Witnesses to the Truth: The Remains of the Servants of God

The Remains of Fray Pedro de Corpa


On November 2 the expeditionary force under Méndez de Canzo sailed up the Altamaha River, anchoring off Tolomato. Near present-day Darien, Tolomato was the principal settlement of the Guales.


There, as a sign of its recognized importance in the life of the tribe, the Spaniards had placed in the bohio, the council-house, an armorial shield on which was painted the escutcheon of the King of Spain.6 It was here in Tolomato that Fray Pedro de Corpa had his post.

When the vessel had anchored, the General and his imposing force of soldiers went ashore. Amid the total desolation of the place – the church, the dwelling of the friar-missionary, the council-house, the palm-thatched huts of the natives, all in ruins – the Governor and his expeditionaries remained two days. During that time from the vantage position of the treetops, an invitation was repeatedly called out for the fugitive natives to come in from the woods for a conversation with the Governor. With the exception of a few – who treacherously wounded some friendly natives – no rebel Indians made an appearance. Finally, on November 4, since the rebels showed no sign of answering the invitation, Dom Gonzalo gave orders to put the torch to all the yet-standing huts of the natives.7

After the slaying of Fray Pedro at Tolomato, the Indians had engaged in an orgy of licentiousness. To signalize their rejection of the Christian religion and its teachings, and as the culminating gesture of the fury of the mob, the natives severed the head from the corpse of the venerable friar who had been their spiritual father. This gruesome token of their intention to reject the religion which the friars,had brought to their land, they put on a pike and set up at the water's edge. All passersby in canoes could see the grisly evidence of their rejection of the Gospel. The decapitated body of the slain friar, after lying in the sun for some days, was then buried in an unmarked site in the woods. Ore says that it was deliberately buried in such a way that the Christians would not be able to find it; and in fact it was never discovered. It would seem certain that the mortal remains of the friar who was the superior of his fellow-religious working in Guale were irretrievably lost.8

In the museum maintained at the Fort George Historical Site, near Darien, formerly there was on display a human skull identified as of the Mediterranean type. According to the accompanying placard, "many believe (it) to be that of Fray Pedro de Corpa, martyred at Tolomato in 1597." For several reasons, this supposition was untenable. In addition to arguments of an anthropological nature, there is the historical fact, recorded by Ore, that "they killed him (Fray Pedro) with a stone-hatchet, which they call macana" ("le mataron con una hacha de piedra que llaman macaña.")9 The clear implication of this statement is that the rebels beat the friar on the head, inflicting on him a mortal wound, from which certainly there would result the fracturing of his skull. The skull on display at the museum was almost intact, although the area of the nose and the mouth, and the lower right mandible section were missing. Currently the skull and the sign are no longer on display.

Before Canzo's expedition left the site of Tolomato on November 2, there were found in the neighboring woods an altar stone for use in the celebration of Mass, and a statue of San Antonio de Padua. These sacred objects were given into the custody of Fray Blas de Montes.10

Información juridica…,ed. Omaechevarría, MH 12 (1955): 297.

Ibid., 309.

Oré, ed. López, I: 93-94; Geiger, Martyrs, 74.

Oré, ed. López, I: 93; Geiger, Martyrs, 73.

Información juridica…,ed. Omaechevarría, MH 12 (1955): 309.

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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