The Chapel of Our Lady of La Leche
From the Great Cross area and its expanse of open space and sunlight, you will follow the path to the Chapel of Nuestra Señora de La Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery) under a canopy of oak and cedar trees. This area is often referred to as “America’s Most Sacred Acre.” Commonly referred to as the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, the Spanish style chapel invites you to spend some time in prayerful reflection.
Considering that coquina stone was not used for construction until well into the seventeenth century, we surmise that the earliest chapels were made of wood. These early chapels would have been susceptible to fires and hurricanes.
Recent archaeological excavations have uncovered coquina and oyster shell foundations outlining a building approximately 90 by 40 feet. The building, less than 100 feet from the present La Leche chapel, is believed to be a church built in honor of Nuestra Señora de La Leche in 1677-78 at the direction of the Governor of all of Spanish La Florida. Following the destruction of this building and another of similar size, smaller chapels of coquina were built on the present site. The first bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Bishop Augustin Verot, dedicated one of these chapels on November 14, 1875. Shortly after, this chapel was destroyed by a hurricane. Bishop Michael Curley, later Archbishop of Baltimore, began the present restoration of the chapel in 1914. Funds for the restoration were provided by Amelia Hardin in memory of her husband, General Martin Hardin, who had served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
The present chapel is small and simple, holding approximately thirty persons, and reflects the Spanish mission style of the sixteenth century. The chapel houses the statue of Our Lady of La Leche and is a special place of quiet prayer for those seeking Our Lady’s intercession. A statue of St. Peter, holding the keys of the kingdom, stands above the outside entrance and below a small mission bell.
At present there is no set schedule for Mass or confessions in the chapel. Mass is celebrated when priests visit for parish pilgrimages, weddings or other special occasions. Weddings and baptisms are permitted in the chapel, but must be coordinated through the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine at (904) 824-2806 or at firstname.lastname@example.org as well as the office of the Mission director at (904) 824-2809 or at email@example.com. Many visitors purchase candles from the nearby Shrine Gift Shop and place them in the chapel in order that their prayers may continue beyond their visit.
Memorials in this area include a rustic altar commemorating the first Mass celebrated here on September 8, 1565, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi recognizing the work and sacrifices of the Franciscan missionaries, a statue of St. Joseph, a bell tower, a fountain, several religious plaques, and monuments of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. In this same area are numerous tombstones dating from the 1800s, including those of some of the founding Sisters of St. Joseph. The motherhouse for the Sisters of St. Joseph is located at:
241 St. George Street
St. Augustine, FL 32084