America’s oldest city will celebrate their annual Founder’s Day today, Saturday, September 7, from 10 am to noon with a reenactment of the Pedro Menéndez de Avilés landing and first Christian prayer on North American shores at the Mission Nombre de Dios (site of the big cross), located at 27 Ocean Ave.
A reenactment of the landing and first prayer in which accounts say followed a perilous voyage will culminate in the dramatic moment when Menendez himself knelt to kiss the cross held by Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales in thanksgiving for their safe arrival. In fact, Menendez arrived with just 800 of the 1,000 soldiers, settlers and priests who first set out from Spain.
A drama of the landing will be performed by Florida Living History, Inc., to be followed by a special mass and colorful processional of the landing party, priests and representatives of the Cathedral Basilica and Diocese of St. Augustine - which is also America’s oldest Christian parish.
A performance of a scene from the comedic spoof Lope de Vega’s El Nuevo Mundo descubierto por Cristóbal Colón (The New World Discovered by Christopher Columbus) will be performed by Florida Living History Inc.’s “Theater with a Mission” group. This presentation is funded by a grant from the Florida Humanities Council through the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The event is free, and the site shaded. Free parking is also available along Ponce de Leon Blvd and in the Mission parking lot. Because seating is limited, it is advised for the public to bring folding chairs or blankets.
Secular period music will be provided by volunteers from Dulcinea, a new recorder consort and part of Florida Living History Inc.’s Alondra historical music group.
Liturgical period music provided by volunteers from Cantorae St. Augustine.
The event is funded by a grant from the Florida Humanities Council through the National Endowment for the Humanities.
More heritage events that include an historic 16th century encampment and limitary drills and demonstrations on site of the first Menendez settlement will take place next door at Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park throughout the day on Saturday.
Menéndez’s colonists included some 500 soldiers, 200 seamen, and 100 “others”, who included civilians, clergy and the wives and children of soldiers - and possibly the African slaves mentioned by Rene de Laudonniere. According to records, 138 of the soldiers also held licenses in various crafts and trades, including 10 stonemasons, 15 carpenters, 21 tailors, 10 shoemakers, eight blacksmiths, five barbers, two surgeons, two lime makers, three swordsmiths, a gunmaker and a crossbow repairman.
Other trades represented among the soldiers included tanners, farriers, wool carders, a hatmaker, an embroiderer, a bookseller, coopers, bakers, gardeners, an apothecary, and a master brewer. Another 117 of the soldiers were also farmers, ready to settle and farm the land once the French were vanquished.
In an account translated by Henry Ware “Letters of Pedro Menendez de Aviles”, Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings VIII:419-425, the famed Spanish admiral writes of the landing:
“I sent on shore with the first 200 soldiers, two captains, Juan Vincent a brother of the Captain Juan Vicente,and Andres Lopez Patino, both old soldiers, in order to throw up a trench in the place most fit to fortify themselves in, and to collect there the troops that were landed so as to protect them from the enemy if he should come upon them. They did this so well that when I landed on Our Lady’s Day to take possession of the country in your Majesty’s name, it seemed as if they had had a months time, and if the had had shovels and other iron tools, they could not have done it better, for we have none of these things, the ship laden with them not having yet arrived. I have smiths and iron, so that I can make them with dispatch, as I shall. When I go onshore we shall seek out a more suitable place to fortify ourselves in, as it is not fit where we are now. This we must do with all speed, before the enemy can attack us, and if they give us eight days more time, we think we shall do it.”
According to historical accounts, within a few months, there were fewer than 200 people living at the St. Augustine settlement. Ongoing archeological research at the Fountain of Youth settlement site by the University of Florida’s Dr. Kathy Deagan shows settlers even resorted to eating acorns and weeds. The Fountain of Youth is also the site of the 2,000 year-old Native-American village of Seloy, and the accounts detail how the Menendez party first had peaceful relations with the villagers, but the Deagan and her team are uncovering evidence of a battle between the Spanish settlers and villagers that left the early settlement burned.
It is believed the attack is why the Menendez party subsequently moved their settlement (briefly) to Anastasia Island before settling in the present location of the old city downtown.
A series of wooden forts were first built for defense on the site of the present day Colonial Quarter Museum grounds, while homes and the church were located south of the Plaza de la Constitucion in the area of Aviles (site of the first church), Charlotte, Marine and South St. George streets to Cordova, where there was once a creek and a bridge located at the Dow Museum Houses.