The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1976, Volume 22, Number 4
James E. Moss, Editor
Thomas L. Scharf, Assistant Editor

The Controversy Over The Name

In 1588 Pope Sixtus V elevated the Spanish Franciscan Father Diego de San Nicolás del Puerto to the Roman altar and calendar of saints under the name of Didacus. This name change startled none present and was met with acclamation.1didicus

Today there is some question about the reasons behind the pontiff’s action in calling Fray Diego, whose major work was centered in Alcalá, St. Didacus.2 Some writers claim that Didacus was given to Diego as the Latin equivalent of the Spanish name.3 Their arguments are elaborate and extensive, based on a partially correct etymological and philological analysis demonstrating how San Diego perfects the bastardization of Santo Yago, Santo Iago or Santiago [Saint James] which is the Iberian form of the Greek . These same apologists err, however, when they push their linguistic and etymological analysis claiming that Santiago, ´l´ακωβος or (Hebrew text) is Didacus in Latin. Since it is nearly impossible to prove or disprove their apologia using Greek letters in transliteration, we must employ the Greek letters themselves. Didacus is the Latin transliteration of Διδαχσς; ´l´ακ´ωβος transliterates as Jacobus, the Latin form of Iago [or James]. Therefore it cannot be said that Diego is either a Spanish or other linguistic form of James.

Confronted with this fact, a few apologists rethought their defense and later argued that the transliteration was not the core of the change, but rather the change occurred because of the meaning of the names, which they claim to be identical.4 This, too, is incorrect. ´l´ακωβος is a word for “supplanter” (from ´l´ακ´ωβ) similar in definition to “following after.” Didacus, originating from διδαχ´η, however, means “teacher.” Thus the answer does not lie in this aspect of the name itself.

At the time of Diego’s canonization5 the Vatican was immersed in the quest for an ancient Christian tract known as the Διδαχη τωυ δωδεκα αποοτολων mentioned by Eusebius in the early days of the Church,6 and whose content was then currently under discussion as the “primus apologia pro vita” or guide for life leading the good man to merit and eternal life.7 In analyzing Diego’s vitae the congregation in charge of the investigation for his beatification concluded that Diego’s life exemplified the Διδαχη and thus awarded him the name of Teacher of the Divine Precepts: Didacus.8

The Man And The Name

The congregation which assembled to investigate the life of Diego de San Nicolás del Puerto concluded that Diego justified the honor of being raised to the altar of the Roman Church. Furthermore, they affirmed that Diego’s life and work exemplified the early Christian ideals as set out in the Διδαχη.9 Born into a poverty-stricken family in San Nicolás del Puerto, a small town near Seville in southern Spain, the prospects for Diego’s future were not bright. In those times the church offered to a poor family the best opportunity for their son, so at an early age Diego’s parents sent him to be taught by a local priest noted for his sanctity.10 This was a common practice for the period; and boys often served a type of apprenticeship under a priest before entering a religious life.

After his apprenticeship under the village priest, Diego obtained the minor post of porter at the Priory of Arrizafa, three kilometers from Córdoba. At Arrizafa, Diego placed himself under the spiritual direction of a Franciscan priest noted for his missionary zeal who apparently inspired young Diego.

Diego believed that there was still a great deal of missionary work to be done in Europe, yet longed to “succor the sick souls” of the “infidels across the seas.” Fortified by prayer, Diego appealed to his superiors for permission to “sail to the lost heathen beyond the seas.”11

Securing ecclesiastic permission to proselytize in foreign lands, Fray Diego set sail with a fellow Franciscan, Juan de Santorcaz. Their destination was to be the Isle of Fuerteventura in the Canaries. After a hazardous voyage the religious disembarked, greeted by “hostile infidels” and “marauding tribes.” Through his exemplary life and prudence in dealing with the natives, coupled with a missionary zeal that discounted potential danger or death, Diego “secured the souls of many” for the Roman faith. In part, it was his own determination to challenge what many believed to be certain death among “the savages” by unhesitant energy and disregard for his personal safety that won acclaim.12

In 1443 Diego was recalled to the Spanish peninsula by his superiors, and was assigned to the convent of Our Lady of Loreto, some ten miles from Seville. Seven years later he attached himself to the convent San Lucar de Barrameda. In 1450 Diego journeyed with several fellow Franciscans to Rome to celebrate the canonization of St. Bernard of Sena. While in Rome, Diego continued in his apostolic ministry, winning many lapsed Christians back to the faith. Diego’s reputation as an orator spread quickly throughout the Papal States, France, and Spain.

