Tuesday, May 14, 2019


One morning in 1853, as the sun was just rising, Captain Shiell of the British ship Rodsley, saw what looked like a small European vessel in the distance.

As the ship got closer, he realized it was not European at all. Six islanders in an outrigger were barely clinging to life, lost at sea. The stranded men were hundreds of miles away from any land.

It took until the next day for the rescued men to be able to stand up. They were that weak.

When the Captain tried to communicate with the men, all he could find out at first was that the six men were from Saipan.

Shiell wanted to know how long they had been adrift. He pointed to the sun, meaning "how many days?" How many times did the sun rise and set when you were lost at sea?

The men thought the captain was saying that the sun was a god. So they held up three fingers as a sign of the Trinity, and crossed two fingers, indicating that they were Catholics, and not sun worshipers.

I wonder if this is what the seamen did.

This sign of the cross involves making a cross with the thumb and the index finger. Besides making a cross, this sign uses two fingers, representing the two natures of Jesus, being both God and man. The three other fingers pointing straight up represent the Three Divine Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who are all one God, not three gods.

Older people kept this gesture well in the old days. Over time, people stopped forming the cross with the thumb and index finger, and just used their thumb to sign themselves.

Eventually Shiell ascertained that they had been lost for ten days.

In 1853, the vast majority of people living on Saipan were Carolinians. Chamorros there were a small number still. But many of the Carolinians were only just beginning to become Catholics in the 1850s. We'll never know for sure if the six rescued men from Saipan were Carolinian, Chamorro or possibly a mixed group.

The star indicates where the six Saipan sailors were rescued, far from home.

Nottinghamshire Guardian (UK), 11 August 1853

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