Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Looking for the Lost Chapel

As all Tolomato fans know, the cemetery was originally a “refugee Indian mission.”  After the British Colonial Governor James Moore of South Carolina wiped out the Florida mission chain in attacks over a several year period, mostly notably 1704 and 1706, the few surviving Indians were brought into St Augustine and settled in five different villages, which were served by the Franciscans from what is now the St Francis Barracks.  We know the locations of three of them: La Leche, La Punta and Tolomato, but there are two others in what is now Lincolnville whose exact location is unknown. 

de la Puente section

The villages were small, and Tolomato was probably the largest but  nonetheless had fewer than 100 people or so in its heyday.  They were mostly Guale Indians who had actually first been moved over a century earlier, during an Indian rebellion on the Georgia coast near their original home, and had spent almost 100 years living on a river that was known, of course, as the Tolomato River, which runs past today’s Guana River Preserve.

1765 Moncrief Map St. Augustine Only_2

They were attacked by Moore, and in 1706, the Spanish governor issued an order calling the Indians into St Augustine and they fled to the city.  Tolomato was located just at one of the west-facing city gates, near the redoubt where the cannons were, and was a safe location…although at least one of the Tolomato Indians was killed in the 1740s, defending the city against another wave of British-allied Indian attackers. 

Above are two maps of St Augustine, the first by the Spanish engineer Juan Elixio de la Puente in 1764, and the other by the British engineer Moncrief in 1765. Tolomato would be at the upper right, outside the city walls and near the Cubo Line that went along today’s Orange Street.

We have virtually no other visual or archaeological records of the missions, except for a 1726 mention of a wooden chapel with a four-story stone bell tower at Tolomato. When the British arrived in 1763, the Spanish citizens, including the Indians, went to Cuba and abandoned their properties.  The British took over and used the chapel for firewood, but they left the bell tower, and in describing his journey through Florida in the 1760s, the naturalist Bartram mentions the tall but narrow (about 20’ on each side) bell tower.

It stood until somewhere between 1793 and 1800, when it was taken apart so that the stones could be used in building the current Cathedral.  One of the blocks of stone fell on the vault or grave of Fr. Pedro Camps, the Minorcan priest, and crushed it, leading to his reburial at the Cathedral in 1800.

But we have one question:  Where exactly was the Franciscan chapel?


It was not located where the current Varela Chapel is located, because that piece of land was bought in 1853 specifically for building the chapel. And looking at the maps, it seems that the chapel was not even in the center of the Indian village.  The de la Puente maps of the 1760s show it as a little northeast of the center of the modern cemetery, and one map shows it with another structure joined to it like an ell – this may have been the belltower joined to the chapel.

So the long and the short of the story is that we’re looking for any trace of the bell tower.    But …GPR to the rescue!


Then last week, FPAN’s Kevin Gidusko, shown above, came out with his GPR equipment – and we think we’re getting close.  If you want to know more about it, come out and visit us this Saturday, March 21, and ask us where we think it was.


And if you’re interested in the Indian population, go to the Flagler College conference on the Yamasee Indians to be held on April 17-18th. You can sign up here:  http://yamaseeconference.weebly.com/. Meanwhile, look at those little red flags…and wonder.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Connections and Coincidence?

Every year around this time, St. Augustine receives a visit from a group of delegates from our Sister City, Avilés, Spain.  It is also, of course, the birthplace of our founder, the Adelantado Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, so it’s extra-special to us.

This year, the group consisted of Councilman Román Alvarez, who has visited us often and is a scholar of the history of St Augustine and Avilés, and representatives of a project dedicated to the building of a scale model of the San Pelayo, the ship that brought Menéndez to these shores in 1565. The purpose of the visit was to present this remarkable replica in a public unveiling at the Visitor Information Center, and below you see the group from Avilés flanking this beautiful (and carefully researched, extremely accurate) model of the San Pelayo.


You’ll also see members of the city government of Avilés, including the Mayor, Pilar Varela.  Of course, having the last name Varela meant that she would have to visit the burial place of our most famous Varela, Father Felix Varela, who died in 1853 and was buried at Tolomato Cemetery.  Naturally, we had to take a photo of Alcaldesa (Mayor) Pilar Varela standing in front of the commemorative stone set in the wall of the chapel.

