10 August 2008

Sunday Mystery: The amazing journey of Gil Pérez

This fantastic story seems to have been thoroughly discredited. First, no account of the supposed teleportation appeared until a century after the event supposedly took place. Secondly, the premise of the story is, well, human teleportation. It is known, however, that Gil Pérez was a real person. Records exist of his time in the service of the Spanish Authority.

For me, the charm of the story comes from its setting: far enough into the Age of Exploration where much of the world was known, yet still a part of the time where Manila and Mexico City were dark corners of the world. Colonial outposts where the work of supernatural phenomenon remained possible. While the reader can mostly likely judge the story as the work of an active imagination, the enjoyment arises from the idea that contemporaries of Pérez would have deemed the events plausible. Or at least that’s my take on it.

On the evening of October 24, 1593, a Guardia Civil, Gil Pérez, is said to have appeared suddenly in a confused state in the Plaza Mayor of Mexico City, wearing the uniform of a Philippine regiment. He claimed that moments before finding himself in Mexico he had been on sentry duty in Manila at the governor’s palace. He admitted that while he was aware that he was no longer in the Philippines, he had no idea where he was or how he came to be there. He said the governor, Don Gomez Pérez Dasmariñas, had been assassinated in his wine cellar with an axe.

When it was explained to him that he was now in Mexico City, Pérez refused to believe it saying that he had received his orders on the morning of October 23 in Manila Philippines and that it was therefore impossible for him to be in Mexico City on the evening of the 24th. The authorities placed Pérez in jail, as a deserter and for the possibility that he may have been in the service of Satan. The Most Holy Tribunal of the Inquisition questioned the soldier, but all he could say in his defense was that he had traveled from Manila to Mexico "in less time than it takes a cock to crow".

Two months later, news from the Philippines arrived by Manila Galleon, confirming the fact of the literal axing on October 23 of Dasmariñas in a mutiny of Chinese rowers, as well as other points of the mysterious soldier’s fantastic story. Witnesses confirmed that Gil Pérez had indeed been on duty in Manila just before arriving in Mexico. Furthermore, one of the passengers on the ship recognized Pérez and swore that he had seen him in the Philippines on October 23. Gil Pérez eventually returned to the Philippines and took up his former position as a palace guard, living thenceforth an apparently uneventful life.

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