Bearers of the Gospel: The Franciscan Mission in la Florida

The Blood of Martyrs…


Among the missionaries who in 1587 came to La Florida there were two who were destined to give their lives in defense of the teachings of Christ: Fray Pedro de Corpa and Fray Antonio de Badajoz.


Three years later, in the group which came in I 590, there arrived Fray Blas Rodriguez, also one of the victims of the Revolt of 1597. Among the twelve friars who arrived in 1595 were two more who in two years would be slain: Fray Miguel de Añon and Fray Francisco de Veráscola.

These five friars, whose Cause of Canonization is the subject of this present study, were slain allegedly in defense of the teaching of the Savior, Jesus Christ, in regard to the Sacrament of Matrimony. Within approximately one week in September of 1597, in a remote comer of the New World, they had testified with their lives to the sanctity of the marriage promises made by Juanillo, a baptized member of the Guale tribe of Native Americans. He was the heir apparent to the chiefdom of the Guale Indians in the area of La Florida known as Guale (modern-day Georgia).

While the tragic loss of these five friars was a severe blow to the struggling mission on the peninsula of La Florida, seeming to cripple the missionary work among the Guales, the group of surviving friars, fortified with faith in God and blessed with the coming of many missionaries in the decades ahead, saw the work of Christianizing the native peoples grow beyond all expectations. With an increase of apostolic laborers, new mission-posts were established in great numbers over the next century and a half. As the mid-point of the seventeenth century approached, there were approximately 30,000 Christian Indians associated with over forty missions in the confines of La Florida.15 With a growing number of missionaries from Spain, more and more the native people of La Florida submitted to the sweet yoke of Christ.

To enter into details regarding the Franciscan history of La Florida following the martyrdom of 1597 is strictly not within the scope of the Cause of the Five Martyrs of Georgia. In a certain way, however, to note some of the major developments of the Franciscan presence in Florida in the period immediately following the martyrdom will lead to an appreciation of the sacrifice made by the.se five missionaries.

For that reason, the following historical developments are presented, if not in any sense as an effect of the martyrdom, yet in some mysterious way a consequence drawing vitality and strength from the sacrifice of the Five Servants of God. It would seem that once more the following happenings illustrate the truth of that aphorism proclaimed by Tertullian in the early third century: Semen est sanguis Christianorum (Apologetica, chapt. 90): "The blood of the martyrs is truly the seed of Christians."

Herbert E. Bolton and Mary Ross, The Debatable Land (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1925), 7, 14.

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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