chicago. In fact, Ellsworth put his money where his mouth was and became the main funder for the project which amounted to no small piece of change. He had said that he would “personally see that the cost was met.” The 600 acres that were set aside for the event and the ensuing development into waterways, lagoons, buildings and gardens totaled over $15,000,000 in early project estimates.
As you can imagine, exhibitors were held to high standards. Spain went all out by building an exact replica of the Santa Maria de la Rabida monastery. This monastery had been a place of refuge for Columbus on several occasions when he was destitute, during the years when he was trying to find funding for his expedition to the new world. Columbus developed a relationship with the prior, Juan Perez de Marchena, formerly a confessor to Queen Isabella, who played a major role in securing support for Columbus’s venture.
At either end of this monastery two six-foot iron crosses hung on the walls. It was before these very crosses that Christopher Columbus had bowed before Queen Isabella to get her blessing for his voyage. Having such historical significance, the Spanish government decided that both crosses should go to America and be placed in the replica for the exposition.
The Columbian Exposition of 1893 turned out to be quite a success. Mr. Ellsworth made good on his investment and then some. On the last night of the fair, many celebrations were going on all over the city. Ellsworth was invited to several. Long after midnight, having attended the last one on his list, he decided to stop for a bedtime tea in the bar across from his hotel. Still crowded with revelers from the fair, Ellsworth made his way to a quiet corner. In a few minutes, however, his peace was disrupted by a loud confrontation on the other side of the room. The manager of the establishment was standing over a table of men demanding that they pay their bill immediately and leave. Ellsworth tried to ascertain what the commotion was about, but before he could make sense of it, one of the men from the table in question caught his eye. It was one of the Spaniards from the La Rabida exhibit. Suddenly, a great deal of gesturing began and soon all the men from the Spaniard’s table got up and made their way through the crowd to Ellsworth’s table, with the manager not far behind.
Speaking rapidly in combination of English and Spanish, the men presented their problem to Ellsworth. Fast chatter ensued as they gave an explanation as to why they were flat broke and unable to pay their tab. Miguel thought that Francisco had funds left from the trip’s budget. Francisco thought that Mario had a stash of cash given to him by his wife in case of an emergency and Mario thought that Miguel had a line of credit from the government of Spain. Individually, each one had spent his cash on gifts for friends and family back home. More gesturing and fervent Spanish words flew as they continued talking to one another, hashing out who was to blame. Ellsworth cleared his throat to get their attention. Miguel realized that they had been speaking entirely in Spanish and had left Ellsworth out of the conversation! The Spaniards had a proposal: If Ellsworth would pick up their tab, they would give him anything from their exhibit that he desired. Without hesitation, Ellsworth asked for one of the large iron crosses. The men then excitedly relayed to Ellsworth that he had chosen wisely, for they would see to it that he got the very one that that Queen Isabella had kissed and blessed for Columbus’s voyage of 1492.
Ellsworth asked, “But of the two crosses, how do you know which one was blessed?”
“Ah, my dear friend, we know, for it is the one with the Queen’s insignia carved at the bottom,” replied Miguel with great assurance, “Wherever this cross goes, good fortune will follow for those who believe in its divine energies and magical powers bestowed by the Queen’s own touch.”
The cross was installed in the Chapel at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio in 1936 on the 100th anniversary of the chapel’s construction and the 500th anniversary of the birth of Christopher Columbus. At the service, these words were read:
“The cross is placed here as a symbol of Faith in Ideals in the hope that it may give assurance and courage to anyone struggling to realize a dream; and that those going from this school, may take with them the blessing of La Rabida.”
And you, dear reader, might you be wondering what happened to the other cross? At the end of the exposition, the Spanish government gave it to a Chicago historical museum.
And the replica of the monastery itself? The Spanish Consul donated the building to be used as a fresh air sanitarium for sick children. A group of women in Chicago took up the project, raising the funds for equipment and staff. Interestingly, they were successful at recruiting volunteer physicians. These enterprising women set out to provide a “medical refuge for sick children” and relief for “tired and weary mothers” as stated in their original mission statement. Through the years the hospital has continued to serve the needs of women and children.