At the age of 17, Marco Polo left Venice with his father and uncle, and, in 1271, traveled 5,600 miles east to meet Kublai Khan, grandson of Ghengis Khan. Kublai Khan was Emperor of China, Korea, North India, Persia, Russia and Hungary.
Marco Polo’s father and uncle, Niccolo and Matteo, had met the Emperor on a previous journey and he had requested they bring back 100 teachers of the Holy Christian Faith and a flask of oil from Christ’s empty tomb in Jerusalem.
Because of the death of Pope Clement IV and the wars in Europe, only two preaching Dominican friars were sent by the new Pope, Gregory X. These turned back in fear while crossing an area being attacked by Turkish Muslims.
The Polos returned to China where Marco Polo was employed by Kublai Khan as an envoy for over 20 years. Upon finally returning to Italy, Marco Polo was captured during the Battle of Curzola in 1298 and imprisoned in Genoa.
While a captive in Genoa, Marco Polo dictated the stories of his travels through Persia, China, Mongolia, the Far East and India to fellow prisoner Rustichello da Pisa, who wrote them down into what became Medieval Europe’s best-seller, “The Travels of Marco Polo.” Marco Polo’s book was nicknamed “Il Milione” or One Million Lies, as it described so many unbelievable things Europeans had never heard of, such as:
spaghetti noodles, gunpowder, paper currency, ice-cream, eye glasses, thread from worms (silk), porcelain dishes (china), burning black stones (coal), exotic herbs and spices, pinatas, wine from rice, asbestos from a mineral, women’s feet bound since childhood, worship of cattle with homes smeared with cow dung, naked holy men, fields of cotton cloth being dyed, arrows shot from a recurve bow, and an imperial “pony-express” style postal system.
Marco Polo surprised Europeans with a report that the Magi, who brought gifts to baby Jesus, were buried in Saveh, a town in Iran. Marco Polo stated:
“I believe it was God’s will that we should come back, so that men might know the things that are in the world, since, as we have said in the first chapter of this book, no other man, Christian or Saracen, Mongol or pagan, has explored so much of the world as Messer Marco, son of Messer Niccolo Polo, great and noble citizen of the city of Venice.”
In Genoa, 127 years after Marco Polo’s death, Christopher Columbus was born in 1451. Muslim warriors raided caravans along the China Silk Road resulting in land trade routes from Europe to India and China becoming increasingly dangerous. All trade finally ending when the Ottoman Muslims conquered Constantinople in 1453.
Columbus grew up hearing stories of the Grand Khan in a strange land on the other side of the world. Columbus owned a copy of Marco Polo’s book, and wrote numerous personal notes in the margins. At the age of 41, Christopher Columbus wrote to the King and Queen of Spain in 1492:
“Concerning the lands of India, and a Prince called Gran Khan . . . How many times he sent to Rome to seek doctors in our Holy Faith to instruct him and that never had the Holy Father provided them, and thus so many people were lost through lapsing into idolatries . . . And Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes devoted to the Holy Christian Faith and the propagators thereof, and enemies of the sect of Mahomet and of all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the said regions of India, to see the said princes and peoples and lands and the dispositions of them and of all, and the manner in which may be undertaken their conversion to our Holy Faith, And ordained that I should not go by land (the usual way) to the Orient, but by the route of the Occident, by which no one to this day knows for sure that anyone has gone.”
On OCTOBER 10, 1492, Columbus wrote in his Journal how his sailors were tired of the long voyage, growing scared, and wanted to turn back:
“Here the people could stand it no longer and complained of the long voyage . . . but the Admiral . . . added that it was useless to complain. He had come to the Indies, and so had to continue until he found them, with the help of Our Lord.”
The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.
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