Acclaimed by Four Centuries: Present-Day Recognition

The Several Proclamations


13 Sept. Idibus Septembris, (Page 356)

Apud Tolemato pagum, in Florida Americae, Fassio Servi Dei Petri de Corpa, Sacerdotis et Martyris, qui dum Missam celebraturus ad ecclesiam ergeret, ab infidelibus proditorie impetitus, capite plexus est.

In the village of Tolomato in Florida, America, the passion of the Servant of God Pedro de Corpa, Priest and Martyr, who while he was on his way to the church to celebrate Mass was treacherously attacked by infidels and beheaded.

This succinct statement is basically an accurate one-sentence summary of the information contained in Oré's accountas the basis for the historical analysis.2 The circumstances of Fray Pedro's death have been described above.as the basis for the historical analysis.3

The site of the slaying is indicated as the Indian village of Tolomato, further identified as being (then) in Florida. Today the area is in the State of Georgia, but the actual site of the slaying has not been established with certainty. One possibility is that it was on the Darien Bluff near the place which later was to be occupied by Fort King George, at the confluence of the Lower Bluff Creek and Black Island Creek at the mouth of the Altamaha River. By another hypothesis, the site of the Tolomato mission is on the Sutherland Bluff on the bank of the Sapelo River between the White Chimney River and the Bororo River, about three miles due south of the Shellman Bluff settlement. Oré makes mention of a foundation in Tolomato and another in Tupiqui in the early 1580’s as the basis for the historical analysis.4


15 Sept. Decimo Kalendas Octobris, Page 359)

Apud Asao, in Georgia Americae, passio Servi Dei Francisci de Veráscola. Sacerdotis et Martyris, qui a furientibus indigenes crudelissime trucidatus est.

At Asao, in Georgia, America, the passion of the Servant of God Francisco de Veráscola, Priest and Martyr, who was most cruelly slaughtered by raging natives.

Under date of September 15, the first entry of the day recalls the martyrdom of Fray Francisco de Veráscola. The personal history, the missionary experiences of Fray Francisco, and the circumstances of his death at his Mission on Asao have been adequately described already.5

In the Martyrologium Franciscanum the day assigned to the slaying of Fray Francisco de Veráscola is the second in the series of the four separate entries referring to the Five Martyrs of Georgia. In our analysis of these four episodes, however, of set purpose we have assigned the last place to this happening. By this relatively minor transposition in the chronology, the sequence of events as presented in the more carefully organized primary sources – and presumably also in fact – is better maintained.

The reason for this suggested modification is, firstly, that Oré's Relación Histórica, the most reliable and the best-organized of the sources of our information about the slayings, recounts this episode as the last in the series. Moreover, the internal logic of the events demands such a sequence. The rebels, having first killed Fray Pedro at Tolomato on September 14, almost necessarily would direct their murderous attention to the neighboring mission at Tupiqui before moving to either one of the two remaining missions where they were expecting to find victims, that is, to Guale (St. Catherines) Island or to Asao (St. Simons) Island. Most telling against the sequence of events as suggested by the dating in the Martyrologium – which would make the slaying of Fray Francisco come immediately following that of Fray Pedro at Tolomato – is the matter of logistics. Of all the mission stations Asao was the most distant from the center of hostile operations; the time which would have been needed to travel to Asao, the most remote of the missions from the center in Guale, would have opened the possibility that the Spaniards meanwhile might organize some form of resistance and reprisal, and so the plan to eliminate entirely the friars' work would be endangered. For that reason, the rebels logically determined to eliminate next Fray Blas at Tupiqui, as Oré's account implies.


16 Sept. Decimo sex to Kalendas Octobris, (Page 361)

Apud Topoqui pagum, in Florida, passio Servi Dei Blasii Rodríguez de Monte Sacerdotis et Martyris, qui, celebrato Missae Sacrificio, coram altari genujlexus, a barbaris indigenis immanissime trucidatus est.

In the village of Tupiqui, in Florida, the passion of the Servant of God Blas Rodríguez de Monte, Priest and Martyr, who after having celebrated the sacrifice of the Mass, kneeling before the altar, was most cruelly slain by barbarian natives.