Diego’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin and his missionary activities soon became known to Alonso del Carrillo, archbishop of Toledo, who invited the once obscure Franciscan to preach at the University of Alcalá de Henares.13 Diego complied, taking up residence at the university itself. Again it was not so much Diego’s oratory but his exemplary life which converted many to the practice and beliefs of the Roman Church. He was also honored for the miracles he had performed primarily in Seville.14

Upon Diego’s death on November 12, 1463, the students at the University of Alcalá petitioned for his beatification. The students were soon joined by Diego’s community, and shortly thereafter officially by the archdiocese.15

When the Alcalá precari reached Rome, it was speedily directed to the appropriate committee charged with the investigation of the claims of candidates for sainthood. Although the processes of canonization can take centuries to complete, Diego’s case took but 125 years, thanks to the prayers and urgings of the Spanish court. The reasons for Spanish royal interest were as follows:

While attending the University of Alcalá in 1562, Don Carlos, King Felipe II’s son and heir, suffered a fall and lay grievously ill, probably suffering from a cerebral vascular hemorrhage. Dr. Andreas Vesalius, the Spanish king’s physician, suggested a phlebotomy, trepanning the skull to let out “diseased blood.” Preparations for the trepanation were actually made, but once that the scalp had been laid back and the white skull exposed, the assembled doctors discontinued the operation and sewed the scalp back together, believing that the Crown Prince would soon return to health.

Prince Don Carlos, however, “did not awaken” but lapsed into a comatose state and appeared near death. A Moor from Valencia was summoned but his potions had no effect. Finally the king’s confessor persuaded Felipe II to summon the Franciscans of Alcalá, who arrived carrying the century-old cadaver of Fray Diego which they promptly placed in bed with the dying prince. In the morning Don Carlos awakened, and his miraculous recovery was instantly attributed to Diego.16

Jubilant, Felipe II and the prince petitioned the Franciscan Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) to declare Fray Diego a saint.17 Three separate popes had previously delayed action on this matter. Now, Sixtus V, Felipe’s elected candidate for the papacy when Gregory XIII died in 1585, acted.18

Summoning new investigators, both apologist and prosecutors, the congregation zealously returned to the task they had laid aside years earlier. Although the records of the actual trial of Diego’s cause have been destroyed or lost, the conclusions reached by the curial gathering remain. Their summary is contained in the Sixtine Oratio canonizatione de Sancto Didaco and various vitae compiled by either papal or congregational orders. In each case it is made clear that Diego de Alcalá, as he was called at the insistance of the Spanish community, lived a life exemplifying the precepts of the Roman Church as set out in the Didache—Διδαχη.19 Because of this, the congregation urged Sixtus V to announce Diego’s elevation to the altars of the Church as St. Didacus.20

San Diego: The Port And The City

On November 10, 1602, the second major party of Spanish seamen and soldiers anchored off Point Loma and explored the port that Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo had named San Miguel sixty years before.21 Sebastián Vizcaíno (1550-1629), commanding the San Diego, Santo Tomás, and Tres Reyes, had sailed from Acapulco in May on a mission to examine the California coast and to look for an appropriate port of call for the Manila Galleons. When Vizcaíno sighted the bay which he thought “ought to be the finest in the entire South Sea since, apart from being secure from all winds and of good depth, it is in 33½° north latitude, it has very fine and abundant water, firewood and all varieties of fish . . .”22 he decided to remain for several days. The main body of the expedition landed, immediately constructing a crude shelter for an altar and celebrated mass. Although the feast day of San Diego de Alcalá is officially on the thirteenth of November, the mass said on that day, November 12, 1602, was celebrated in his honor. Following the mass, Vizcaíno named the bay, San Diego,23 in honor of his patron and the patron of the Crown of Spain.

