The churches of St. Augustine

May 10, 2017/Jonathan Rundle/1 Comment

From the early days to the modern day, St. Augustine’s religious history is easily explored. Let’s start by visiting the oldest sites and make our way to more recent houses of worship.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine

Constructed over 5 years from 1793 until 1797, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine is the oldest church in Florida and a National Historic Landmark.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine
Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine interior
Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine

There have been at least three churches on site – two were burned in sieges and one deteriorated naturally. This one, built of fireproof coquina, survived an 1887 fire which gutted the interior.

The generous hand of Henry Flagler touched this structure, like most in the area, and donated money for its restoration. When completed, and with the addition of a bell tower, the church reached even higher architectural glory than it had before.

Mission of Nombre de Dios

The guy who founded the oldest city also founded the first mission here. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the father of St. Augustine landed here and claimed the area for Spain. Naturally, they needed a church.

Mission of Nombre De Dios
Mission of Nombre De Dios

So, you may ask, “why did you tell me about the Cathedral first if this was founded by the first guy to land here? Surely that means this is the oldest church.

Well, it’s because the original chapel was destroyed in 1728 during the British siege of St. Augustine. It was rebuilt in 1875, though it was again destroyed—this time by a hurricane. The current ivy-covered chapel, which seats about 30 people, was built in 1914 and is a replica of previous chapels. That means the Cathedral is technically older.

The shrine contains a replica statue of Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery) which depicts a nursing baby Jesus. This makes the shrine a popular religious pilgrimage site for those expecting.

Other interesting things on-site: the Mission Nombre de Dios Museum features the original casket of the founder of St. Augustine, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.

The Great Cross stands 208 feet tall. It was dedicated in 1966 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Mission.

Grace United Methodist Church

Henry Flagler, the developer of the Ponce de Leon Hotel, was eager to develop another massive, luxurious property (eventually called the Alcazar) across the street. Unfortunately for him, there was a little wooden church that wouldn’t budge—at first.

After a few rounds of negotiation, the leadership of that little wooden church eventually conceded when Flagler offered to build them an impressive new church just a few blocks away. The result of that agreement is the Grace United Methodist Church.

In 1887, using the same builders and architects that he used to build the Hotel, Grace opened it’s doors for the first time.

Grace United Methodist Church
Grace United Methodist Church interior
Grace United Methodist Church

It’ worthwhile to take an extra few moments to observe the high level of detail and ornamentation throughout the exterior and interior of the structure. The best German craftsmen of the time provided the woodwork. Tiffany supplied the glass and the chandelier. That little wooden church got quite an upgrade.

Memorial Presbyterian Church

Keeping the architects Carrère and Hastings busy, Henry Flagler again had them design this church, completed in 1889.

The church is called “Memorial” because it was built in honor of his daughter Jennie, who died from complications of child birth. Her infant Marjorie, who also did not survive is interred here along with Jennie, Henry Flagler himself, and his first wife Mary.

Sadly at the time of my visit the church was not open to the public, so all you get are exterior photos. Sorry!

Memorial Presbyterian Church St. Augustine
Memorial Presbyterian Church St. Augustine
Memorial Presbyterian Church St. Augustine
Memorial Presbyterian Church St. Augustine

What to know

All of these lovely structures are free and open to the public most days. Some offer guided tours of the building. Plan ahead if you’re interested in these tours.

All are within walking distance of each other, so spend the day exploring the town and don’t be afraid to open those big windowless doors that lead into these beautiful buildings.

Comments (1)

  • Jo A Walsh .May 11, 2017.Reply

    Beautiful .Churches always tell the history of places. Another great post.Thank you.

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