July 2022 Treasure of the Month

Our Treasure of the Month for July is this bell recovered in 1990 by the four-man crew of the Rogue Wave, a sub-contractor working for the Mel Fisher Center at the time.  Specifically, it was Gary Daemer who spotted the bell in 8 feet of water sandwiched between small reefs just off shore. It was found alongside a small beam that it was attached to. Daemer believes that the bell had been buried under sand for hundreds of years which helped to preserve it.

The Rogue Wave crew was working south of Sebastian Inlet at what is believed the be the wreck site of the Santo Cristo de San Roman. While not specifically looking for a bell, they were elated to have made this discovery. It was not known at the time what the bell was used for. Possibilities were that it was being used onboard the ship or was being sent back to Spain for chapel use.

The bell was sent to the Mel Fisher Center for conservation. It was dated 1705 and bore the inscription: “Soli Deo Gloria” or “Glory to God Alone”. According to information provided by Taffi Fisher Abt of the Mel Fisher Museum in Sebastian, their records indicate that the bell weighed 24.8 pounds, was 24 centimeters (9.4inches) wide at the base and 27.3 centimeters ( 10.7 inches) tall. Subsequently, the bell was donated to the State of Florida and the original currently resides in the McClarty Treasure Museum located on A1A, north of Vero Beach. Interestingly enough, Taffi also noted that many bells found on the wreck sites of the 1715 Fleet are part of the State of Florida’s collection of Fleet related artifacts. Below are several images of the bell on display at the McClarty Treasure Museum.

But what was the purpose of the bell and what was it used for? Research provided by 1715 Fleet Society member Jorge Proctor provides a possible answer. According to the manifest of the Santo Cristo de San Roman (see below) “ a small box with one bell and two incense burners for Pious work” was loaded on the Almiranta of the Fleet. The Almiranta was the Santo Cristo de San Roman. The manifest also notes that the bell and incense burners were loaded onboard the Santo Cristo de San Roman at Veracruz on April 17, 1715. Jorge submits that we cannot say with 100% certainty that this is the same bell. Nevertheless the manifest is still useful as it explains why a bell, such as this one, would be made out of silver. Overall, strong circumstantial evidence as to the origin of this bell and its purpose.

More research is necessary to determine if any incense burners were found at that wreck site. If so, then that would offer the remaining proof necessary to conclusively establish the origin of our Treasure of the Month.

Group of bells located in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Ben Costello, January 2020)

Special thanks to Jorge Proctor for research information and images of original archival documents used in this post. Also, thanks to Taffi Fisher Abt from the Mel Fisher Museum in Sebastian, for providing information from 1990 records regarding the recovery of this bell.

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