Witnesses to the Truth: Statements and Opinions

Statement of Fray Francisco Marrón and the Friars of the Custódia in La Florida

To Fray Francisco de Arzubiaga; Comisário General of the Franciscan Order in Madrid, Spain (San Agustin: date uncertain but probably in December of 1597 or January 1598; certainly before February 23, 1598)

Immediately upon receipt of word of the Revolt in Guale, the friars who had been engaged in ministry to the natives in La Florida were summoned by the Comisário to return to the central house in San Agustin. Unaware as yet of the details of the slayings, the friars were authorized by Governor Gonzalo Méndez de Canzo to name a delegate who, as their representative, would accompany him on the investigatory trip which he would undertake to the area of the crime. The friar selected by the group and duly approved by the Governor was Fray Blas de Montes, who had been in the Florida mission since 1595. Canzo made it clear to him that he was empowered only to gather personal effects of the slain friars, and was not to initiate any effort to obtain information or depositions on the scene. Upon the Governor's return to San Agustin, on December 1 the Comisário gathered the friars in a formal Chapter to draw up a Report of the happenings, to be sent to the Comisário General in Spain. That report was prepared on the basis of the findings of the expedition to Gu ale and the information which the several friars were able to offer. The Chapter had as its president the Comisário, Fray Francisco Marrón, and was attended by all the friars attached to the mission, namely two who had been laboring in the mission for a decade or more, Fray Juan de San Nicolás and Fray Baltasar López; and six of the friars who had arrived in the group of 1595, namely, Fray Pedro Bermejo, Fray Francisco Pareja, Fray Pedro Ruiz, Fray Pedro de Viniegra, Fray Blas de Montes and Fray Pedro Fernández de Chozas.

Unanimously selected by his confreres to bring the Report to the Major Superior in Madrid was Fray Pedro Fernández de Chozas. The Governor, however, refused to sanction his going. A lengthy tussle followed, lasting from early December through mid-January, between the Custodio, Fray Marrón, and the Governor, Don Gonzalo Méndez de Canzo. Finally the Governor protested in writing that the friar was going without the order or the consent of the civil authority. It has not been ascertained when exactly Fray Chozas sailed, but the documentation published in Missionalia Hispanica (Num. 35, pp. 312-317) indicates that it was some time before February 23, 1598, when the Governor sent a lengthy report to the King, discussing the slaying of the Five Friars in September of the previous year.

It is to be lamented that this Report of the Franciscan Chapter is no longer extant or, if extant, that it has not been discovered. As the record of the thinking of the brethren of the slain missionaries in regard to the sacrificial nature of their violent deaths, it would be singularly valuable. The sad fact of its disappearance, and possibly its irrevocable loss, has deprived the Cause of a prime and uniquely valuable testimony from the ranking ecclesiastical authority in La Florida at the time of the martyrdom. When the letter was sent, Fray Marrón, in addition to being the Comisário of the Franciscan missionary enterprise, was also the Vicário Eclesiástico of Don Juan Antonio Diaz de Salcedo, the Franciscan Bishop of Santiago de Cuba, whose jurisdiction included the extensive territory of La Florida. Obviously the Report – the tenor of which it is not difficult to reconstruct from the surviving documents which treat of the matter – was vested with the highest authority, that of the ranking ecclesiastic in Spain's colony on the Florida peninsula.

It is particularly significant that in this matter the Comisário adopted the rare stance of openly contravening the expressed will of the Governor. Equally suggestive is the circumstance that, post factum, the King upheld the action of the friars, telling the Governor that should circumstances of similar gravity arise in the future, the friars should not be hindered from going to Spain and making a personal report. The boldness and the firmness with which Marrón acted in the matter indicate how important the Comisário who was at the same time Vicário Eclesiástico of the Bishop of Cuba – viewed the question of putting this Report into the hands of the King, the Pope's vicar by reason of the Patronato Real.

”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.

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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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