The St Augustine Record, Weekend Edition, September 17-18,1977, Page 15-A
Cathedral Impressive Landmark In Ancient City
(Editor's Note: The Cathedral of St. Augustine, which on Wednesday
will be named as a minor basilica, is a landmark in downtown St.
Augustine. The following is a description of the Cathedral's long history
in this, the nation's oldest city.)
CATHEDRAL PARISH of St. Augustine, Florida, is a parish without
parallel in America. Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Spain, because he first
ighted.Florida on the Feast of St. Augustine, August 28, 1565, named this
settlement and parish in honor of St. Augustine of Hippo. Upon landing here
on. September 8th, he and his followers .attended Mass in honor of the
activityy of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Mass was celebrated by Father
JFrancisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, first pastor of this parish.
With assistance from the King of Spain, Father Thomas Hassett, a priest
from Ireland, educated in Salamanca, Spain, obtained the present site and
-proceeded to build the church of coquina rock in 1793. It was completed in
4797 by another priest from Ireland, Father Michael O'Reilly, and dedicated
*to St. Augustine on December 8th of that year. The church became a
Cathedral when the Diocese of St. Augustine was erected in 1870.
This original structure was a rectangular building 120 feet long and 42 feet
wide. Typical of many churches built by the Spanish during the eighteenth
century, the walls of the facade swoop upward in graceful ogee curves, in a
style reminiscent of the baroque, to the quaint Moorish belfry surmounted
by a gold cross. Here the four bells were set within separate niches, one
above and three below, which with the window and clock below, formed a
complete cross. The oldest of the bells, bearing the date 1689 and inscription
"Sancte Joseph, Ora pro Nobis," was probably taken from the ruins of the
old Nombre de Dios chapel outside the city. The smallest bell was the gift of
,Geronimo Alvarez, onetime alcalde (mayor) of the city. In the old days
little boys climbed the wooden balcony behind the belfry to pull the ropes and
clappers. Now automated electric ringing is controlled from a switchboard
in the sacristy. These historic bells of the Cathedral are constant reminders
.of the hallowed traditions in a city which is hailed as the cradle of Western
civilization in the United States.
Ornamental mouldings, recesses and cornices relieve the starkness
of the facade, simple except for the neoclassic entrance, similar to other
Work by the king's engineers during the 1780s. Twin doric columns on
Either side of a round arched doorway support the entablature, with
projecting cornice ornamented with several bands of mouldings. The
" pediment above, with its center recess, resembles the classic broken
. pediment. Pilasters at each end of the facade carry up to the main
Scornice that marks the roof plate of the building. Between the pilasters
Sand the entrance columns are two stained glass windows.
The great fire of 1887 seriously damaged the building but left its walls
intact, and that portion of the present cathedral south of the transepts,
:omprising virtually all of the original church except the chancel wall and
roof, is essentially the same today. A new chancel and transepts were added
during the reconstruction of 1887 and at that time, tile replaced the destroyed
shingle roof, w4ich was originally of slate, and a campanile was added west
of the church.
The present facade is almost identical to the original, but the four bells
-which for so many years rang out the Angelus three times each day, lost
their timbre in the fire and were silent for many years afterwards. In the
Summer of 1965, these bells were flown to Holland where they were refur-
bished, and the cracked ones were recast to their original shape and timbre.
All four bells have now been returned to their original place and are rung
electricallyy The bell tower, built after the fire, is of Spanish Renaissance
ztyle; its upper stories rising from the square, ornamented base are oc-
tagonal, with pilasters at each angle. Capitals are variations of the Corin-
thian and the windows are Romanesque in feeling, with stilted round arches.
* sundial on the base of tower marks the hours, with the Latin words
'Pereunt et Imputantur" "The hours pass by and we must account for
,them." This tower, topped by steeple and gold cross, is built of cast-in-place
concrete, as are the other nineteenth century additions, instead of the shell
rock (coquina) masonry of the old parts, but coquina and gravel were used
'in the mortar, and the weathered concrete blends with the older masonry.
