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ne mystery has been solved the exact location of the first parish in St. Augustine and another has arisen the identity of the people buried near its altar.
But that's all in a day's work for Carl Halbirt, archaeologist for the City of St. Augustine. In August, Halbirt and a team of volunteers unearthed the first physical evidence of Nuestra Sefiora de los S- Remedios, the first parish established in St.
Augustine in the new Spanish colony of La Florida.
The parish, named for a Spanish patron saint Our Lady of the Remedies, flourished from 1572 to 1702, when the British destroyed the city.
It shows up on the early maps of the colony: the Baptiste Boazio of 1586 and the Hernando de Mestas of 1593, so Halbirt knew the general area where the church was supposed to be. In the 1960s a number of graves were discovered nearby, indicating the churchyard, but no structural evidence of the church itself had ever been uncovered.
This spring, the City of St. Augustine began a revitalization effort on Aviles Street off the Plaza. Whenever the ground is disturbed, a city ordinance kicks in requiring an archaeological examination of the area.
S *. .. OsMM
When the sidewalk was removed along
the east side of Aviles Street next to the
pink building called Heritage House,
Halbirt and his volunteers excavated the
area. Among his finds:
* Postholes: These were found 10 feet
apart, about two feet deep and 14 to
16 inches in diameter, indicating they
supported a wall. Another posthole was
found midway in the wall, sunk about
three feet, indicating it supported a
large structure possibly a cross.
* Pottery: Shards of bowls and jars
made by the Spanish, Mexicans and
Indians helped Halbirt date the site to
the 16th century.
* Human bones: These were bones I
from the feet and legs of two and maybe
three individuals. One set of bones
was weathered indicating it had been
exposed to the elements. The rest of about 1587 and destroyed by fire and a graves he found on the outside of the wall
the remains had been exhumed and hurricane in 1599. probably held the remains of important
presumably buried at another location "This is a significant find," Halbirt people, possibly priests.
about 400 years ago. said. "It gave us the actual location of the "The grave was found in a four-foot church. I think this is probably the first strip that was undisturbed. It's pretty Halbirt believes that what he found was church in La Florida with a documented remarkable that it was still pristine," the west wall of the second church on the archaeology. There are fewer than a dozen Halbirt said. "It was surrounded by the site. The first church was built around sections of buildings from the 1600s that foundation of a 19th century building and 1572 and was destroyed by Francis Drake have been discovered." modem utilities." in 1586. The second church was rebuilt The church was built of vertical wood The bodies were buried north to south, planks with a thatched roof and was a which defied the tradition of burying east sizable building about 37 feet wide and to west. And it was unusual to have two probably 60 to 70 feet long, he said. bodies buried together.
Elsbeth Gordon, an architectural "We assume they were people of some historian in St. Augustine, wrote about importance to have been buried in such the parish in her book Colonial Florida close proximity to the altar and then to Architectural History. have the remains exhumed and relocated, Hernando de Mestas has a drawing of probably around 1599 when the church the church in his map that shows a vertical was burned," Halbirt said. board church with a campanario or belfry The church was rebuilt and served the with four bells. community until the entire town was The royal ordinances of King Philip set burned in 1702 by the British. That was out how a town should be laid out, Gordon the end of the parish of Nuestra Senora de said. "The ordinances say the church los Remedios. The congregation moved to should be located near the guardhouse and Nuestra Sefiora de la Soledad, which had the government house and would aid in functioned as a small chapel and a hospital the defense of the port," Gordon said. since the late 1500s.
"They also say the church should be Although the church no longer was on oriented so that it would be the first thing the site, Halbirt said the Spanish treated you saw arriving by water and the last the property with respect. Trash does not thing you saw when you left. I love that show up until the mid to late 1700s. symbolism." Unfortunately, no further excavations If the church faced the water, then will be done at the site because the rest the altar would have been on its west of the church is under a privately owned wall, which makes Halbirt think that the building.
St Augustine Catholic October 2010 11