Witnesses to the Truth: The True Martyrdom of the Servants of God

The Martyrdom

Headed by Juanillo and his two allies, an unspecified number of pagan Indians from the surrounding woods under cover of darkness stealthily came to the village of Tolomato on Saturday night, September 13. Their bodies painted and smeared with red paste, their heads decorated with feathers as a sign of their intention to spill blood, they remained quiet during the night.

At dawn on Sunday morning, when the priest was beginning preparations for Mass for the faithful, these bloodthirsty braves burst in upon him in his humble abode and, without further ado, slew him. 5 Later on some Indians were to testify to the commonly known fact that it was the cacique of Sufalate who, at the order of Don Francisco and Juanillo, had actually slain Fray Pedro with a stone hatchet. 6 An Indian called Soho Olata, according to testimony given at the interrogation of the seven young Indians in July following the massacre, was a major figure in fomenting the fury of the mob; he was said to have dealt mortal blows of the macana to all of the victims.7 Other unidentified Indians had by their presence at least encouraged and approved the action of the murderers; to some extent they also were guilty of the crime of slaying Fray Pedro de Corpa.

The slaying of Fray Blas Rodríguez at his mission in Tupiqui is recounted in two slightly different versions: one in testimony given by the youth Lucas, son of Don Felipe, the former cacique of the place;8 the other recounted by Óre in his Relación de los Mártires.9 In some details the two accounts do not agree. Lucas' statement claims that the friar was killed at night (September 14/15) immediately upon the arrival at that mission of the band of Indians from Tolomato. That account therefore clearly implicates some, at least, of those who had participated in the slaying at Tolomato,10 The Óre account describes events that were stretched out over two days. It gives no indications as to who constituted the murderous group of natives, but it may be presumed that it was some or all of those who had so recently taken part in the slaying in neighboring Tolomato.11 In connection with the earlier slaying of Fray Pedro in Tolomato, as well as that of Fray Blas in Tupiqui, Lucas identifies specifically eight caciques: those of Asao, Talaxo, Atinehe, Fulo, Tupiqui, Don Juan [Juanillo, the heir of Tolomato], Ufalague and Aluste. In a special way he singled out the name of Aliseache, who gave the final blow to Fray Blas' head. All must be considered as participants, direct or indirect, in the two slaughters.12

After slaying the friars at Tolomato and nearby Tupiqui, the revolting Indians moved to the village on Guale (St. Catherines) island. Earlier in that bloody week a message from the rebels on the mainland had been received on the island: the cacique of the local group was ordered to dispatch the two friars living there. Fray Antonio de Badajoz, the veteran lay brother, was the assistant to Fray Miguel de Añon, the priest in charge of the mission, who had been in Florida hardly two years. Both were deeply loved by the people to whom they ministered.

Receiving the disquieting message over a period of several days, the cacique of Santa Catalina (whose personal name does not appear in any of the sources) had made efforts, but in vain, to persuade Fray Antonio of the seriousness of the situation. He pleaded with him, though to no avail, that he flee with Fray Miguel to the safety of the mission on distant San Pedro (modern Cumberland) island. There among friendly Timucuans the faith-community, well established under Fray Baltasar López, would defend and secure the safety of the two venerable friars.

No such measures were taken, and suddenly, on Wednesday, September 17, the peace of Mission Santa Catalina was shattered. From the mainland a group of Indians made an appearance, saying that they had come to see to it that the local cacique killed the two friars. Should he refuse to do so, he himself would be killed. An effort to bribe the messengers having failed, the cacique then went to the two friars, apprizing them of the serious situation. Once aware of the imminent danger, the priest celebrated Mass. There followed a prolonged thanksgiving of four hours' duration preparing them for their ordeal and for their reward. Soon they were martyred, first Fray Antonio, then Fray Miguel.

The only individuals who are singled out as the agents of the deaths at the mission on Guale are two unnamed Indians. One of them gave the blow of a macana which rendered Fray Miguel unconscious, and the other from the rear gave him the final blow causing his brain to spill out on the ground.13

Necessarily to be dismissed as purely poetic imagining are the details with which, on folios 156 and 169 of La Florida, Fray Alonso de Escobedo embellishes the slaying of these two Servants of God.

At the outbreak of the Revolt in Guale the friar in charge of the mission on Asao (modern-day St. Simons) island, Fray Francisco de Veráscola, was absent in San Agustin. He had gone there to obtain certain things needed for his mission, a new mission in the process of being established, which was to be named in honor of San Domingo, the founder of the Order of Preachers and the Apostolic friend of the Seraphic founder of the Franciscan Order. For the construction of the simple chapel of San Domingo, materials not available in the woods, such as nails and pulleys and planks, were indispensable. Knowing nothing of the dire events taking place further to the north at Tolomato and Tupiqui and on the island of Guale, by late September Fray Francisco was heading back to Asao, heroically paddling his canoe through the open ocean and the inland creeks, battling the swarms of insects, enduring the scorching September sun. By whose manipulation it is not certain, the village of Asao was already in the control of the insurgents. Probably under pressure from the local cacique, who by this time had returned from his participation in the slaying of the friars at Tolomato and Tupiqui, a plot against Fray Francisco had been devised. On his arrival from San Agustin – fatigued from the punishing effort of rowing that great distance, and drained of vitality from the long exposure to the topical sun – upon reaching the familiar beach of Asao, the exhausted friar was ambushed.

