Acclaimed by Four Centuries: History of the Cause

A Church in the Catacombs


Because of the many difficulties which delayed and impeded its development, the enterprise of La Florida for decades stood on the brink of being terminated.


In the early 1600's, even some of the friars were not optimistic about the future of the work centered in San Agustin. The Crown was at best ambivalent about persevering in the undertaking, for the great expense of maintaining the work seemed to hold little promise of an adequate return. Compared with the wealth that had been discovered and was being extracted from the advanced indigenous civilizations of Mexico, Peru, and Yucatan, the material return from the colony of La Florida was almost insignificant. True, the importance of the peninsula for protecting the seas and the maritime route between the wealth-producing colonies and the mother country was not to be despised: but the expense of maintaining that outpost was a constant and ever-heavier drain on Spain's resources. At last, in 1763, seemingly without great regrets, after two centuries of heavy investment, Spain ceded the territory of La Florida to England.

Spain's low view of the material importance of the area was to a large degree reflected in the relatively scant development in matters ecclesiastical in Florida (including modern-day Georgia). Though there had been some passing visits by bishops from Cuba, it was not until 1735 that an Auxiliary Bishop of Santiago de Cuba, the Franciscan Don Francisco de San Buenaventura y Tejada, took up residence in the disintegrating colony. Another century and more were to go by before (in 1857) the first ecclesial division, a vicariate apostolic, would be established in the peninsula. It is not too far from reality to say that even in Florida's Spanish period due recognition was scarcely given to the early heroes of the Faith who, at the cost of great sacrifices, had planted the Church in a land which seemed to offer so little promise for the future.

In the meantime. that area of La Florida now known as Georgia had been effectively absorbed by the English colonists infiltrating south from the Carolinas. When in 1763 the whole territory of what once was known as La Florida was ceded by treaty to England, after years of struggling to stay alive the Catholic Church entered the catacombs. In England itself, from the time of the Reformation, there was a virulent hatred and a paranoid distrust of the old Faith. In the New World, wherever England became dominant, the same anti-Catholic spirit took root and flourished. Georgia followed the same pattern, and in the long years before the area was admitted to Statehood in the Republic, its repudiation of the Catholic Faith had grown in intensity. It is no wonder that this undeveloped and largely isolated territory was bereft of any vital sense of having once been part of the ancient Faith. Certainly there was no notable preoccupation with discovering or glorifying the record of the heroic sacrifices once made there for establishing the Church. The Church, sadly, was just short of being moribund. And with the condition, interest in the Martyrs of 1597 had languished.

Despite these unfavorable circumstances, on a wider stage the witness which these five Servants of God had given to the sanctity of Christian Marriage was not entirely forgotten. In diverse ways the knowledge of their sacrifice for the teachings of Christ was kept alive in the Church Universal.

”Rule of l221," ch. 16:10-11, in The Writings of Saint Francis, trans. Ignatius Brady (Assisi: Edizioni Porziuncola, 1983) 77. Henceforth, Brady.

St. Bonaventure, Major Life of St. Francis, chap. 12: I, trans. Benen Fahy in Marion A. Habig (ed.), St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Francis, 4lh rev. ed. (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983), 721. Cited henceforth as Omnibus.

Ibid., chap. 3:1, pp. 646-47.

Thomas of Celano, The First Life of St. Francis, chap. JO: 29, trans. Placid Hermann in Omnibus, 247.

Ibid., chap. I 5, p. 258.

Bonaventure, Major Life, chap. 9:5, in Omnibus, 701.

St. Francis, "Letter Addressed to the Whole Order," in Brady, 121.

CREDIT: REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
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REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

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