Friday, April 23, 2010
I've been trying to identify various features of the main altar and the side altars and I happened to notice something interesting today on a trip to visit the Fort, the Castillo de San Marcos. If you look at the photo above (from the Florida Memory Project), you will see that there is a sort of painted backdrop that served as an altar piece behind the main altar of the Cathedral. This photo was probably taken shortly after the Civil War. We know that it was taken before the fire in 1887, at least, and there are some other photographs that seem to show some odd 19th century additions probably made in the years just before the fire, so I think this is the earliest.
I suspect that this is the original 18th-century painted backdrop for the altar or at any rate is very close to the original. As we know, the Cathedral was built as the main parish church in 1797. It was designed mostly by a military engineer named Mariano de la Roque, who had been brought to St. Augustine to work on the fort, the Castillo de San Marcos.
Notice the painted columns and urns at the top of the "altarpiece." Now take a look at the doorway to the chapel at the Castillo. This was also designed by Mariano de la Roque.
It looks to me as if he or a later architect responsible for artistic design at the parish church (now the Cathedral) based the design of the altarpiece on the design of the doorway by Mariano de la Roque. We know that he left St Augustine before the building was finished, so it is possible that this was done by his successor; or it is possible that it was part of his original design and was simply executed later, when the Cathedral was built. While it was formally dedicated in 1797, reports at the time indicate that it was not entirely complete, although I am not sure what was lacking.
In any case, I thought this would be an interesting view of Spanish New World neoclassical architecture and design. Needless to say, the modern altarpiece looks nothing like this.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
For years, I ignored the Spanish Military Hospital because of the rather hokey looking “ghost tours” that depart from the front of the Museum at night and wend their way down Aviles Street by lantern-light. However, I’m forced to admit that I misjudged it.
The original hospital was built during the Second Spanish Period and the current building, a reconstruction, is designed to look as the building did in 1791. It has either authentic period pieces or excellent reconstructions of the 18th century beds, tables, and implements. There are a few 18th century art works, such as the rather deteriorated crucifix in the main ward, shown in the blurry photo above, which is from Brazil and dates to 1713. The guided tour discusses such things as surgical techniques (ugh!), medicines (ugh again!) and the daily life of the sick and wounded soldiers and their attendants. Here we see the surgical – and dental! – tools they used.
Below we see a bed that was reserved for the dying; a table is provided for the things the priest brings with him on his sick call. Over the bed is a painting of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, giving the scapular to St Simon Stock while a soul dressed in white kneels, throwing off her chains, indicating the belief that the scapular speeded the release of souls from Purgatory.
The Spanish were far advanced medically by European standards, and the survival rate for patients was about 75%; by contrast, British and French hospitals of the period had a survival rate about half of that. Doctors were licensed and studied for about 10-15 years before receiving their license. While medicines and knowledge of such things as the germ theory of disease were limited, the Spanish stressed cleanliness, fresh air, and good food. Doctors washed their hands before and after seeing patients, for example. And the patients got hot chocolate every evening!
It’s a very interesting site and highly recommended if you’re visiting St Augustine.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
I have been silent for several months as the result of a death in the family, but now it is time to start up again and resume our conversation on things Spanish.
Here in St Augustine, the weather has improved and it’s time for us to get back to our search for our past.
In this photo, a member of the St Augustine Archeological Association stands in front of the dig in the Plaza. Behind him is our monument to the Constitution – the Spanish Constitution of 1812, “La Pepa.” We have found traces of a large First Spanish Period structure, possibly the government building, in this area.
Next week, we begin digging on Aviles St, originally known as Calle del Hospital because of the military hospital located on the street. We expect to find traces of the original parish church, Los Remedios, burned by the British in 1702, or at least parts of the burial ground that surrounded it. More information will follow!