HISTORY Of TIr CATHbDRAL OF ST. AUGUSTImE
Resume Of Arly Patiilsl Suildings
There is o existing record of the first parish church built in St. Augustine
after the founding of that city by Pedro Maneades da Aviles in 1365, Doubtless it
was little more than a rude wood hut, sinoe the colony was a poor one, and the
cosunaM shellrock on nearby Anastasia Island did not come into use as a building
material until the middle seventeenth century. In any event, the first church did
not stand longS with the rest of the town it was plundered and burned by the English
corsair Sir Francis Drake in 1586.
Another church as constructed shortly afterwards, and was styled the iglaia
aMgE of the pioneer presidio. As late as 1593 it van under the care of Father
Rodrigo Garcia de Trujillo, who had been one of the three assistants who accompanied
Father Lopes da Mendosa Grajales, the first pastor, to St. Augustine in 1565. Re was
replaced by Father Diego Isoobar do Sambrapa, whose name is the first to appear on
the till extant parish registers (under the dati guns 25, 1594). Father Aicardo
Artur (Richard Arthur) was the first pastor of whom we have any substantial record.
Be was also the first Irish priest to serve in what is nov the United States.
Although details of his early life are lacking, he probably had served as a layman
with the Irish Brigade and Legion formed by Sir William Stanley to help the Dutch
in their revolt against Spain in 1586. This so-called "Wild Geease" brigade later
went over to the side of Spain. Father Artur arrived in St. Augustine by ship from
Spain in 159.7 and remained in the parish until 1606.
The Maleia aoar was burned by English marauders from Carolina under Goveror
James Moore in 1702. The 1500 CatholiGs of the town were left with no place in whieh
to worship, save for the hapel of a hospital, Maestra Senora de la Soledad, vhich
escaped the destruction caused by Hotwe. That inadequate facility 44rved until 1763,
when florida was c4ded by Spain to Ingland, Sad the entire Cathole population
emigrated to Cuba. A schooner, MUe ta Senorq de la Las, arrived at Havaa in
February, 1764, bearing all the altars, images, vestments, canopies, candllsticks,
bells, and other objects that had decorated the parochial buildings. Also on board
were fifteen folio volumes of parish registers that formed a continuous record of
the pioneer Catholic community from 1594 to the day of embarkation. By Harch 14
of the same year the last of the parishioners themselves arrived in Havana *- 3,104
people on eight transports. The abandonment of Catholic St. Augustine was complete.
During the british occupation of Florida (1763-1783), the hospital-church of
La Soledad was converted into an Anglican church and re-named St. Peter's. in 1777,
a band of Minoroans, Italians, and Greeks, all refugees from n ill-fated Knglish
silk-worn, indigo, and otton plantation at nearby New Smyrna, arrived in St.
Augustine under the protection of the Knglish governor. The Minorcans and Italians
were Catholic; the Geeks were Orthodox. All of them were under the spiritual care
of a Minoran secular, Father Pedro Camps. With the coming of this group, Catholi
life resumed in St. Augustine. Father Camps used the ground floor of a residence near
the city gates as a church.
In 1783 Spain gained title to Florida for the second time and it was during
this Seond Spanish Period (1783-1821) that St. Augustine's prLesnt parish otaro
(a cathedral sinae 1870) was built. It's tory begins with the arrival in St.
Augustine of two Irish prices* Fathere Thomas lassett and Michael Ovilely, both
natives of Loagord, Ireland. Bassett vas twenty-sevet years of age, 0'etilly was
twenty-six. The two priests had just completed studies at the Irish College at
alamuno6 -- KRIB ..oleaio det .obl.As Iraxi deses -- founded in 1593 by Philip II
as a pace where Irish eminarians could be tianed at royal expense for service in
Ireland. Since Florida was une an english domain,. it occurred to the Spanish coutt
that tnglish-speaking priests could serve to equal dvantage in the Anglictied
province of Florida, Father Bassett was aame pastor of St.. Augustine; Father
O'Reilly was named his assistant. The two priests arrived in the city in 1784.
