Posts Tagged ‘Amerigo Vespucci’

A cause for celebration: it’s America’s name day!

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014


Blogging makes for some interesting penpals. Two years at about this time, I wrote about the Saint Imre in a post titled “America’s Birth Certificate” here.  The gist of the post was the 1507 map that first recognized “America” by name. It was, of course, in honor of its Florentine explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, the first explorer to decide that the Americas were not the eastern tip of Asia, but a whole different continent – or, put another way, he saw the Pacific as a separate body of water.

Ah … but there the story only begins. Where did the name “Amerigo” come from? It’s the Italian form of St. Emeric, to non-Hungarians, or Saint Imre, crown prince of Hungary, to those of us with Hungarian blood. He had taken a vow of chastity (that’s why he holds a lily; see left) and was a hero to newly converted Hungary. He was gored by a boar in a hunting mishap, and died in 1031 A.D. That’s what I wrote in my post.

Some time later I received an email from Sándor Balogh, who told me that there is a campaign afoot to make today a holiday (he’s written more on the subject here and here). After all, in many countries birthdays aren’t celebrated, but rather “name days” – that is, one celebrates the feast day of the saint one was named after (think of all those Tolstoy novels, if you don’t believe me). Balogh had more info on how the Italian explorer came to be named after a Hungarian saint. Apparently he was named after his grandfather, another Amerigo, but that just takes the question back two generations.

Here’s the missing link, showing the connection between the Italian Amerigo and the Hungarian Imre:

imre2Msgr. György Pap published in the December, 1968 issue of the Magyar Kultúra a photograph of the triptych of the main altar of the Settignano St. Martino, a Mensola chapel near Florence, which was painted in 1391.  On it can be seen a man, holding a white lily, the symbol of virginity, representing Amerigo D’Ungueria. I was later successful in obtaining a photograph of the altar-piece, thanks to Maria Prokopp, an art historian. This shows the Virgin Mary, with the baby Jesus on her arm, surrounded by two saints, with the patron of the chapel, the creator of the painting, Amerigo Zati, kneeling in front of her.

The inscription at the bottom of the picture in its entirety:



Thus it is obvious that the businessman inserted his own name-giver and patron-saint into the painting, so the connection between the names Amerigo and Imre (Emeric) is undeniable. The other saint, Guiliano, is the patron-saint of Amerigo Zati’s brother Julian.

From this it is clear that it was not the altar-piece that caused the name Amerigo to become widespread, but independently of this, the name had been used for a long time and it was well-known who Saint Imre was, at least in the environs of Florence, and so this explains the triptych.

That said, I like the original image of St. Imre I used two years ago, preferring its faded, Giotto-like austerity to this more gaudy Florentine one. I don’t know where this image came from, other than Wikipedia. I also like celebrating something besides Guy Fawkes‘ Day, the rather nasty ending of what may have been a government sting operation.

The idea of recognizing November 5 is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Mayor Kathy Sheehan of Albany has already made the leap, declaring November 5 to be Amerigo Vespucci Day in the city. And Balogh will be speaking there today. Read about it in the Times Union here.

“America’s birth certificate”

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012
Here it is...America's birth certificate, signed by Martin Waldseemüller

Here it is…America’s birth certificate, signed by Martin Waldseemüller

Twelve large sheets, assembled together in a 4′ X 7.5′ spread, form the 1507 map that has been called “America’s birth certificate.”

Like father…

Last night, I listened to Chet Van Duzer discuss his latest book, Seeing the World Anew (Library of Congress/ Levenger Press).  He spoke about both the 1507 and 1516 maps by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller – but it was the earlier, dreamier map that caught my attention imagination.  Especially since it’s the first map to mention “America” by that name.  Or rather, by the name of the man who was the first explorer to decide that the Americas were not the eastern tip of Asia, but a whole different continent – or, put another way, he saw the Pacific as a separate body of water.

…like son.

America was named for him, but who was he named for?  That story falls outside the world of cartography and takes us back to saints. It seems this Florentine was named for an obscure 11th-century Hungarian, St. Emeric – which is to say, “Henry,” or in Hungarian, “Imre.” He was the crown prince of Hungary; his father was the legendary founding king of Hungary, St. Stephen.  The lad was killed by a boar at age 24, and buried church of Székesfehérvár.  (Is it just me, or does it seem like lots of folks in those days were killed by boars?)

When Waldseemüller made the 1516 map, Vespucci suffered a huge demotion, and had been supplanted by Christopher Columbus. He disappeared from the maps and from popular imagination. Still, it’s nice to know my homeland has been named for a Hungarian.

I didn’t hear the whole talk – I had to tiptoe off to the Humanities Center for Tobias Wolff leading a discussion of William Maxwell‘s So Long, See You Tomorrow, the debut event of “Another Look” book club.