In the year following the discovery of the small island of Porto Santo (1418/19),  João Gonçalves Zarco proceeded to Madeira with his company and, after carefully exploring the coast, returned to Portugal. On arrival, he petitioned Prince Henry for the concession of the island to him and to his fellow navigator, Tristão vaz Teixeira; the territory to be divided between them.
Soon after the dispensation, the two donees occupied Madeira and, by 1425, systematic colonization was under way in the provinces that were established as Funchal and Machico.

The Cathedral of Funchal

The first task that faced the new arrivals was the taming of the dense forests that gave the island its name (Madeira, in Portuguese, means “wood”). Within a short while, timber was being sent to Portugal for the construction of ships. Wood, then grain, constituted the first organized agriculture on the island.
Before very long, however, the colonizers were to discover a crop infinitely more profitable. Sugar production become the main industry of the island and, because manpower was essential, slaves were imported from North Africa. Dreams of prosperity lured European traders and merchants to Madeira. These, largely from Italy and Flanders, come to establish themselves in the flourishing commerce of sugar export and, by 1451, the importance of the city of Funchal had expanded enormously.
The greatest activity was centered in Funchal and nearby Câmara de Lobos. Situated on a large, protected bay, it become the port of call for the ships sent out by Prince Henry to discover the African Continent, India and Brasil. Funchal rapidly grew to be a significant mercantile city, filled with people from many different nationalities, all eager to prosper through the flourishing sugar trade.
It was this period of great affluence that made possible the construction of the Cathedral, begun in 1493, according to the plan of an architect named Gil Eanes. Although there is no factual foundation for the belief, the face carved on the pulpit is thought to be a portrait of the architect.

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