The state of Father Camps' penury during his seven years alone in the old
city is Lndicated by Father Hassett's description of the MiAnwcan chapel as "wretched"
and "lacking in all things appropriate for the celebration of the divine liturgy."
Although the former hospital-ohurho of La Soledad was still standing, it had been
gutted by the departing Saglish, and a Spanish engineer described it at this time
as "a useless pile of masoury." To one side of the plasa stood the "epilsepal
resideaoe," a boue that had been used rather infrequently by visiting sailiery
bishops from Caba durng the years 1731-1754. This building had ben improved
under english rule, and Father Bassett decided to open his pariah church in the uppae
story of that 50-by-90 foot masonry structure. Be Oanted that it was not the eOat
suitable place for vwrship -- one had to mount a steep statway, the quarters were
cramped, and raucous laughter came from a nearby guardhouse but it would have to
do, he determined, until the king, Charles IIX, appropriated sufficient funds to
build a new church. As for altar furnishings, they had all been removed to Cuba in
1764, and "the things found haer in the hands of the priest of the Mitnorans,"
Baasett wrote the king, "are so few and in such poor condition that they are
practically useless, almost as bad as having nothing. ."
The Building Of 1he Parish Chu. h .CCthedbra1)
During these early years the consuming religious desire of St. Augustine's
two Irish priests was to build a new, decent, commodious, and, if possible, ornate
parish church. Tentative efforts in that direction began in 1784, when Father assertt
wrote to the captain-general of ~uba, SBenardo de Galves "It becomes necessary. .
that Your Honor take steps toward building an appropriate temple at the most fitting
location, of the necessary extension, capacity, cleanliness, and proportions, which
are completely lacking at present." Florida Governor Viaente Manuel de Zespedes y
Velaseo seconded the recommendation, but two full years elapsed before the community
larmed that King Charles III had acted on it.
By a royal decree of December 8, 1786, the king ordered a new house of worship
to be built, the coat to be defrayed by applying to it the value (3,537 peaR a r1aa a)
of the plate and vestments removed from St. Augustine to Havana in 1784, plus the
rentals of eleven houses in Cuba that were owned by the "Ohurch of Florida" (thanks
to a gift from one of St. Augustine's early parish priests). This asun the Minister
of the Xndies wrote to Bishop Santigo Jose Bchevarria y Biguesua of Santiago de Cuba
(who exercised ordinary jurisdiction over the Florida), "his Majesty holds and
considers sufficient for a decent and appropriate chwuch for that settlement."
Zeapedes agreed that this financial arrangement was adequate, since future rentals
of the Cuban properties would swell the building fund. Several oathe later, however,
he was disappointed to learn from Bishop chevarria that the same royal order authorizing
construction of the church also authorized an increase in salary for Fathers Bassett
and O'lailly, the increase to be paid from the f&MI rentals of the Cuban propertieal
If only that year's rentals were available to the construction, Seapedes had to write
Xchevarria, then a new church was out of the question. The valuation of the pre-1763
church furnishings was plainly inadequate "to consttuet from the foundations a parish
church with suitable bell torer, especially in a presidio where the poverty of the
parishioners does not permit affective giving of alas for the advancement of such a
holy and indispensable work. r" Resignedly, however, Sespedes comiasioned
preliminary drawings and used the limited funds given him to gather materials for
During an episcopal visitation of Auxiliary Bishop Cyril de Barcelona (resident
in Nae Orleans) in 1788, the preliminary plans were subjected to close ariticiIa, as
bishop, governor, and pastor tried to devise means to reduce the oost of the building.