From a niche over the main doorway, the statue of St. Augustine watches
over the city that is named for him.
INTERIOR OF CATHEDRAL
< Inside, the atmosphere of the Cathedral is that of Old Spain reverent
jand yet joyful Tomark the celebration of the 400th Anniversary in 1965, the
;St, Augustine Fopintin, under chairmanship of Archbishop Joseph P.
I-urley, Bisop ofite Diocese oSt Augustine, launched thejnbiihienta]
.task of restoring the Cathedral The plans called for the rero' anctue ark
*wood panelled ceiling in the nave of the Cathedral, enlarging. nctuary
and adding the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. In addition, new sacristies
were added. Many of the old furnishings had to be replaced. The walls and
roof, however, were not changed.
The High Altar reredos is composed of the original marble with additions.
It has been surrounded by a carved wood enframement done in white and
pure gold, parts of which have had the gold burnished. Burnishing is a
medieval process of gilding on red clay and polishing with agate.
Magnificent Altar Of Historic Cathedral
The figure of Christ Triumphant is also carved, gilded and burnished. It is
suspended in the center and surrounded with damask. The smaller figures in
the side recesses are St. Peter and St. Augustine, the latter being the patron
saint of the Cathedral These statues were carved by Richardo Moroder.
The High Altar is enshrined under a tester of the same material and work-
manship as the main reredos. However, it does contain equipment which
serves to provide the illumination of the High Altar and the Pontifical
The various parts of the reredos and tester were conceived by the ar-
chitect, George W. Stickle, of Stickle and Associates, Cleveland and
Philadelphia, and designed in detail by the Rambusch Studios of New York.
The decorative elements were carved in Italy in a little village in the nor-
thern Dolomites called Ortisei. The name of the carver is Richardo Moroder.
The general lighting of the Cathedral was engineered by Rambusch of
New York and built in their metal studios. The fourteen nave lanterns serve
to give an architectural emphasis, as well as providing illumination which is
their principal function. Additional technical equipment provides light at the
various important areas.
The mosaic over the altar in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was sketched
by Hugo Ohlms and detailed by Rambusch. It is true smalto mosaic. Smalto
mosaic is built of small cubes of opaque glass of thousands of colors and,
shades. This mosaic was assembled in Venice in the studios of Gregorini.
The new windows occur in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, where
there are three principal windows and tw sJaepnde gxpietjic laIcets. In
the baptistry there is one main window andi"n the'passage to the ba6t-' ..
tistry there are two windows. All these windows were designed and
executed in the Rambusch Studios of New York. A member of the
Rambusch organization, William Haley, designed the compositions.
They were detailed by two of the younger members of the group, David
Wilson, an English born designer and Leandor Velasco, a young
designer of glass from Bogota, Columbia, South America.
The theme of the Blessed Sacrament windows is Sacrifice. As mentioned
in the Mass, we find the Sacrifice of Melchisedech, and Abraham at the left :
and the Sacrifice of the Cross on the right. In the center is the window
Commemorating the Second Vatican Council and the encyclical of Pope
Paul VI "Mysterium Fidei" in which the mystery of the Holy Eucharist is
discussed and explained.
In the baptistry we find the Baptism of Christ by St. John the Evangelist.
Either a statue of this subject, a picture or a window is prescribed by rule for
the baptistry, even though the explanations clearly state that Christ's
baptism was not the kind of baptism which we humans receive.
In the passage to the baptistry, the two subjects illustrate the
prefiguration of baptism, namely, Moses striking the rock in the desert
bringing forth the much needed water at the command of God the Father.
The other is of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea with the destruction of
Pharaoh's Army, also a prefiguration of baptism.
Visitors will find the murals, which depict both the historical and religious
life of the community from earliest times a rewarding addition to the other
aspects of St Augustine's colorful past.
