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The pirate who is buried in a church

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There is a little church in San Cristobal de La Laguna, second city of Tenerife, called the church of Santo Domingo where a tombstone lies, just inside the main door to the right, which covers the mortal remains of Amaro Rodríguez Felipe, better known as Amaro Pargo. Pargo is a species of fish called Porgy in English. Here then is a fishy character, all the more strange when we learn his history.


Amaro Pargo was a sixteenth century pirate turned corsair, (much in the same way that the pirate known as Francis Drake did the same and now is immortalised as an English hero).


It is said that he started his seafaring as a young cadet and quickly showed his astuteness, on one occasion counseling his captain to feign surrender in a confrontation with a marauding pirate and during the chaos and affray, managed to spike the cannons of the enemy. For this action, in spite of his youth, he was given his first command.


There is no doubt that he then prospered as a merchant, slaver and pirate for he eventually owned great swathes of land, houses, several vineyards and exported wine and aguardiente to Cuba and Venezuela. At some point he received a royal license to harry English and Dutch shipping thus turning from pirate to corsair, not that I suppose it changed much his modus operandi.


As a young man he came under the spell of a nun, 35 years his senior, and they continued a platonic or more likely, a maternalistic relationship until her death. One of the results of this unusual bond was that much of the booty raised through piracy and slave trading was dedicated to the church, especially the poor and so Amaro gained a reputation as a pious Christian, only hanging those unfortunates whom he captured who were not good Catholics, unfortunately again, the majority.

His tombstone bears his coat of arms awarded by the king for his continual raids on the English and Dutch fleets who preyed on the Spanish treasure ships returning with rich cargoes from the New World. It portrays a shield with daggers above a single tibia, surrounded by a ribbon of cannons.


More unusual is that below the shield is the traditional skull and crossbones which are universally associated with piracy, and this particular skull is even more curious, it winks to us, inviting us to speculate whether he really was what his contemporaries assumed.

The side chapel photo shows a recumbent Christ in an ornate canopy cast from solid silver. A legend cast into the base tells us that this work of art was a gift from Amaro Pargo, perhaps some recompense for all the lives he had cut short at the point of a sword and the end of a rope.




Al "San Fransisco I ", Bashed Al "Santa Maria", Scratch-built  Chinese Trading Junk

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The skull and crossbones on the tomb is probably nothing to do with his piracy, as it was a common symbol of death in the middle ages and after and is often found on old tomb stones.  It is said to have dated from the time of the crusades, when it was common practice for the skull and thigh bones of a dead knight to be sent home for burial in a Christian land.



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Thanks for that interesting titbit, John. On further investigation I have found that several Spanish cemeteries have the skull and crossbones motif carved above their front entrances and that this is, as you say, a symbol for death.


It becomes clear then that pirates used this on their black flags as a way to intimidate their target: I'm sure the sight of the Jolly Roger would strike fear into the heart of any honest mariner. There is a suggestion that two flags were used, the black to encourage surrender and if that failed, a red to declare that no quarter would be given or asked.


The winking skull on Amaro's gravestone can thus be seen as a way of saying that he has cheated Death, for as a devout Christian he would refer us to John 3:16, (which says for you heathens  :D


" God so loved the world .....that whosoever believed in him should not perish but have eternal life".


Again thanks John for prompting my interest.


Declaration: :bird-vi:




Al "San Fransisco I ", Bashed Al "Santa Maria", Scratch-built  Chinese Trading Junk

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Not wishing to hijack this thread,but skull and crossbones heavily feature on the tomb of George Mackenzie in Greyfriars Churchyard in Edinburgh.I will leave anyone to google this to reveal the history behind this man who had a reputation for torture.Incidentally recommend  this graveyard for anyone visiting Edinburgh on holiday.The Harry Potter books were written in a cafe by JK Rowling a few hundred yards from here :D


Kind Regards





Edited by NMBROOK

Currently working on Royal Caroline

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Love this stuff! Great read! Thank you for sharing. You Learn something new every day.

Regards, Scott


Current build: 1:75 Friesland, Mamoli


Completed builds:

1:64 Rattlesnake, Mamoli  -  1:64 HMS Bounty, Mamoli  -  1:54 Adventure, Amati  -  1:80 King of the Mississippi, AL

1:64 Blue Shadow, Mamoli  -  1:64 Leida Dutch pleasure boat, Corel  -  1:60 HMS President Mantra, Sergal


Awaiting construction:

1:89 Hermione La Fayette AL  -  1:48 Perserverance, Modelers shipyard

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Thank you for the interesting story! However, as the previous posts said, the skull and bones are a sign associated with piracy only in our times. Back in the middle ages this was a common sign for tombstones. I remember seeing the same sign on many tombstones in the Cathedral of Barcelona. I mean the 14th century building dedicated to Saint Eulalia, not to be confused with Antoni Gaudi's Sagrada Familia.

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Interesting thread. I recall visiting an English country church in my childhood. There was an ossuary in the undercroft with stacks of both femurs and skulls. I presume these had been disinterred from the churchyard to make room for newer arrivals (think of the graveyard scene in Hamlet). 

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