The first set of plans, drawn up by the local royal engineer, Mariano de la Rocque,
were rejected by Bishop Cyril as too expensive. Roeque estimated that 11,358 pesos
would be needed to build a ohurh large enough for the five hundred faithful of the
parish. "It should be built," he added, on the supposition that the city's growth
would carry it toward the south, between Maria Sanches creek and Matansas Bay, "in
the same place that it was formerly," i.e., on the old site of the hospital-church
of La Soledad. Bishop Cyril thought that the cost could be reduced substantially by
the use of salvaged stone from La Soledad and from the ruins of the hermitage of
uestra Senora de La Leche north of the city. He came up with the figure of 8,400
U2. 3 J i gat* Seupedas disagred with both estimates. He did not think that
such a okurcb as St. Augustine wanted and needed could be built for so little. And
if it turned out that the seats were higher, as he pWsedcted, he disagreed with
Siabop Cyril that the difference could be met by scle contributed locally
"Informed as I am of the isaery of these inhabitants," ha wrote to Rishop Behavatria
in Cuba, "I assure yor Illustrious Lordship that, good as their intentiaos may be,
they are, and they will be, helpless as lon as Mie V jesety does not deign to arrange
s m* alseo of coamere for the development of the provide, ,"
The king approved Rooqueas baeio design in w4oh, 1790, but Spa ish officials
contiaued to debate the cost estimate, with the result that two year passed before
tocque could proceed to working drawings and specificatioas. The engineurarchiteot
made out a list of tools and equipment needed for the work -- rollers, picks, shovels,
basows, hearts, axes, hammers., etc. Twenty laborers were employed. A general
construction contract was awarded to Miguel tanardy, and a sub-contract foe lumber
eas given to Tomas Travers Proctor, whose admixture of English blood was obvious in
his naee. Father Bassett drae up a list of furnishings and ornaments needed for the
now cbur~h, and submitted it to new Governor Juan Nepomaueno Quesada, who ordered
the goods froa Barcelona, through a merchant in Havana, As the plans took shape,
parihioners offered what they could toward the cost of construction lumber, lime.
or free skilled labors many offered maise or hens (which were appraised by the padres
at six Issal ea h).
laoly in 1793, the government decided on the site for the new church, the Jusas
Perpell South Lot 142 in Block eighteen bwhih was bounded on the west by St. *Qorge
Street, south by the plasa, east by the property of one P. Cecifaoio, and north by
the Treasury. This lot had passed through many hands since it was granted to John
Dennatt in 1766 by the Irglish government. 0ae of its owser had bee the Iaveread
John orbes, of th Church of sthland. On the lot in 1793 stood a two-story ooquina
house and an orange grove. The Spaiosh Crown purchased the lot from its omser on
April 12, 1793 at a cost of 697 MOag and tsi rala. LUte tha sae year .- the
exact date is not recorded -- the cornerstona of the ne church was laid 4ad coastruc-
tion bmegan Xt was seas too *ooa for Father HBsentt aad his paritE imers, The bishop's
house in which MU was then being celebrated was in a state of uaer collapse. In
Slpt" ber of 1793, Governor Qiuaa wrote to the Governor of Cubas "I ordered in
the first prt of April this year the start of ssstruetieo of the nmw church,
(wbobh is all) the move urgent as the high house whah is nov serving provitonally
as such, is entirely useless, fallen to the road in variew parts, full of posts
to support the walls, and the use of certain parts of the building has bee stopped
in order to prevent, in the evest of aollap, the fatal injury of the faithful ho
may be in it, as has alurdy happened last ye.(!!)"
I ore the foundations were laid, official in Spain cams up with several
haageu in the plan of the abhroh, the most radical being ala~rWgnt of the building
from 36 a 108 to 41 a 124 feot. In the final plan, lisbop Cyril's suggested for
the ue of salvaged stoe was followed, although both Ohb quantity and the quality of
the stone proved to be disappointing, Into the nae building vent coqui at rok from
the ruin of the hermitage of musAtra Senoma do la LUbe, aad fro another auspeeo ied
ruin, vbich could have bmen either La oledad or the chapel at the perish aootery
of Tolomato (which had beeo pulled spat for firenood during the english oeoupation).