Vizcaíno’s naming of the bay for San Diego de Alcalá, his favorite saint, may be only a part of the explanation for the choice. Vizcaíno was a practical man and a novice in botanical studies. Neither an admiral nor a seaman, but a merchant who dealt in nautical supplies requiring lumber, Vizcaíno regularly noted the foliage around wooded areas as a pastime.24 “Diego” was a name which described the foliage of the San Diego bay area. His diary describes the immense forest that skirted the ocean around Point Loma,25 as well as certain trees which bore a fruit similar to the Spanish diego pear, banked by white flowers which then carried the name of diego.26 Furthermore, Vizcaíno landed with soldiers, many of whom disembarked bearing very strong and heavy swords, also called diegos.27 Nevertheless, the extent to which Vizcaíno’s economic and personal interests played a part in his decision to name the port San Diego in honor of the saint of Alcalá is still subject to conjecture for Vizcaíno himself offers no explanation for his decision and action. After the Vizcaíno party disembarked and the port was named, Vizcaíno commanded that “a suitable tent be pitched on the land to serve as a church where the religious might celebrate Holy Mass.” After the mass was concluded, the gathering place, which consisted of “the tent-church, a well, and several tent-homes,” was also christened San Diego in honor of Vizcaíno’s patron.28 The name stayed with the land, to be adopted once more when the next expedition, sent by José de Gálvez, reached its shore in 1769. Father Junípero Serra called the first mission of upper California “San Diego de Alcalá” and the name of the city remains to this day San Diego.



1. L. Wadding (ed.), Scriptores Ordinis Minorum (Lyons and elsewhere, 1625ff) XI:157-164; XII:75, 512-513; XIII: 323-373; and L. Wadding (ed.),Annales Minorum (Rome, 1732) XIII: 281-321. Moreno de la Rea, La Vida del Santo Fray Diego (Cuenca, 1602). G. Fussenegger, Lexikon für Theologie and Kirche (Freiburg, 1957-65)111:370. That the name Didacus was selectively chosen for Diego can be seen by comparison to candidates christened Diego and raised to the Roman altar as St. Diego: San Diego de Cristobal de Estella, vide: A. Andres “Fray Diego de Estella: Causas, incidentes y fin de un proceso,” in Archivo Ibero-Americano 2nd sev. II (1942), 145158; and, Sagrie’s Azcona (ed.), Modo de predicar. Fray Diego de Estella, 1524-1578 (Madrid, 1951) 2 vol. Also, Blessed Diego of Cáldiz, vide: S. de Ubrique, Vita del beato Diego J. de Cadiz (Seville, 1926).

2. H. Thurston and D. Altwater (eds.), Butler’s Lives of Saints (New York, 1956) IV: 327f. Christopher and Anne Freemantle, The Lives of the Saints(New York, 1951) 432-3. Benedictine monks of St. Augustine’s Abbey, Ramsgate, The Book of Saints (New York, 1934)1-2 and passim.

3. Cf. J.D.M. Ford, Old Spanish Readings (Boston, 1939).

4. Cf. Sánchez de Feria, Santos de Cordoba (Cordoba, 1972).

5. Arrigoni, Oratio in canonization sancti Didaci (Roma, 1588).

6. Cf. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesia, III, XXV, 4.

7. The document’s existence was forgotten (or overlooked) until 1053 and then not rediscovered until 1883. Cf. Adolf Harnack, Die Lehre der zwölf Apostel (Leipzig, 1884); K. Bihlmeyer, Die apostolischen Vater (Tubingen, 1956) XII-XX, 1-9; E. Tidner, Sprachlicher Kommentar zur lateinischen Didascalia Apostolorum (Stockholm, 1938).

8. Ribadeneira, Flos sanctorum (Cadiz, 1865); Benedict XIV, De canonizatione sanctorum; Moreno de la Rea, La Vida del Santo Fray Diego.

9. Arrigoni, Oratio.

10. Wadding, Annales Minorum; Enciclopedia Universal Ilustrada Europeo-Americana (Madrid, 1958) XVIII, pt. 1, pp. 991-992.

11. Ibid., p. 991.

12. “Con su trato hizo numerosas conversiones a la fe de Cristo en dicha isla, y ansioso del martirio y de amplificar el reino de Cristo, pasó a la Gran Canaria, que aun era tierra de infieles. Después de muy mala navegación, no se atrevió el capitán de la nave a desembarcar allí por tenor de aquella gente salvaje, teniendo Diego, con mucho sentimiento suyo, que volver a Fuerteventura.” Ibid.

13. The University of Alcalá de Henares about 20 miles outside of Madrid was founded by Cardinal Jimínez de Cisneros [1436-15171 as a new center of scholarship during the early 16th century. It is famous for its Polyglot Bible.

