St. Augustine’s Haunted Cathedral
The European founding of Florida seemed to have been divinely inspired. Florida was discovered by adventurer Juan Ponce de Leon, in 1513, in his quest to find the mythical fountain of youth. This 16th-century landing by the Spanish in this region makes the area in which he arrived the oldest region settled by Europeans in the United States.
To put things into perspective, the Protestant Reformation would not take place in Europe for another 5 years, when Martin Luther first planted its seeds. Because this land was spotted during Spain’s Easter season, called Pascua Florida, and in honor of this religious celebration, this newfound territory borrowed the moniker of this religious holiday.
As you can see, the area of St. Augustine is very old and has a very Catholic heritage, so the cathedral here makes perfect sense. Of course, there was a thriving population of indigenous people here, but Spanish conquistadors had a bad habit of naming places in their native tongue and supplanting regional customs.
The city of St. Augustine was eventually named as such because an explorer named Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded it on the feast day of Saint Augustine of Hippo in the year 1565. At this time, Padre Lopez de Mendoza Grajales presented a cross to Pedro Menendez de Aviles as he stepped onto the banks of La Florida.
Menendez kissed the cross, then kissed the Spanish flag. Thus, the city of St. Augustine and the Parish of St. Augustine was founded in the same breath. The first Catholic mass in the Continental United States was then conducted.
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The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine - Gospel in Architecture
Built in the Spanish Mission style, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine is the oldest Catholic Church in the city and the oldest parish in the country. The facade extends over the roof of the church and holds a statue of Saint Augustine of Hippo, for whom our city is named. It also holds several bells, the oldest of which is thought to have been the mission bell, which once sat at Tolomato Cemetery when the site was a Catholic mission aimed at converting and teaching indigenous people.
However, its original structure only dates back to the 1700s, as its location changed during the Spanish and British Colonial periods of St. Augustine’s history until a permanent coquina structure was built in 1797. Three of the walls in the Cathedral Basilica are the original coquina walls from 1797, which are two feet thick.
Coquina is a sedimentary rock composed almost entirely of sand-size fossil debris, adding a pinkish hue that is distinctly Florida. Coquina is referred to as the stone that settled St. Augustine in reference to the abundance of this material and the ease of manipulating it as a building material. This may be the reason St. Augustine is one of the most haunted cities in the world!
Hauntings Within the Cathedral Basilica
There is a theory that certain stones can absorb emotions and hold these feelings and impressions of life and past events within their very matrix. It is as if certain people or encounters were downloaded into the very environment and stored within the coquina. When factors are just right, these impressions are released back into the environment, manifesting as residual hauntings.
Residual hauntings are records of energy that have been imprinted in the area in which the event took place. They are not in direct communication with the living; in fact, they are seemingly benign and innocuous. Some people are more sensitive to observing these hauntings; typically, they occur in older buildings, homes, and battlefields.
With over 500 years of history, St. Augustine may have accumulated a vast amount of these environmental impressions. In this basilica, unseen people’s voices have been heard among the empty pews long after the last service has ended. Occasionally, during services, a ghostly choir will join in, singing praises and prayers.
While many of these occurrences may be residual, some interactions seem to be quite intelligent. An intelligent haunting is when a spirit or ghost wants to be noticed and has an acumen about it. An example of intelligent haunting is when a spirit or ghost wishes to communicate, and patterns form in its presence.
One intelligent ghost said to haunt the interior of this basilica is none other than the spirit of Pedro Menendez de Aviles. This may seem a bit anachronistic, seeing as his life and the building of this current church are separated by several centuries, but some simply feel his presence lingers here because this was the hallmark of his life, his greatest endeavor.
If this is the case, Pedro Menendez still pastors his church, caring for his flock in the afterlife. He is often seen around the altar, lighting candles or straightening the altar. Often, his ghost is seen as corporeal; other times, his spirit appears as vacuous as the incense that wafts through the basilica.
Haunted St. Augustine
In and around the Cathedral, St. Augustine has been witnessed by various people, including the ghostly figures of those believed to have lived here before the Spanish conquered what would become Florida.
Occasionally, reports of strange chants are said to occur in and around this site. Often, native instruments, like drums or rattles, are heard in the depths of the night. But it is the aboriginal ghosts that startle the living to the point of nightmares.
When Ponce de Leon set foot in the jungle of Florida, he encountered the native inhabitants. By his description and the notes written by others, these aborigines were said to be over seven feet tall! This is why de Leon believed he found the fountain of youth.
What else could explain such prodigious sizes of these people? Even the women were a foot taller than the tallest Spanish explorer! It is these ghosts of giants that terrorize many who visit the cathedral to this very day.
Do they stay because their energies are attached to the land upon which the cathedral was founded? Are their emotions and rituals recorded in the coquina? Or do they still guard the secret to the Fountain of Youth?
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