Wednesday, December 14, 2011

300 Years of the Biblioteca Nacional

I´m in Madrid right now and I went to a new exhibit today that commemorates the 300th anniversary of the National Library. The building in which it is currently located was built for it in the 19th century, and it had been located in a couple of other places in the preceding century or so.

They have brought out wonderful things for the exhibit, and you can see original documents – not facsimiles – from the earliest times of the book  - or even written document – in Spain.  You can see parchments, books, maps, photos, and even hear early sound recordings.

I lucked out, however, because I saw something completely different downstairs in their permanent exhibit. They had moved something from that exhibit upstairs to the special exhibit and replaced it with this:


What is it? Part of a set of measuring and mapping tools made for the Spanish king Carlos II when he was 14 years old in the late 17th century.  I was delighted, because I am going to be giving a talk on early maps of St Augustine and I wanted to show people the tools used in creating them. So here they are.

However, this set was a multi-purpose tool.  It was designed by a Jesuit in Toledo, and even included a way the user could use the device to tune instruments.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Walls of St Augustine

After a long, long silence – as a result of my labors with Tolomato Cemetery this year – I have made a pre-New Year’s resolution to resume this blog. The posts may be sporadic, but they’ll be there!

One of the most interesting things going on in St Augustine right now is the dig at the Mission Nombre de Dios.  This is near the site where the Spanish landed, and is the site of the first church or chapel that they built.  There was an Indian mission at the site and a chapel with an image of Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto, Our Lady of Milk and Safe Childbirth, known locally as Our Lady of La Leche.  The original image,  a sculpted figure, is thought to have been carried off in Palmer’s Raid in 1728.

The Mission is also the site of the first stone church built by the Spanish in 1677, although the exact location of this has been lost for centuries.

The original church was blown up by the Spanish themselves during Palmer’s Raid in order to prevent the South Carolinians from using it to attack the Castillo. The current chapel on the site dates only to the early 20th century, but it replaces several earlier ones destroyed either during British attacks on St Augustine or by hurricanes.   But no sign of the original church remained.

Just this fall, new information surfaced about the location of this church.  It was actually old information, discovered by a priest stationed at the shrine in the 1950s, but like everything else about the Mission, it had been lost.  The priest felt that he had found the location of the foundations of the building and did a map of it, although unfortunately because of changes over the years, the map was fairly meaningless. But Dr. Kathy Deagan, who has devoted her life to digging up St Augustine, sat down and analyzed it and came up with some ideas about its location.


On he very first test pit, they found a wall.  And here we see it: a massive coquina wall or foundation.  Was it the original church?  Was it perhaps the church and Franciscan convent?  Or was it something else altogether?  I’ll keep you posted as Dr. Deagan and Dr. Jim Gifford pursue this surprisingly elusive past.

Friday, January 28, 2011

More Mysteries under St Augustine

This photo shows you everybody who’s anybody in St Augustine archaeology, puzzling over the latest find under our streets.  Carl Halbirt, Susan Parker, Buff Gordon, Herschel Shepherd, and Kathy Deagan (blond hair, green shirt with her back to the camera) and St Augustine Archaeological Association members Toni Wallace, Janet Jordan and Lin Masley ponder a series of 16th/17th century postholes.

The postholes (now just stains in the soil) were found in the course of digging up San Marco Avenue to put a tourist trolley stop in across the street from the Castillo de San Marcos. There are many postholes of varying sizes, and speculation is that these were from temporary buildings used during the construction of the earliest fort in the 16th century.  There is also the possibility that the buildings were storage buildings or some other utility structures. Herschel Shepherd suggested that we consult Spanish traditional architectural styles to answer some of the questions about the size, placement and possible use of these buildings.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Spanish New Orleans?

Spain had a significant but now nearly ignored or even unknown influence on Louisiana in general and New Orleans in particular. I’m in New Orleans this week and thought I’d look for Spanish traces.


I didn’t have far to look. The Cabildo was built as the  headquarters for the Spanish governor and council in the 18th century. Spain acquired Louisiana shortly after it gave up St Augustine, in both cases because of the settlement of the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War).  Louisiana was under Spain from 1764 to 1803; in fact, it was Spanish until just a few days before the Louisiana Purchase, which made it American.  In a complicated treaty maneuver, Spain returned Louisiana to France, and the US then purchased it. In fact, the agreement for the Louisiana Purchase was signed in the Cabildo, which nowadays is the Louisiana State Museum.

Interestingly enough, the Spanish governor of Louisiana was a man named Alejandro O’Reilly. Yes, that’s right: another of the Wild Geese, the Irish who went to the Continent.  He’s no relation to St Augustine’s Fr. Miguel O’Reilly, his contemporary and fellow Irish Spaniard.

Here’s another little trace of Spain.  If I find any more, I’ll let you know.