Where's the Church?

Archaeologists once asked, “Where’s the church?” Over the years, many looked for the exact location of St. Augustine’s first church. The parish – named Nuestra Señora de los Remedios or Our Lady of the Remedies – flourished from 1572 to 1702. Let us walk over to Aviles Street to learn more the structure’s disappearance and discovery.

A colorful drawn map showing St. Augustine, surrounding fields, and Mantanzas Bay during Sir Francis Drake's attack.
A section of the 1586 Boazio map of Drake’s attack on St. Augustine. (Library of Congress)

The parish emerged within the boundaries of the original 16th-century settlement. The early town and church stood in the region south of King Street near Matanzas Bay – as seen on Boazio’s 1586 map. The same map also illustrated Sir Francis Drake‘s attack – which destroyed the first structure in 1572. Its later versions met similar fates: A fire took the second structure in 1587, a hurricane flattened the third building in 1599, and the final one burned in 1702 during a British attack.

Previous archaeological excavations – in 1924, 1969, and 1986 – revealed burials surrounding the Wakeman House (also known as Heritage House) and the Spanish Colonial Hospital. Archaeologists believed that the grave sites belonged to the colonial church. For in the Catholic tradition and Spanish law, towns often placed their cemeteries on church property. Though none found any structural evidence in their digs.

A color photograph of Aviles Street during a revitalization project involving the removal of sidewalks and the street.
A photo from the revitalization of Aviles Street in 2010. (UFDC)

A new opportunity arose when St. Augustine started a revitalization project on Aviles Street in 2010. With the removal of sidewalk, city archaeologist Carl Halbirt and his volunteers searched for the first church. They discovered postholes indicating a large structure, pottery shards dating to the 1500s, and more human remains. He thought that these clues came from the second church. If this structure followed Spanish ordinances, it would have faced the waterfront. This would mean that their dig uncovered the west side of the building – which included the altar and wall.

A map of Block 28 in St. Augustine showing the locations of excavation test units on Aviles Street.
A map of Aviles Street showing the 2010 excavation test units. (UFDC)

Thanks to the investigative skills of archaeologists, the site of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios no longer remains a mystery. Read more about the 2010 excavation in the University of Florida Digital Collections by clicking here.

2 thoughts on “Where's the Church?

  1. Pingback: Property Spotlight: Wakeman House – Governor's House Library

  2. Pingback: Nuestra Señora de la Soledad | Our Lady of Solitude – Governor's House Library

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