Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the United States, originating in 1565 with the Spanish. The founder, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles named it after St. Augustine of Hippo, as the day they landed, August 28, was St. Augustine's feast day. Surprisingly, however, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine dates much later than that, completed in 1797, after five years of construction. 
Of course, the Spanish Conquistadors established a crude church immediately, made of pine posts and thatched with fronds, but it was soon burned to the ground by the English privateer, Sir Francis Drake, in 1586. The Spaniards rebuilt the cathedral, with straw and palmetto, and it burned again in 1599, this time from natural causes. The third cathedral, built from timber, was begun in 1605. It lasted more than 100 years, but was burned again by the English, in 1702, in a failed raid by Carolina Governor James Moore. St. Augustine went without a cathedral for the next 90+ years, 21 of which it was under British rule. 
Father Pedro Camps who died in 1790. He is buried beneath the main altar and is honored for keeping alive the Catholic faith during the British occupation which ended in 1784.
The fourth (and current) structure was built of coquina stone, a sedimentary rock created from the decomposition of seashells, available locally. So when the cathedral burned again in 1887, the outer walls were salvaged because the coquina was inflammable. 
The cathedral was then restored and enlarged with the addition of a transept (to give it the aspect of a cross), a bell tower, 
Bell tower from a distance.
and the inner ceiling was left exposed with decorated timbers, one of the unique aspects of the cathedral I really like, which give it a Bavarian feel. The following is a picture of the cathedral before the fire and restoration 
and there are some great photos at this website
Cathedral Basilica of St. August with bell tower in foreground, transept to the left, and  1797 church to the right.
Twelve large stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the life of St. Augustine were made by a firm in Munich, Germany and installed in 1909. 

Baptism of St. Augustine by St. Ambrose
In preparation for the 400th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine, the cathedral was renovated and re-dedicated in 1966. The renovation included the building of a eucharistic chapel 
Mural of Last Supper in the Eucharistic Chapel.
and murals of the Catholic history of Florida by artist Hugo Ohlms, including the vine-like design that ties them together. 

Decoration on the ceiling.
Because the walls of coquina and poured concrete absorb moisture from the ground, Ohlms painted the murals on quarter-inch thick plywood and sealed the back with polyurethane. He was also responsible for the red ceiling, 
the painted cross beams with coats of arms of diocesan bishops on them and a red, blue and gray Cuban tile floor. 

St. Augustine by the sculptor G. William Ellis
In 1976 the cathedral was named a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI, the 27th American church to receive that honor. There are only four major basilicas in the Catholic church, all in Rome. A minor basilica was traditionally given the right of the conopaeum (resembling an umbrella and made of yellow and red silk) and tintinnabulum (a bell) in processions on state occasions, the right to include the papal symbol of the crossed keys on a basilica's banners, 
furnishings and seal, and the right of the rector of the basilica to wear a mozzetta (an elbow-length cape that covers the shoulders and is buttoned over the breast) over his surplice.


  1. Beautiful stained glass windows--not the usual fare for a Spanish-American cathedral. This was an interesting history lesson.

  2. Very impressive and pleasantly different from European cathedrals. Went for a service also, which was lovely. Give stars ... and some ethereal value added.

  3. So nice to see! Hugo Ohlms was my great, great Uncle