On the wall over the narthex, murals depict scenes such as the first Mass
in this parish on September 8,1565; the five Spanish explorers who preceded
Menendez to the New World (Ponce de Leon, Panfilo de Narvaez, Hernando
de Soto, Father Luis Cancer and Tristan de Luna); the building of the first
settlement in St Augustine in 1565; the arrival of the Minorcans from New
Smyrna in 1777; the building of the Cathedral, and the coming of the first
bishop of St Augustine with an entourage of priests.
Murals on the Epistle side of the sanctuary show the religious and
philosophical thinking of the Renaissance at the time of the first settlement
of St Augustine.
Here are seen Pope Pius V, St. Augustine, Charles Cardinal Borromeo, St.
Francis de Sales, Pope Paul III, St. Thomas Aquinas and Archbishop Der-
mot O'Hurley, martyred Archbishop of Cashel, Ireland.
On the Gospel side of the altar, murals show this culture being brought to
the New World. A pioneer diocesan priest administering to a sick native
while an Indian medicine man performs his ritual. On his left, is an explorer-
priest with de Soto; at the lower left is a pioneer pastor of St. Augustine.
At the upper right are priests being martyred while natives perform a;
religious dance. Below this are lay catechists soldiers teaching the natives -
and a final scene shows missionaries teaching the.natives handcrafts and
weaving. These murals were painted by Hugo Ohlms.
Another addition to the cathedral is a magnificent gold tabernacle of
barque design from Dublin, .Ireland, along with a get of specially designed
gold candlesticks. These have been placed on the Blessed Sacrament Altar.
They were designed and fabricated by the firm of Gunning and Son, Limited,
One of the interesting features of the restoration is the tilework floor. It
was made according to a centuries-old process that was imported from
Spain by the Cubans. The 15,000 tiles were made by Cuban refugees in
Unlike ordinary tiles, which are made of clay and fired in a kiln, these are
formed under hydraulic pressure. It takes three minutes to make one tile
and 28 days for it to harden. The floor of the sanctuary is done in light red
African marble. I
Gift of a Spanish sea captain is the hammered silver sanctuary lamp
presently hanging from the archway at the entrance to the Blessed
Sacrament ChapeL Caught in a storm, he pledged a gift to whatever place
the Lord might send him in safety, which proved to be St. Augustine.
The life of St. Augustine is depicted in twelve windows in the tran- .
septs and nave: his baptism, ordination and consecration; St. Augustine .
with St. Allipius; with St. Monica; healing the sick, preaching, reading
the rules of his Order, talking with a child by the seashore; the miracles
at the shrine of St. Stephen of Hippo; the death of St Monica, and the
ecstasy of St Augustine.
The Stations of the Cross, set in carved wood frames, are replicas in oil of
those in the Pauline Chapel in Rome. They were placed in the Cathedral
after the fire in 1887.
Choir loft and organ are placed behind the reredos in the Sanctuary.
,, Foa Lpginte of shrines in honor of St. Joseph the Worker and St. Patrick'F
'are wood carved stasorese saimswhi6e ceramfc-v e ReI
ding each one tells the story of their life.
This historic church, one of the last Spanish structures to rise into St.
Augustine's ancient skyline, became the Cathedral of St. Augustine when thel
diocese, of the same name, was erected in 1870. The cathedral is a memorial
to the religion of America's earliest days, as well as a symbol of its later
growth, and from his niche over the door, St. Augustine still raises his hand
in blessing over the city and the parish first placed in his care over 400 years.
Upon completion of the recent restoration, the Cathedral was solemnly
dedicated on March 9th, 1966 by His Eminence William Cardinal Conway,
Piimate of all Ireland, in the presence of many bishops and priests and a
large congregation of people from all parts of Florida and the surrounding
We trust your visit to one of this Nation's most historic shrines has been a
rewarding one. Contributions for the preservation and maintenance of this
Shrine may be mailed to Cathedral of St. Augustine, St. Augustine,