14. “Moró en dicho convento los últimos trece años de su vida con gran edificación de todos, dando ejemplos admirables en todas las virtudes y honrandole el Señor con el don de milagros . . .” Enciclopedia Universal Ilustrada, p. 992.

15. Moreno de la Rea, La Vida del Santo Fray Diego.

16. Diarium Alaleonis (2 July 1586) Vatricana. Cf. Thomas Walsh, Philip II (New York, 1937), p. 327.

17. Ibid.

18. Avvisi, 13 June and 2 July 1588, Urb. 1056, Vatican Library. Cf. Robardi, Sixti V. gesta quinquennalia (Roma, 1590). On the election of Sixtus,vide, J. A. Hubner, Sixte V (Paris, 1870) I, 203 seq; and, P. Herre, Papsttum and Papstwahl im Zeitalter Phillips II (Leipzig, 1907), 330-351. CF. Vita Sixti V. ips. manu emend., Papal Secret Archives. Sixtus undoubtedly acted as expeditiously as he did due to his own identification with the principles Diego de Alcalá represented, especially in his earnestness for missionary activity to “rewin” the world, veneration of St. Mary, and disregard for personal comforts or aggrandizements. Vide, Gualterius, Ephemerides (Vittorio Emanuele Library, Rome).

19. A third century commentary on parts of the Didache, entitled Didascalia Apostolorum survived the ravages of time and marauding bands in Western Europe and was extant in copy at Rome since the fifteenth century. Cf. E. Tidner, Sprachlicher Kommentar zur lateinischen Didascalia Apostolorum (Stockholm, 1938). A Syrian version also existed; cf. P. de Legarde (ed.), Didascalia apostolorum syriace (Leipzig, 1854). Compare Arrigoni, Oratio, and Moreno de la Rea, La Vida del Santo Fray Diego, with Διδαχη I; 3, III, V, IX, XI, XVI. Cf. Mark of Lisbon, Vitae, miraclorum of canonizatione (Lisbon, 1591).

20. Cf. Leo, Lives of the Saints and Blessed of the Three Orders of St. Francis. (Taunton, 1887) IV, 53-60.

21. Cf. James R. Moriarty and M. Kiestman, “Summary Log of the Voyage of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo Along the Coast of California in 1542,” The Western Explorer, II (August, 1962), p. 22; Richard Pourade, The History of San Diego: The Explorers (San Diego, 1960), Vol. I., pp. 47-50.

22. Quoted by W. Michael Mathes in “Sebastián Vizcaíno and San Diego Bay,” Journal of San Diego History, XVIII (Spring, 1972), p. 4.

23. Sebastián Vizcaíno wrote two accounts of his expedition. Both of the accounts are to be found in the Archivo General de Indias (Seville). An argument can be made, based on Vizcaíno’s later comments, that the name change was accidental. He was uncertain of the exact location of Rodríguez Cabrillo’s San Miguel Bay since his predecessor had placed it in 34° 20′ latitude. Some writers feel, however, that this argument is weak since Vizcaíno renamed nearly all of Rodríguez Cabrillo’s discoveries. See also J. R. Moriarty, “The Good Port of San Diego,” Oceans Magazine, Vol. I (January, 1969), p. 61.

24. Mathes, “Sebastián Vizcaíno and San Diego Bay,” pp. 4-6.

25. Pourade, The History of San Diego: The Explorers, pp. 57-70.

26. John Evelyn, Kalendarium Hortense (N.P., 1664) p. 1729 for the diego tree; and Francisco Lopez de Ubeda (d.1605), Bibliografico (Madrid, N.D.) IX, p. 175, for the plant diego: “planta nictaginea exótica de flores blancas, encarnadas o amarillas que se abren al anochecer para cerrar al salir el sol.”

27. Cf. Admiral William Henry Smyth, “Diego” in Sailors Word Book: An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms.

28. Diary of Sebastián Vizcaíno, 1602-1603, Chapter 11, in Herbert E. Bolton, ed., Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908), p. 80.


19. Ibid., p. 285.


Arthur Frederick Ide received his baccalaureate degree from the State College of Iowa, Master of Arts degrees from the University of Northern Iowa and Arizona State University, and a doctoral degree from Carnegie-Mellon University — all in Medieval history. He has taught at Mauna Olu College of Hawaii and Iowa Lakes Community College. Publications include translations of Greek passiones and medieval biographies. Dr. Ide is currently an Assistant Professor of History at the University of San Diego.