Friday, February 17, 2017

On-going excavation at 1 King Street in St. Augustine, FL
Last week, archaeologists discovered what could be some of St. Augustine's earliest colonial burials.  Usually, City Archaeologist Carl Halbirt only has the opportunity to look below the ground if construction is pending.  But when this wine shop's hurricane-damaged floors were being replaced, David White, owner of the Fiesta Mall, generously offered to allow the City Archaeology Program to dig.
External View of 1 King Street at intersection of King and Charlotte Street
Of course Halbirt and his team of volunteers from the St. Augustine Archaeological Association jumped at the offer!  The on-going dig occurring outside of the shop's wall could now be expanded.  This was important because just on the other side of the wall, on adjacent Charlotte Street, human remains believed to be associated with Nuestra Senora de Los Remedios had been discovered.

Los Remedios sketch based on the research of Elsbeth Gordon
In 1572 (seven years after the city's founding)  Nuestra Senora de Los Remedios (Our Lady of the Remedies) was created.  This was the first parish church built in St. Augustine, arguably making it the oldest documented church in the United States.  Los Remedios was a large wooden structure with a thatch roof and a rich interior.  It was destroyed three times: 1586 during a raid by Sir Francis Drake, 1599 by a hurricane and fire, and in 1702 when English Forces burnt it to the ground - after which Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, on today's St. Geroge Street, became the parish church.  (Take a stroll South on St. George Street and check out the La Soledad marker!)
Baptista Boazio Map depicting the 1586 Drake Voyage (Library of Congress)

In the above map, Los Remedios  was located in the northeast (lower right) corner of the building cluster (but of course not for long since this image is capturing Drake's raid and the impending burning of the city).

 a closer view of the Baptista Boazio map with Los Remedios circled in red (Library of Congress)

When visiting the King Street excavation site last week, I observed two exposed burials that were mostly intact.  Based on ceramics found nearby, Halbirt estimates that the individuals were buried between 1572 and 1586.  These individuals had not seen the light of day for over four centuries.  Encountering them now was exciting and humbling.

I also observed a lot of excitement around the discovery of a posthole, a circular stain in the dirt showing where a wooden post once stood.  It's believed that this stain marks the interior of the Los Remedios Church.  If there was any doubt about the location, the posthole stain confirms that these individuals were originally buried under the church floor.  This would be in keeping with the tradition of the time.  Mission churches across Florida buried everybody (Spanish, Native Americans, and slaves) in the church floor, which was considered consecrated ground. 
West edge of Los Remedios marker on Aviles Street
In 2010, Halbirt and his team uncovered other postholes marking the west wall of Los Remedios Church  Take a stroll down Aviles Street today and you will see four round brass markers in the sidewalk denoting where the original posts were located.

Aviles Street

These brass markers can help recreate the church in your mind that once was the "heart of the new settlement" and the cross on top which was the "highest landmark, intended as a beacon of faith and a safe harbor."   You can also imagine the people over four centuries ago who lived, died, and were buried under, these streets you now walk.

For ongoing information, please check out the City of St. Augustine Website:

Text by FPAN Staff, Robbie Boggs
Image Credits: Robbie Boggs, except where noted

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