Óre in one long sentence gives the details of the treacherous move. As the friar, with unsteady legs, stepped out of his canoe, two strong braves grabbed him and wrestled him to the ground. That was the signal for others hiding from view to come out and overpower him. Despite that physical strength which has gained for him the playful nickname of "the Cantabrian giant," Fray Francisco was easily vanquished. They immediately killed him with their hatchets; and then they buried his body someplace near the spot where he had been martyred.14

At the interrogation of the seven Indian youths which took place in San Agustin in July following the slaying, a Christian boy named Pedro from Asao was among them. He was unable to add anything to the information already in general circulation, but he did reveal that in the community of Asao15 he had overheard plans being discussed for killing Fray Francisco. Upon hearing that talk, he said, he fled to the woods. The reason he gave for that reaction – "como era muchacho" – helps to gave an idea of the special bond uniting the young people of Asao and their missionary. Fray Francisco had been the special friend of the young people, a sixteenth-century precursor of those Saints of later times who would discover the particular value for the apostolate to be found in the confidence and the loyalty of the younger generation created through friendly sports and games.

Escobedo's account of the slaying of Veráscola is highly imaginative, including death by burning on a pyre! The prayer, though imaginary, which the poet puts on the lips of the dying martyr (folio 151) expresses a spirit of total abandonment to the will of God, a sentiment strengthening the Cantabrian Giant in his last struggle. Echoing the spirit of his Seraphic Father St. Francis, he prays:

"O Lord, in Thee I trust because Thou art the One True God on earth and in heaven…Thou who art my only God, grant me patience and the grace of consolation. And do Thou grant to my soul an everlasting abode, that it may pray for its persecutor."

"Este cacique y otros dos indios, defectuosos como él en el mismo vicio deshonesto, se fueron la tierra adentro entre los infieles sin decir nada ni pedir licencia, como otras veces solian hacer, y al cabo de pocos dias volvieron de noche con otros muchos indios infieles, embijados y untados de bija colarada y con plumas en la cabeza; y ésta es entre ellos señal de crueldades y matanzas. La noche que llegaron no supo el Padre nada, ni los de! pueblo lo supieron; y luego por la mañana, en abriendo la casa de! Padre, fueron allá, y lo hallaron rezando, y sin aguardar a razones, le mataron con una hacha de piedra que llaman macana, y champi en la lengua de los Ingas del Cuzco. Esto pasó en Tolomato, cabeza de aquella tierra; y el religioso que matraron, se llamaba el P. Fr. Pedro de Corpa." Óre, ed. López, I:93; Geiger, Martyrs, 73-74.

Lucas testified in the inquiry: "que a Fray Pedro de Corpa dos caciques de Ufalague y Sufalete le mataron de noche, estando durmido en su celda." Proceso (AGI, Patronato, 19), ed. Omaechevarría, MH 12 (1955): 332. Francisco's testimony states that Pedro was killed by "un principal cacique de los salchiches," and "oyó decir que el mica de Tolomato y don Juan, su heredero, le habian mandado matar…" Ibid., p. 333.

The record of Buenaventura's testimony states: "dijo que oyó decir que la principal causa fué un indio llamado Soho Olata, el cual los mató a todos por su mano con macanas, y que los indució (sic) a todos a que lo hiciesen…" Ibid., p. 335.

lbid., pp. 331-323, 337-38.

Óre, ed. López, I:95; Geiger, Martyrs, 75-76.

See above, n.6.

Óre, ed. López, I:95; Geiger, Martyrs, 75-76.

"Preguntado que diga y declare qué se hizo de! dicho Fray Blas, dijo que habrá diez u once lunas que se juntaron ocho caciques, que son: Asao y el de Talaxo y Atinehe y Fulo y Tupqui, don Juan, y Ufalague y Aluste; y Iuego como llegaron, que fué de noche, le mataron dandole mano a un indio principal, que se llama Aliseache, para que lo matasen con una hacha, con la cual le dió en la cabeza, de la cual herida murió luego a la hora, y que lo enterraron después de muerto en la iglesia." Proceso (AGI, Patronato, 19), ed. Omaechevarría, MH 12 (1955): 331,

See above, 62.

See above, 69.

"Dijo que cuando quiseiron matar al Padre Berascula, como er muchacho, que fué huyendo al monte…" Proceso (AGI, Patronato, 19), ed. Omaechevarria, MH 12 (1955): 336- 37.

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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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