It is possible that thl design of the facade of the saw bhuceh closely rasebled
the facade of La a tahe, ad that aheagu introduced into the original plan uwe made to
take better advantage of the salvaged stoe.
to hAugut, I?93* qiqsso lit, the thisd wrmovew f te Pala% wida to become
iumlwvd in th bsldiux of tim sbsawh, arnamsed the eaplotiom al the vwv. As
2.qeo-iesed psedicked, its tisal east cc 16,000 Am& we oNoSLdeably abee te
fti* ea*ststee. Water blosekst by -hi" de. we ft*a t in M5 be bed bans
prWmt d to tde anise ofg ess gsposa1 w" the ne wly aorsed me....e- of XIOaumiea.
*& ftof* 8, 1t79? the wIoo" of the Iins4*e CEsoaptical the am paste, rather
vinbeel O'Re24illy, ifmllyr Cp the du ~ usdtemvlav ohmak Ins Parsud piebtiiorsa
elemy.ied tbew pestom In llplie ymoose~eeie be cattiod twi bomed Seeeseft Iten
9be old biebop's bomue *a an side the plowu to the am OwChun It. Augustine
-a the oebwar
Ike Galted 66S1,91 64am a beautiful sapote to sh Giotoa cc the incWost
city. Mhe Wmi ON adm gaso (4ah& still stands) woo taupwad is tausezl qame
aime to a belftr stuaatdw by & a uyose, a440130 thIS Was yp"Ise ad OWq ahueohes
bult In the Awaies o y the ipeloiaWdS i theU -is ftheeUM rd itelit WOs
plains with a fLinis of Ums #twos*, 2IU taim urn beaka konly by simple vaUIWs,
eees, edand awmiae, sad oo by tow smoll wisdoms pised ia petss to either aid* Of
the ontaero. In th belry wv tow bell *ishes an &teoo thv o below, The
tWOomMw s 1 11be1 held th oldest bell, on vmshsh avs seormede "flavsae Jossp,
Ora e.o ft, )A82.u MU. iod the belfr me a meod.. below %6wiA the osiwtcauw
("W Smel bays, 4* MOKUs Y we She oawe) SMS 0e belle by PUl.,S opee attushed
to the Glappers. "Me ont ut e am Use fiend ass seslasui aI 44e4Ia. To
eitbhu *Iii at the daacnd-srobd ftowrwa stood lev esiwa, ms epraWtag n astablsaaat*
its Wiow. simPly amested by tl-Ieby I I.- moh lod, triphu. aft"00" with Plata
votape. Ove piroj etttat em*.Pe lo tbe wablo*uv. bed sevees bewls *f moldiag. as
did the pediwat sbaes. Above dh pilmma$ bteshug the Plaia sae of th haedej,
vas a stabe in which was placed a statue of the perish patTon, St, Au ustine of Hippo.
The interior possesed the same simple dignity as the latetir ftI11 windows
wrve placed sixteen fest above gposad in the two-feet thick walls. At the umrth end
was the smantuary with a wooden altat and steps spending on both sides On the east
wall vs sa alter dedicated to ft. Joseph and on the et another altar dedioted to
the Blssed itgin tuary, Above the entream n was a double glleqry, -as upper gallery
for the choit end a lowe o e for the begrow. The beptistry was ina ee.s sear
the sattr noea here was p esrved a eruoifixz alvaged lfr the uieB of La L.ehe
aftet Palmer's raid in 1728. Tvo pstintSi decorated the itaterio aide walls, OA
depicted the death of a stmer with demons awaiting the demise of their khpless
victim, the otthr shob d the death of a good manm his bed srrouaded by hosts of
It vs, withal, the meot splendid c~shrca in the Florida.
UIwd U9t" d States bli
la 1821, Plolida was eaded by Spatu to the United States sad was given TorviL*oial
statue by the y as ationa Spiseopal jaisdis4tioa over the territory wvs yielded
by the. lishop of Brwvem to tlorid's serwot American prelatr Irih-born Sishop John
Igtla d of COarleston. Though emiesaties Bishop ta gl d santed nearly 400 Catholics
who remtined at St. AuuAtine after the chaoge of flags. In 182* he Isesned that the
parish cha b with its tolemato oa erte y bad bee taken av y fnt the Catholic pop-
lati.o by ftited States oftlcials. In June of that year, Slhbop sagland received a
letter fte Alexandes Hamilton, Vted States Cai Iessier in esidence at St.
