The Mission Plaque
Immediately south of the Great Cross, a bronze plaque memorializes many of the nearly two hundred mission facilities established by the Spanish in the First Spanish Period (1565-1763) to evangelize the Native People.
Diocesan priests from Spain began the initial missionary work in St. Augustine. Pedro Menéndez then sought assistance from the Jesuit Order. Francis Borgia, S.J., Vice General of the Jesuits, heeded this plea and sent a small contingent of Jesuits. The northernmost settlement at Ajacan, (Chesapeake Bay region) was opened in 1570. The Jesuits withdrew by 1573, however, as a result of hostile encounters with some of the nearby tribes. Menéndez made do with lay catechists, mostly military personnel, until the Franciscan priests took up the task of evangelization in 1578. They remained until the end of the First Spanish Period in 1763. All of this mission work, carried out under extreme hardships and dangerous circumstances, extended as far south as present day Miami and as far west as Pensacola and as far north as the Chesapeake Bay.
Those who have attempted an accurate account of the Spanish missionary effort defend the claim that some hundred thousand Native People embraced the Christian faith in that era. While problems did exist between the missionaries and indigenous tribes, we must deduce that positive relationships occurred when recounting the story of three Natives who walked from Tallahassee to St. Augustine to request that the governor send missionaries to their people.
Comparisons inevitably arise regarding the missions of the southeast and those found throughout the west, particularly near the California coast. The problem is that many California missions still stand while none of the missions of the southeast can boast of buildings save for the convent ruins at St. Augustine and the chapel at Nombre de Dios. A major reconstruction effort by the State of Florida was undertaken at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee, including an extensive chapel. First, we must remember that the First Spanish Period was nearly complete before the California missions began; secondly, wood was the principal building material in the southeast. Coquina, found one hundred years after the founding of St. Augustine, was limited to the coastal regions, and even then difficult to quarry. Thus wooden missions throughout the southeastern region either deteriorated over time or were burned.
The Mission Plaque measures 58” by 42” and is made of solid bronze. Dr. John Hann, author and noted historian at Mission San Luis de Apalachee in Tallahassee, Florida, provided the historical data, especially as it relates to the locations and names of missions. John Walsh, a St. Augustine resident and artist, provided artistic assistance. Bishop John J. Snyder, Bishop of St. Augustine, dedicated the Plaque in May, 1996.