The History Of The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine - Florida’s Oldest Catholic Church

The History Of The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine – Florida’s Oldest Catholic Church

The history of St. Augustine dates back to September 1565 when the city was first founded, becoming one of the oldest established cities in the country. Earning its nickname ‘The Ancient City, St Augustine, is renowned for its stunning architecture and the intricately designed facades that punctuate the cobblestone streets of this remarkable city. Undoubtedly, the jewel in St. Augustine’s crown is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, the site where the city was first founded and the oldest Catholic Church in the entire state of Florida.

When exploring the history of St. Augustine, you will inevitably be drawn to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine in your research time and time again. Construction of this magnificent building began in 1565 within a matter of hours of the city is formally founded. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine has gone through trials and tribulations over the years due to several different influences such as natural erosion, damage from the ocean, human destruction, and other factors. However, nowadays the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine stands proudly on its original site inspiring countless people to visit St. Augustine to explore the fascinating history of this beautiful structure.

Continue reading to learn more about the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.

The Founding Of The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine

To explore the history of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, we first need to go back in time before construction began. In 1565 Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés set sail from Spain destined for the New World. On the feast day of St. Augustine, Menéndez de Avilés and his time sighted Florida’s east coast and the settlement was named in honor of San Augustín. After making landfall on September 8th, a mass was held in celebration of the founding of the new settlement leading to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine being established. As the crew had very little, if any, construction knowledge, the first church built here was a simple structure built out of whatever materials the sailors could locate nearby.

A Series OF Fires Impact The Church

In 585 a war broke out between the English and the Spanish, during which Englishman Sir Francis Drake made his way across the Atlantic to take control of St. Augustine, which was under the control of the Spanish empire. During the capturing of the city, the region was pillaged and the city was burned to the ground, along with the city’s church. Although the citizens were quick to rebuild, the new church was constructed of straw and palmetto, which didn’t hold up to Florida’s hot climate and, soon another fire destroyed the church for a second time.

St. Augustine Is Without A Church For Ninety Years

A new third church was erected, this time using timber, which was thought to be a stronger, more durable material. However, without adequate maintenance, the structure soon went into disrepair. A combination of a lack of upkeep, the harsh weather conditions, and the growing number of people using the church lead to the church's demise. In 1702, the British governor of colonial South Carolina, James Moore, invaded St. Augustine, destroying the church in the process. Despite many failed attempts to rebuild over the following years, and even with a large investment from the King Of Spain in 1707, St Augustine remained without a church for more than ninety years.

The Return Of The Spanish Reignites Religious Beliefs

When the English arrived, Catholicism began to slowly decline. It wasn’t until the arrival of a new workforce in 1767, comprising primarily of Italians, Greeks, and Minorcans that the religion started to witness a revival. In 1786, two years after the English relinquished control of St. Augustine to the Spanish, the Spanish crown requested that a new church be constructed. Construction of the new Spanish Mission-style church began in 1973 and took four years to complete.

Status Raised To ‘Cathedral’ In 1870

In 1870, a new Catholic diocese was created which elevated the status of the church to Cathedral. The Cathedral was damaged by fire again in 1887 but the interior had the potential to be saved. Following the fire, a national appeal was launched to rebuild the interior, and New York architect James Renwick, Jr was hired to start work on the reconstruction project. The project enhanced the overall size of the cathedral, featuring an exposed timber ceiling and a bell tower with four bells, one of which was from a previous St. Augustine church and believed to be the oldest bell in the entire United States.

In 1976, Pope Paul IV raised the status of the church once again to minor basilica after the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was added in a renovation ten years previously. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine was only the 27th church to be awarded this prestigious honor.

Visit The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine

No visit to St. Augustine would be complete without a trip to the city’s most famous church. A visit to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine can be a great way to explore the history of St. Augustine and learn more about the events and people that shape the region today. Take the time to discover more about this fascinating building and the role it played in history and gain a new perspective and appreciation for the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.