From: NEWS BUREAU
ST. AUGUSTINE RESTORATIONS, INC.
ST. AUGUSTINE, FLA.
CATHEDRAL OF ST. AUGUSTINE
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- The Catholic Cathedral of St. Augustine in this
historic city is the oldest Catholic parish in the United States. The pre-
sent church structure, which serves as the Cathedral of the Diocese of St.
Augustine, was built in 1797 under Spanish rule.
The parish itself was founded in 1565 by Father Lopez de Mendoza Gra-
jales, Chaplain to the fleet of Spanish Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles.
Menendez and a band of Spanish settlers landed here on Sept. 8, 1565.
The Admiral named his settlement St. Augustine and appointed Father Lopez
pastor of the infant parish. Settlement and parish grew up together over
the years and stand today as the oldest permanent white settlement and
Christian community in the American nation. To Father Lopez goes credit as
being the first parish priest in the United States.
During its now nearly 400-year long history the parish has lost numer-
ous church buildings to the ravages of war, fire, and hurricane. The pre-
sent parish church was planned and completed during the Second Spanish Per-
iod of St. Augustine, 1783-1821.
Because of the large number of English-speaking residents here during
that period Spanish church officials appointed two Irish priests to the
parish, Fathers Michael O'Reilly and Thomas Hassett. Owing to persecution
CATHEDRAL OF ST. AUGUSTINE Page 2
in their own country, the two priests had studied at the Irish College of
Nobles in Salamanca, Spain,
Fathers O'Reilly and Hassett reached St. Augustine in 1784, and at once
began laying plans for a new church built in the Spanish-Moorish style of
their adopted Spanish homeland. For an architect they found a royal engineer
named Mariano de la Rocque, and gave him orders to begin work in February,
1788, Construction actually began in April, 1791.
The walls of the church were formed by vast blocks of coquina rock, an
unusual rock made by nature from compressed pieces of seashell and found in
large deposits on nearby Anastasia Island. Fronting the walls the architect
constructed a curving facade with bell niches at the top.
The completed structure was solemnly dedicated on Dec. 8, 1797, and
stood unchanged for nearly a century. A fire that swept the center of the
city destroyed all but the walls and facade in 1887. In the reconstruction
that followed two wings and a belltower were added,
The church became a cathedral when the Diocese of St. Augustine, em-
bracing most of Florida, was erected in 1870.