Pilar Varela

We were intrigued:  were they related?  Felix Varela’s father, Don Francisco Varela y Pérez, was a military man from Northern Spain who had been stationed in Cuba, where Fr. Varela was born. The last name Varela is widespread in the northern part of Spain where Avilés is located.  This region is known as Asturias, and the name is also found in Galicia and parts of Castilla.  So we had great hopes that we would find a connection.

But alas – diligent Internet research turned up the fact that Francisco Varela was born in Tordesillas, Castilla, and therefore was probably not related – or certainly, not very closely – to Pilar Varela, whose family was from Asturias/Galicia.  Nonetheless, there were some odd coincidences on the visit.  When Mayor Varela read the stone that is set over the crypt and saw that Fr. Varela died on February 25, she looked up, amazed, and exclaimed that February 25 was her birthday!  If Fr. Varela is ever canonized, the day of his death would be his feast day (the day he is celebrated on the church calendar), so she will be able to say she was born on the feast of St. Felix Varela.  Not a bad coincidence at all.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Flying Over the Fence

Last week, the TCPA had its annual meeting and benefit at the Mission Nombre de Dios Museum. Below you see Sister Bernard Joseph, who works at the museum, chatting with TCPA member Samuel Williams, who came all the way from Tallahassee. The photo was taken by member Norm Merski.


We enjoyed music by our official “chapel harpist,” Mary Jane Ballou, and great nibbles and sangria provided by Patty Kelbert, below, owner of Le Pavillon Restaurant.

clip_image004Patty and MJ

TCPA Vice President Nick McAuliffe – who managed to escape having his picture taken - and Matt Armstrong, at left with Ryan Harke and Chad Light, gave a great presentation on the history of the wall and the fence throughout the centuries.


This served to highlight the title event of the evening, the presentation of Chad Light’s drone video that showed our beautiful cemetery early one bright fall morning.

Pedro Menendez

For those readers not from St Augustine, Chad Light is also known locally as the Adelantado Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, because he is the actor – with a striking resemblance to paintings of Menéndez, shown above from the Wiki article on him – who plays our founder in the various historical reenactments that take place here in the city, such as the yearly Landing Day reenactment in September.

But Chad also has a production company and makes videos, and he offered to come out and fly his  drone over the cemetery and produce a short video for us.


Here we see Chad with his drone, a large drone that he also uses as a boom and dolly for shots when he is filming historical productions. It is controlled with a joystick and can swoop way up – and then get down very close.  TCPA Treasurer Janet Jordan took these photos on the day that he filmed the video.


In the video, you’ll see the drone – or rather, you’ll see what it “sees,” as it cruises the length of the cemetery and hovers over spots of particular interest. You’ll also see Janet Jordan standing in the doorway of the chapel…not even aware she was being filmed!


Chad showed this to the members and invited guests at the meeting and we were all amazed. We knew the cemetery was beautiful, but when you see it this way, from a drone’s eye view, you sense the harmony and tranquility of the site in a way that doesn’t happen from ground level.  Click on the link below and enjoy the video.

Chad Light - Flying Over the Fence at Tolomato

Monday, January 19, 2015

Little Lambs

When visitors pass through the Varela Chapel at Tolomato Cemetery, they often ask about the “lamb on the book.” Of course, they’re referring to the carving on the front of the altar, created out of mahogany somewhere between 1853 and 1854 by Havana cabinetmakers specifically for the chapel.


This is a very ancient image that has appeared since at least the 6th century in Western art, and is known in Latin as the “Agnus Dei,” or “Lamb of God,” representing Christ and often the Last Judgment. The title “Lamb of God,” of course, comes from the Gospel of John, where John the Baptist says, “Behold, the Lamb of God…” Certainly, those with a literary, artistic or especially with a Sunday school background will recognize the book as the Book of the Seven Seals, the book of judgment, which is described in the New Testament Book of Revelations. The Lamb “that was slain” is mentioned numerous times in Revelations, which also declares that the Lamb will open the Book of the Seven Seals at the end of time.

Varela Altar Front

The Lamb is often shown standing, supporting a banner bearing a cross, but there are numerous variations on the theme. The Tolomato Agnus Dei is holding a banner carved with the letters “AD” for Agnus Dei and looking triumphantly over his shoulder. This image seems to be a compromise between the standing lamb and the one we see below, which is a prostrate and not very triumphant looking lamb that appears on the back of a 19th century vestment on display in the Diocesan Museum at the Mission Nombre de Dios in St Augustine. It is done with beadwork and embroidery.