Augurtine (and not to be 9enfwed with a more famous AImestea of the samr m), In
it, HailtUo advised the prelate of the Catholic Church prowprties "I have bea .given
to uadrastmd that the CabUrh Orpety beloa ed to the Rtas of pats, & by vatisi it
h. be.om that of the Uttad State. Of **WIt, wbeusvsr the Utel d taes shalll ast
to will as dlspa ao it to ask imme a i wi be adopted to the potiat aIot*iam of
sths GomMty." istehp lSlaMd ad ispewe t lt r to tJiameN are lwmee les of th
United s ate, ia whLeh bOe q nte6nd the usaW (hi ekh poqwy oMoeMWa p
uift dUSutearly, He apAgu hat 'whin the sta of Spate or a ather Sovewpga
paim stYe peopw to amy *.ar taM, sua as mderQ Sf pta tbe aman ea thaeo hot wb
dat t, Aur*alt ws#, the swovyeln ai e bAmseiU t;erof & vwesu. is i the
oQrMatiSa to wham it iU gtwA ." Aaqutmtit W. amLttca pweoaily ofd Oay *etitr
IAmasto e, t% bishop ftU It museseary to &ad th0t Wfh ww "t6mshes of atbae~ r
wliiatou body,*" asardinr to lt ans Lam tWhat be Mad v-seted, who "wAlh to deptive
the t RoOm eatbotUa who a*r th6 gPtasiMal & NaOt WmuaO body of IeBteheetst oft
tbeir poor" *y." (e probably "me vfawXtag to the $ilAeoplUats "od to etbef
a4ly arvivd satetW1 Admwr loviw, boR IMehbo^p ab sad judged Ln O a UtAr a
Rbm th8e moat bhftare as "a maW koie judj mnt, wbo in oBW seslt1y Uwtr to
samse the O~tlb14 Oaur popetty." Xs 1825, *bthe s of th att did
sattd tio Obaslats title to the oUd atop's aWildee ad lot, aR the aeriM of
ita* sW St. Gtosge trxeet.) ITe bsWo's lttet eoaei4udedt 'Uhe %oa Osthboleo
elat us pittaleses to whita the Ilw citeMns ae st emutitled -- tbOp a us
as tow r aee st tl a t mso "e p of h SfOtte, 1bt hry do fpet t t by b aeOu s
CittUMe of 0ta aitte*d 8t&% they shal not Ulo the popasty Abtab they Ireviously
pNeOesd & baUd Btil now."
Iis Xltter u s e tWSe tio Wllim Wirtl Atum~ary Qgseral of wthe Ufa
Sta4ess *o malnrfs ed his oiad.oo of t coat to tbh SGeestar of Stat#,
Jona QuItay Adam, Mr. Witn wrote that, "Doctor olaund states aho 1m 0oOtly. .
T*u only iqutton in this cge is a question of faot." Did the Iag of ain actually
g tant tbhe lands to the Cnurhb? Mr,. Wit wu unable to usy besasa he Uackd the
pWationt doonmnts. Seewetary Admie, who as oae of the okief agotiatowr fao the
pwrbasoe of floride ftro 8pia as asequaanted with the spirit of that agjrwemnt as
it affected the ahuorh, wa te to Mr.. Hatmito in St.Lt Agstine ahnauwledging that if
the fdets in the ease mve as stated by lihop ltgland, "the property ln question
Wblogs to the ioman Catholi' CongegationL at t., Augi sttej l ad it is very d eirable
that the use of it should be effeetually secued to them," amilton vas not in
possession of all the fact hbitelf, but he decided it the bet souse, in view of
Adai letter, to hand a ov provisi ially at leat th pari h ehusrh and buryitg
(jouad, a subsequently as done sam tim. early is 1823 fte soelregtiom weold
late be aoofivred officially ti its postession by Ats of Congress on february 8;.