In its directness this proclamation of the martyrdom of Fray Blas Rodríguez does not contradict, in any notable way, the account given by Oré, though necessarily it omits many details which enhance the story. It does not mention the martyr's request, which surprisingly the Indians honored, to be allowed to offer Mass, or his loving gesture in distributing among the faithful who had gathered around him the small objects he had for his personal use. It omits his noble words accepting his imminent death, and his exhortation to the rebels (among whom he recognized some of those he had instructed and baptized in the Faith) that they seek God's pardon for their evil deed. After two days of preparing for death, according to Oré's account, Fray Blas was slain with a blow of a stone hatchet, which caused his brains to spill out on the ground.6

Cited in the proclamation as the place of the martyrdom is Tupiqui, the Indian village on the mainland, only about 15 kilometers from Tolomato, where the first slaying had taken place. It is in the present State of Georgia, though at the time of the slaughter the whole region was called La Florida by the Spaniards. As was Tolomato, Tupiqui was one of the missions longer established in the province of Guale. It is thought to have been situated at a bend of South Newport River, not far from Espogache, the seat of the chief of the Guale Indians. It is tentatively placed in northeastern McIntosh County, directly inland from Oldinar Island and Cedar Hammock, near Eulonia.

It would not have been difficult for the rampaging Indians to go through the woods from Tolomato to Tupiqui, to arrive there on September 14, the day following the slaughter of Fray Pedro. The date assigned by the Martyrology for the death of Fray Blas, September 16, agrees neatly with the description of events supplied by Oré, who speaks of a first encounter ( very likely on September 14) between the missionary and his future assassins, and then his actual murder two days later (September 16). During the two-day interlude, while the bloodthirsty natives were discussing their future actions and laying plans for their conquests, the missionary had time to prepare devoutly and calmly for the imminent sacrifice of his life.7

The name of the Servant of God as given in the Martyrology is Blas Rodríguez de Monte. It is only in this Martyrology that we have found the surname of this friar as here indicated: Rodríguez de Monte. In no early account is he so called. Seemingly the editors of the Martyrologium Franciscanum adopted this solution for a troubling problem traceable to Torquemada's account of the martyrdom. The early authors – Oré, Daza, Serrate – call him Fray Blas Rodríguez; Torquemada calls him Fray Blas de Montes. At the time of the events of 1597 there was indeed in La Florida a friar by the name of Fray Blas de Montes, who had arrived with the group of new missionaries in that year, 1597. That he was not the martyr, however, we know from the fact that he was delegated to accompany Governor Canzo and the military expedition which, after the Revolt, set out to discover and apprehend the rebels who had slain the five missionaries.8


17 Sept. Decimo Quinto Kalendas Octobris, (Page 362)

In Amelia, insula Floridae, passio Servorum Dei Michaelis de Añon, sive de Oceania, Sacerdotis, et Antonii de Badajóz, Laici, qui iteratis clavae ictibus in capite percussi, hostiae suavissimae ante altare pro Christo occubuere.

On Amelia Island in Florida, the passion of the Servants of God Miguel de Añon (or de Oceania), a Priest, and Antonio de Badajóz, a Lay Brother, who in front of the altar as most pleasing victims died for Christ as the result of repeated blows of a cudgel on the head.

Under date of September 17, in the fifth proclamation of the day, the 1938 edition of the Martyrologium Franciscanum cites Fray Miguel de Añon and Fray Antonio de Badajóz. The two Servants of God, who were stationed at the one mission, were put to death on the same occasion. On the strength of the documents bearing on the Cause, however, it is certain that the martyrdom did not take place on Amelia Island, but rather on St. Catherines Island. St. Catherines, known also as Guale, is some 50 or 60 kilometers to the North of Amelia and in what is now the State of Georgia. The correct indication of place ought therefore to read: "On St. Catherines Island in Georgia."

