America’s first parish, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine traces its roots to the settlement’s founding by Pedro Menendez de Aviles. On the day Menendez and his men landed, Father Francisco Lopez de Mendosa Grajales celebrated the first mass in St. Augustine.
Though early Spanish settlers began building cathedrals almost immediately, poor construction, British resistance, fire and misallocation of funds would claim the first four attempts to establish a brick-and-mortar Catholic church in the city.
After Florida was ceded back to Spain in 1783, however, a new sense of pride was instilled in the Catholic citizens and plans for a new cathedral were put into motion.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine was constructed over a period of five years, from 1793 to 1797. Built in the Classical architectural style, the building features an arched doorway with Doric columns on each side to support the structure.
After standing for nearly 100 years, the cathedral once again caught fire. Luckily, the exterior of the building was salvageable and with financial help from Henry Flagler, the cathedral was reconstructed in the late 1800s. Along with the reconstruction, many improvements were made including enlarging the church and adding a bell tower.
The church’s bell tower houses 4 bells, one of which is believed to be from the first structure.
In 1965, the Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley commissioned the building of a Eucharistic Chapel and the hanging of murals, created by artist Hugo Ohlms, depicting the Catholic history in Florida. The Cathedral Basilica is open to visitors 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 904-824-2806.