Today we’re looking into the history of our neighbors, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. The seat of the Diocese of St. Augustine and “America’s First Parish”, this Roman Catholic church has existed in some capacity since the very beginnings of St. Augustine!
When Pedro Menendez made his landing in 1565, a mass of celebration and thanksgiving was said, marking the beginning of the Catholic Church’s presence in what we know today as St. Augustine. In fact, the landing site is now the grounds of the Mission Nombre de Dios. The original settlement of St. Augustine was located north of the town we know and love today, so it wasn’t until much later that the Cathedral was located near our current Plaza.
The church we see today was designed by Mariano de la Rocque, Royal Engineer. He’s probably best known for his 1784 and 1788 maps of St. Augustine that document Spain’s return to the city and its inhabitants. He drafted plans for the church between 1789 and 1793. He left St. Augustine in 1793, and his successor Pedro Diaz Berrio took over the supervision of construction. The building was completed in 1797.
In 1887, the Cathedral was badly damaged in a fire; the roof and interior were destroyed. But since much of the foundation and walls were built of coquina and other stones, the main shell of the church stayed intact. The Catholic Church called on architect James Renwick to lead the restoration of the Cathedral. He is best known as the architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. At this time, the bell tower was also added to the Cathedral, a gift from Henry Flagler.
In preparation for the Quadricentennial Celebration in St. Augustine, the Cathedral was renovated once again and enlarged under the direction of Archbishop Joseph Hurley. It was also at this time that the Great Cross that stands on the mission grounds was erected. Did you know that Archbishop Hurley , who served on the St. Augustine Preservation and Restoration Commission from July 1966 until his death in 1967?
The Cathedral was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1972. It received its designation as a Minor Basilica in 1976 by Pope John Paul II. It was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1934.
Governor’s House has a few of Rocque’s Cathedral architectural drawings in our collection, and they are some of our favorite pieces of design records. We’ve only scratched the surface of the Cathedral’s history, so to learn more, visit their website!
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I have a recently discovered large size Stereo photos of the Cathedral that looks totally different from your images……but is marked ….Old Spanish Church, St. Augustine Florida