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.