Vestment Lamb

And that image itself almost seems as if it had been based on this very famous painting done in 1640 by the Spanish Golden Age painter, Francisco de Zurbarán, with its touching image of a lamb bound for the slaughter.


But there are other lambs at Tolomato that mean something a little different. In the cast-iron gate of the Hernández family plot enclosure, which we are in the process of restoring, you’ll find two lambs peacefully resting under a willow-tree beside a body of water. This was a very common image in 19th century funeral art, and in fact lambs still occasionally appear on modern monuments.

Hernandez Lambs

Here the lamb represents tranquility, innocence and peace. We also see a couple of doves flying upwards into the willow trees; doves are a very ancient symbol of peace. And the willow tree had come to be associated with mourning in 19th century art, probably because of its gentle, drooping shape and possibly because of a reference in Psalm 136 or 137 (depending on your numbering preference) to the Jews in their Babylonian exile, weeping and “hanging their harps on the willow trees.” Willows were also considered evocative because they grow near still and often dark waters, such as lakes or slow-moving streams.

Lambs 19th century

So this brings us back to our literary, artistic or Sunday school background as we recall the 23rd Psalm, which begins with the words, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and includes the line “He leadeth me beside still waters.” Now you know are the many meanings of Tolomato’s tiny flock of little lambs.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A New Year for Two Old Cemeteries

The Colonial Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia boasts this impressive entrance, constructed by the DAR, showing you that at one time, the Colonial Cemetery was "the" place to be buried in Savannah. The cemetery opened in 1750, still the British Colonial period in Savannah, and closed in 1853. The latter date coincided with a yellow fever outbreak, so it was probably closed for the same reason that Tolomato Cemetery was closed, in other words, because of fears the cemeteries had something to do with the spread of yellow fever. They didn't, of course, but nobody knew that the spread of the disease was connected with mosquitoes and standing water until Dr. Walter Reed's research in 1905.  So it was not uncommon in Southern cities to close the cemetery as a preventive measure.

Many of the burials are those of important colonial or Revolutionary War figures. The cemetery was restored by the Garden Club in the 1970s, and is well-maintained by the city and volunteer groups. The cemetery is some six acres in size and there are about 9000 graves, although as you can see, there's lots of open space. This is because many earlier grave markers have fallen over or have been removed because they were about to topple over.  But I suspect that the now open field was a forest of markers in its day.

On the wall above, you see rows of markers that have been picked up and placed against the wall after they cracked at the base.

There were other solutions to the problem of broken markers, such as setting the remaining fragment of the marker into a concrete base or a thick upright plaque of concrete. I also saw some more modern solutions. Several of the markers had steel frames built around them, as you see in the photo below.   While a little unattractive, in my opinion, the frame does support the marker and keeps it not only in one piece, but upright.

Many of the markers had very touching descriptions, and some even had rather dramatic inscriptions. The inscription of Joseph Vallence Bevan (d. 1830), Georgia's first official state historian, reads "There Was None, No None! Against Whose Name The Recording Angel Would More Reluctantly Have Written Down Condemnation."  Below is his ledger stone, which, as you can see, needs a little D-2 cleaner and preservation team scrubbing! 

There were many attractive ironwork features around and in the cemetery as well. Savannah has a long ironwork tradition, similar to that of New Orleans or other 18th and 19th century American cities. St. Augustine, had it had the money, would probably have featured ironwork too, since the Spanish were known for their ironwork.   As it is, there is a fair amount of iron work in St. Augustine, although most of it is from the late 19th century onwards. The style in  Savannah was the English style, although there was a French influence, too.  St. Augustine ironwork is a combination of just about everything, although it is being overtaken by the rather neutral and functional modern aluminum fencing.  This not very good photo shows you the decorative curlicues and embellishments on the Colonial Cemetery fence (if you look hard enough).