All the contemporary documents bear out the truth that the slaying of these two friars took place on Guale (i.e., St. Catherines) Island. Oré in his Relación says that the site of this double act of violence was Guale Island near Tolomato (la isla de Guale, que estaba cerca);9 as a matter of fact, the northern reaches of St. Catherines Island lie directly east of Tupiqui; and Tolomato was on the Sound which was the water-highway leading to the mission on Guale. Also Oré says that the body of Fray Miguel was buried at the foot of the large mission-cross which he had erected, and that six years later the bones were removed and taken to San Agustin.10 Neither in 1597 nor in 1603 did a mission exist on Amelia. The extensive excavations currently being carried out with spectacular success on St. Catherines have proved the presence there for many decades of a flourishing mission.

The date assigned in the Martyrology, September 17, agrees with the best sources. Even though no contemporary source explicitly identifies the day and the month, in the sequence of the four different acts of violence that date fits in quite neatly and logically. Accepting September 14 as the time of the slaying of Fray Pedro and the outbreak of the Juanillo Revolt, followed by the slaying of Fray Blas on the morning of the 16th, the chronology points to the 17th as the day when the rebels landed on Guale (St. Catherines) Island. The time required to travel by canoe from Tupiqui to Guale would not have been more than several hours.

All indications are that the rebels, once on the island, lost no time in dispatching the victims, for they had previously sent word to the local cacique that the two missionaries were doomed to be killed. The friendly local chief had informed the friars of the plan to kill them, urging them to accept his help in heading to the safety of the mission of San Pedro to the south (on present-day Cumberland Island). Declining, the priest and the lay brother had calmly prepared themselves for death, Fray Miguel celebrating Mass, at which, we presume, Fray Antonio communicated the Sacred Host.11

The surname of Fray Miguel is here given as de Añon sive de Oceania. Preferring to cite the two ape!ativos which are variously used for this martyr, the editors seem to be resorting to a compromise in the face of a persistent dilemma. Among the early sources we find a similar ambiguity. In Oré, as edited by Lopez, Fray Miguel is consistently called de Aunon; Omaechevarria, however, makes a point of correcting that to de Añon. We have accepted the latter form, de Añon, as does the Martyrologium which in Latin reads de Anon, presumably de Añon being intended. It has not yet been clarified as to whether that appellation is a family name or merely a toponym; if a place-name, the question is further complicated by the fact that there seem to be three places in Spain called Añon – a municipality in the Province of Saragossa, and two villages in the Province of Coruña; as well as one place called Aunon in the Province of Guadalajara. And in the Province of Toledo there is a place called Ocana.12

The immediate circumstances of the double slaying are briefly alluded to in the martyrology reading. The text, calling the martyrs "most pleasing victims," adopts a quasi liturgical expression to describe the sentiments with which the two friars accepted their immolation. Once aware of their impending death, the priest and his associate took part in the sacrifice of the Mass and spent more than four hours in prayer – prayer surely of resignation, of faith and hope and love of God. It was a prolonged and most extraordinary thanksgiving after Mass and Communion. Though no contemporary account specifies the exact spot of the slaughter, the text of the martyrology is undoubtedly right in saying they died "before the altar."13

Oré speaks of "one blow of the hatchet-or cudgel" as the proximate cause of Fray Antonio's death. As the assassins had such respect for the courtly Fray Miguel that they were hesitating in their plan to kill him, a non-baptized Indian came up from behind and knocked him unconscious with a blow of a club. When the faithful of the place ran to his defense, another pagan Indian came from behind and with an extremely heavy blow of a cudgel split his skull, spilling his brains on the ground. 14

Oré, ed. Lopez, 1:793; Geiger, Martyrs, 73-74.

See above, 53-55, 73-74, 97.

Oré, ed. López, 1 :76; Geiger, Martyrs, 43.

See above, 65-69, 95-96.

See above, 74-75; Oré, ed. López, I :95; Geiger, Martyrs, 75-76.

Ibid.

See above, 95, 107-08.

Oré, ed. López, I :94; Geiger, Martyrs, 74.

Oré, ed. López, I :94-95; Geiger, Martyrs, 75.

See above, 62, 75.

See above, 59.

Cf. Oré, ed. López, 1 :94; Geiger, Martyrs, 75. See above, 75.

Ibid.

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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