Pietro Querini's Story

The story of Querina Vol 1. Artwork by Franco Fortunato, exhibition "The story of Querina"

“I, Pietro Querini from Venice, have promised myself to write down exactly, for the memory of posterity, the adversities that have befallen me and the places where they have happened to me according to the dispositions of the wheel of fate.

You must know that for the desire to acquire honour and riches, things of which we men never have enough, I threw myself into the enterprise of setting up a ship for a trip to Flanders, investing my belongings.

On April 25, I left Crete to embark on that journey that would have been very bitter and full of misfortunes. My state of mind was, as anyone can imagine, sad for the loss of my son, and full of pain, as if it were already a premonition of the many and unbearable misfortunes that would come”. 

Who was Pietro Querini? Venetian Patrician in the 15th century of powerful Querini family and therefore a member by right of Serenissima’s Great Council. He was Lord, on the Island of Candia (Crete), the fiefs of Castel di Termini and Dfnes, famous for the production of Malvasia Wine, wich he traded especially with Fiandre.

 

Bound for Bruges in Flanders in 1431, his merchant ship encountered a terrible storm off the western coast of France. The storm ravaged the ship, and the sailors had to go in the lifeboats. They fought the storm and cold for weeks. Many men drowned or died of starvation and fatigue when, left to their own fates, they drifted on the Gulf Stream far across the North Sea.

 

Just after the new year, in January 1432, the survivors stranded on an island amid the skerries near Røst in Lofoten. Only eleven men, of a crew that totaled 68, made it. They were found by local fishermen, after nearly a month who lived on the island of   Røst.

 

The inhabitants of Røst welcomed them and shared everything they owned with the survivors. Spending more than three months on the island, Querini and the rest of the crew learnt the customs and traditions, which allowed for the vehicle of valuable cultural heritage between the two cultures.

 

On the fourteenth of May, the shipwrecked sailors left to return home with sixty stockpiles donated by the Norwegian community, via Trondheim and then on to Sweden, where they stopped first in Vadstena and then in Gӧtemborg. From this port two ships left, one for Rostock, Germany, in which embarked Cristofalo Fioravante and Nicolò de Michiel and the cook Girardo da Lion, and one bound for England with which Pietro Querini and seven other sailors set sail.

 

The survivors of the first ship landed in the German Hanseatic city, where they joined a group of pilgrims on their way to Rome. Passing through German lands, they reached Venice on twelve October 1432. The second boat reached King’s Lynn on the twenty-second of September. There Querini and the others travelled along the river routes to Cambridge and finally to London. Embarking at Canterbury, they sailed through Bruges, Belgium, and then on to Basel, Switzerland. Finally, on twenty-fifth January 1433, Pietro Querini returned to the Most Serene Republic of Venice, where he drew up an account of his journey to present to the Doge.

 

There are two separate reports of that extraordinary adventure, one by Pietro Querini, kept in two manuscript copies in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana and the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, the other by the two surviving ship’s officers Cristoforo Fioravanti and Nicolò di Michiel, kept in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice, collected and written by the Florentine humanist Antonio di Corrado de Cardini.

 

Interesting echoes of Querini’s epic are also evident in the nautical charts of the time, such as in Andrea Bianco’s Atlas, 1436, which indicates ‘stocfis‘ in the Lofoten area, and in the famous world map by Fra’ Mauro (1457-1459), who writes: ‘Questa provincia di Norvegia scorse misier Piero Querino come e noto‘, en: “This province of Norway there was Piero Querino as and known’

[…] In my prayers, I asked the Lord for the grace to return home healthy, and to find in good health my loved ones. And so it happened.

Let us therefore praise and glory to our Lord in sechula sechulorum. Amen.”

For the quotes: Il naufragio della Querina by Paolo Nelli

The final destination. Artwork by Franco Fortunato