1827, Mud June 28, 1832. X 1845 Florida beemse the twent-sventh State of the
Aeriteea Unoion mad Conges seGafledn apin all the a*rangm-t earlier made with
resp"it to the paxish olhseh md burial ground.
lpiisopal Jurisdiotioe over Florida we trema ertied several times derig the
Tearitorial and early Statehood years from Charlestos to Mobie to Bwavmmh. In
1857 all of Florda east of the Apalabhieola liv M wu ereAled into a v riate-
apostelie, mad ftreah-bown Agustsin Verot, a Sulpician fIm Aaltimore, was oemsoaated
to ule wvar the reto. On MMroh 11, 1870, while Bishop Veret ws in Rom attendisL
the First Coumwil of the Vatican, Florida was elevated to a dioese and ft, Augustina's
v Parable fpanish ohurob at last beame a cthedral.
Bishop Verot delivered an inaugural semon in the eathedral on October 23,
1870, b iag the next two yeas he restored and repaired the building where as had
worked its ravags. ie installed a nw tin roof to place the original shingle root
*itch had decayed, placed most of tbe woodwork in the interior, sad enovated the
sanctuary. BH also stalled two now lateel chapels dedicated to St. Monioa and
to St. Benedict the Moor (patron of St. Augustine's 400 Negro Catholica).
C Rtha1 Dt..effted Ix rtuY ad .cAitPSeted
bishop Verot died in 1876, sad was succeeded by tlubop John Moere, born at
lossmoad, IrZelad, conecrated on May 13, 1877. Bishop Newr had the ill fortune to
see his cathedral destroyed by five oa the morning of April 12, 1887. Not only the
cathedral t muob of the plas a rA of dowtown it. Augustine was destroyed that
*,we *beUlr ; a Wl al wL- l. No s6sor was the fire out than BiLbop
14Mooe anoucaed plans for iot diate reonstructiot. I letter to his people he
Wrte: "CXe porous nature of the stone, and the thickness of the walls, enabled
tbem to withstand the action of the firt, and they will be retained in the restoration
of the church. Twelve feet will be added to the length of the building and a tranept
of suitable dimensions, in order to increase its capacity and perfect its proportions.
This work has been entrusted to Wr. (Jmes) Reawiok, of New York, whose aaknowlodged
ability guarantees its election in the most satisfactory manner "
These changes ver duly made in the reconstruction that rapidly followed.
In addition, a handsoe cmpanile was erected on the west side of the facade. The
cmpanile buyers a four-facs illuminated clock, and below the clock a sundial with
the Latin inseriptiot "Permunt at laptantutr" "bTe hours perish and we must
account for them." ZIside the remodeled cathedral, the main altar and two side
altars veW* Orived frm Carta & mastbie designed by Jam" Iavicsb they Weve ageosted
by J. Massey Rhind of Nov fork *A Te Steaios of the Oro". yew dome is o4 and vere
weirsd from (?mbek atglmaslis Lathe Pea ilue Chapel of Ose Vat ican, Trwele stained
glass wndiwe depiatod vaiteus toeas Lu the lif. ef St.* Augustine 1.114mig his
*oeveseoI.. Niche. is thibe right ed left shanisl trav#esPt, vespectiwly, *ontalued
statues of the sabA a8d of his inthe, St. Mates. T
William J, (.901913), Michacl J. curty (1914-192 ,Patwiek Bawr (1922-1940),
and Joseph P. Her
The eathtdral matmatmed Iwaf from tet iUs of its teeftstw.,tLOn
uutil the fal. l1 196l It",wn a tati *&modelitg Mr was boomn Wdew
the awsple. of tbe ft tine usraaam, isobe Jeseph P, Hurl"y, ChaIMman.
The restoration plaeed to the hEads of oeeof Iew a's distiugadthed eeolestastiaal
ae Mr. OGeurge W. Setskle. The d*AjLetioL of the $ted etwuatere to
led to take #ieI" to Match of I966.