Colonial Cemetery, like Tolomato, stands as a peaceful, fenced island in the midst of a thronged, tourist filled city.  It has been a city park since 1896, but the cemetery has been on this site for some 264 years. Tolomato, first as a Franciscan mission and then as the cemetery, has been on its site for somewhat longer than that, probably more than 300 years.  Visitors can contemplate these tranquil places as another busy year comes rolling in, and we wish a happy 2015 - and many years thereafter - to all! 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Last 3rd Saturday of 2014


It’s the last 3rd Saturday of the year, Christmas is almost here, and once again we have decorated Tolomato for the season. We hung wreaths on the Varela Chapel last week, no easy task, since the columns in front are coquina faced with concrete, meaning that the traditional nail or hook is out. Last year we used fishing line looped around the top of the capitals, which fortunately are flat and have a ledge around the top – so we tried it again. 


Still, it took three of us (Elizabeth, Matt and Janet, the latter of whom are in the photo), juggling the wreaths, tying the nearly invisible line…and then trying to get the wreaths winched up to the same height on both columns. But we did it!


We also placed poinsettias at a few of the more notable tombs, such as those of Bishop Verot and Fr. Miguel O’Reilly, and also in front of the sign honoring the many Minorcans buried at Tolomato.


This Saturday, December 20, is a third Saturday, so we’ll be open as usual and you can come and see these things for yourself. And feel free to bring along another poinsettia or two if there is any grave in particular that you wish to mark.


Another seasonal but less inspiring thing to keep in mind is that this is nearly the end of the 2014 tax year! This mundane consideration should make you wonder what Christmas gift you could give that might be tax-deductible, and of course, the Tolomato Fence would be a perfect recipient for such a gift. You can visit our website, www.tolomatofence.com , to make a donation, or if you wish to make a large donation contact us by email at board@tolomatocemetery.com to arrange it. Securities and all other forms in which you wish to donate are accepted, along, of course, with good old checks.

But whether you donate or not, consider stopping by to visit on Saturday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. Our “chapel harpist,” Mary Jane Ballou, will be playing carols, and Matt Armstrong will be lending his voice (and his guitar) to the festivities. Of course, there will be the usual tours and information…and there might even be homemade cookies for a few fortunate visitors! 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pre-Holiday Clean Up and Cuban Doings at Tolomato

Saturday was a busy day! The usual wonderful group from the Flagler College Archaeology Club came out and got the prize: they cleaned more markers in one morning than any other group!  With their president, Elizabeth Valnoha, they cleaned a total of 8 markers.


TCPA Preservation Committee Co-Chair Ray Hinkley, who has worked in historic cemeteries in New York, was there to show them the ropes. Ray and Archaeology Club President Elizabeth Valnoha started by probing the area, because there had been some discussion of straightening  one of the markers. But since the probes revealed that the marker probably has a large concrete base under it, which requires more people and possibly even machinery, we decided that it would be better just to clean the markers and plan a special day – with outside assistance – for straightening them.

Mayne Marker

The marker above is that of the Irish-born Fr. Edward Mayne, who arrived in St Augustine in 1827 and died in 1834, probably of tuberculosis, after a few very stressful years as the parish priest of the parish that is now the Cathedral Parish (it didn’t become a cathedral until 1870, when St Augustine got its first bishop).


The club members – as seen below, Allison Struck, Andrea Broaderick, Shelby Schultz and Elizabeth Valnoha, with TCPA members Janet Jordan and Ray Hinkley standing behind them. – began work on it, and below we see the cleaned marker, which is legible again. The lichen and stains have been removed…but they’ll be back, alas.  This marker was cleaned only a few years ago, and had already become illegible when we started to work on it. In the photo, it’s still damp, but it will lighten, become more uniform, and the lichen will fade as it dries.

Mayne After Cleaning

We cleaned several early markers – 1820s and 1830s – and a number of mid-19th century markers, including a marker for Jane Masters, a matriarch of the important local Masters family, which we hadn’t been able to read before.  It’s located at the east end, over the “door” of a ruined vault, and it turned out to have a long poem at its base.


Janet Jordan, TCPA treasurer, took a break from her books to clean markers. This marker belongs to Margaret Weir, who died in 1869 and was the widow of Samuel Weir; the marker was placed by her son.


Just as we were finishing our cleaning, it started to rain….so we fled. But a small group of us came back a couple of hours later to welcome Jesus Permuy from Miami, along with members of two Cuban exile groups, one devoted to Fr. Felix Varela, and one that represents various Cuban municipalities,  They came to install a plaque in the form of a book, in Spanish on one side and English on the other, dedicated to the visit made in 1892 by Jose Marti to the chapel/mausoleum to honor Fr. Varela.  


But more about that next time…Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers!