In the Franciscan Family there has been a constant and uninterrupted memory of the heroic death of the Five Martyrs of Georgia, along with an awareness of the generosity of their sacrifice.
As we have demonstrated, within a hundred years of their death in 1597, chronicles and histories recounting their slaying in testimony to the Faith had appeared and were spread far and wide in both the Old and the New Worlds. The result was that the names of the five religious who, far removed from the world's attention, had died for the sake of the Faith became known throughout the Order in all its units. Especially through the choral recitation of the Divine Office – in the friaries of the three autonomous branches of the Friars Minor, in the convents of the various groups of the nuns of St. Clare, and in the numerous religious houses of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, both of men and women – annually the memory of the sacrificial death of the Five Martyrs of Georgia was piously recalled and cherished.
Through the later phase also the chronicles of the seventeenth century which we have already noted were much sought and widely used. Besides the second edition of Daza's Coronica de N. P. San Francisco, which came out in 1677, there was also a second printing of Torquemada's Monarquia Indiana in 1723. The Martyrologium Franciscanum, first published in 1638, within fifteen years of its original appearance had a second edition in 1653. Indeed, as we shall see further on, it became the basis for successive printings of the Order's official martyrology during the next three centuries, each edition a new attempt to detail more exactly the story of the martyrdom.
Further, a look at the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries will demonstrate that, despite some extremely adverse historical developments, the memory of the sacrifice of these martyrs remained alive in the Church. It was the era following the upheaval of the Reformation, when the ideal of voluntary sacrifice for the Truth entrusted to Christ's Church tended to be obscured. It was the era of Reason and the French Revolution. It was the era of Independence and the American Revolution. It was the Age of the Enlightenment, equating Faith with the Abdication ofReason. The creators of the New Age were men of little or no faith, far removed from the ancient ideal of following the Savior in bearing testimony to divinely revealed Truth. Martyrs, the heroes of Christianity, in such an atmosphere were less likely to be remembered in any significant way. That the memory of our Servants of God should have survived at all under these particularly unfavorable circumstances demonstrates a special care of Divine Providence.
On the Iberian Peninsula at this time in history, the Catholic Church was the object of attack and repression. Catholic scholarship was hampered by the prevailing Rationalism which, originating in France in the wake of the Napoleonic era, affected in a notable degree the neighboring countries, Italy and Spain. The Christian heroes of the past centuries, noted as the age of extraordinary missionary expansion, were eclipsed and all but forgotten. In the New World also, precisely in the territories where during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Spain had endeavored to build a new Christian civilization among the native peoples, revolutions convulsed the body politic. Spain's hegemony in North America slipped from her enfeebled grasp, to be taken over by her great rival, England. Even where their memory was not deliberately destroyed, in the new social atmosphere many of the Catholic foundations laid out in the previous period were weakened and destroyed. Such was the case with the once-flourishing Florida missions. Under the English domination – which shortly gave way to the not dissimilar American spirit following the Independence War of the later 1770's – the missions were completely ignored as the force which had brought civilization, a Christian civilization, to the area.
This confluence of many adverse circumstances was bound to affect the awareness of the faithful, in both Europe and the New World, as to the Catholic heritage of the land once known as La Florida and now called Georgia in honor of an English King. This wave of history helps to explain why several generations of Catholics failed to be informed and inspired by the events which had accompanied the life of the Church in the previous centuries.
Yet there were sporadic and significant signs that the sacrifice of the Martyrs in colonial Florida-Georgia was not wholly forgotten. Even during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the memory of the Five Martyrs of Georgia was not entirely lost. While it may not have flourished, there are evidences that an awareness of their sacrifice in 1597 remained alive. A look at the following publications will show that there remained a true conviction that the Church in time would recognize the sacrifice made by these Heralds of the Great King, who in the very infancy of the Church in the Southeast of the United States had given their lives for His teachings and His Law.
”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.