Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Demise of the Gravestone

Walking through old St Mary's Cemetery in Charleston, SC, I was touched by all the stories told by the gravestones. Burials started there sometime in the late 18th century; the current church was built in 1836, but that was after the first one burned. It in turn had replaced a “wooden shack” located on the site that was used as a church by the small and somewhat ostracized Catholic population of 18th century Charleston.  IMG_4008  But the old headstones remained - in English, French, Italian, German and Latin, to enumerate those that I saw – and gave me an interesting glimpse into early Charleston life.  The majority of the gravestones were those of Irish or French inhabitants, the two main Catholic groups in early Charleston, but there were several that showed birthplaces in different parts of Italy, one from Switzerland, some from Austria, and one man from Transylvania, a state that doesn't even exist anymore. (Back in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was located in a part of what is now Romania.) There were place names of all kinds, names of distant places that have been swallowed up by time, by wars, or simply by changing tastes.  IMG_4013  The Transylvanian traveler’s stone was in Latin, and told a rather long story: His name was Matheus Leopoldus Stupich (aka Mattias Leopold Stupicz), and he was a medical doctor and botanist. It tells you that he was a Roman Catholic from Transylvania, although he is described by some historians as German and by others as Hungarian. The stone informs you in large letters that he had been sent to America by the IMPERATOR JOSEPHO SECUNDUM, referring to the Emperor Joseph II of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And indeed it was Joseph II who sent Stupich, along with four other men who were gardeners, artists or botanists, "IN AMERICUM" in 1783 to collect plant samples with the mission of finding new, hardy American plants to replace plants from the Imperial Gardens that had been killed by a severe freeze that winter. The five men set out together but before long, the artist, Bernhard Albrecht Moll, split off from the group and ended up in Charleston.   Boos  Moll, who was from a noble family and readily accepted by snobbish Charlestonians, supported himself by teaching art and doing the cut-out paper silhouettes popular in the late 18th-early 19th centuries, and was soon joined by Stupich and one of the gardeners, Franz Boos.  Their story is told on the Clemson University website, where Stupich was named the "South Carolina German American of the Month."  Above is Moll’s silhouette of Boos, which also appears on the website. They collected plant and animal specimens in the Charleston area and shipped them back to Austria, and also kept travel journals and wrote an interesting account of the Goose Creek area near Charleston.  Stupich also decided to remain in Charleston and resume his work as a doctor; he lived and prospered the rest of his life there, much to the annoyance of the Emperor. He died there at the age of 62 and his stone is one of the oldest in St Mary's Cemetery.  IMG_4011  And then of course there are the graves of children and the graves of people who died "of a fever," since Charleston was subject to frequent outbreaks of mosquito borne yellow fever, just like St Augustine. There were also the graves of clergy ordained in a variety of European countries and the early US. Of course, many clergy are buried under the floor of the church itself, and the lovely painting in the dome was donated in memory of one of them, the Rev. Dr. Corcoran, by his students at the seminary in Philadelphia.  IMG_3989  When I looked at these stones, I thought that people of our generation will never be known this way. Since modern people are either cremated and scattered or buried under small neutral "name and date only" plaques in giant lawns designed to be easily trimmed by riding mowers, we'll never know where  they were born or anything about the circumstances of their lives, such as that of the young man who lies under the stone below: born in Tarbes, France to die in Charleston in 1819 as a victim of the “prevailing fever,” he was “sincerely lamented by all who knew him.”   IMG_4004  This to me is a real loss. Perhaps we don't need to have the giant self-aggrandizing 19th century monument gone mad, but it is sad to slip into anonymity and uniformity, wiping out these unique little footpaths of history that we see here in a historic cemetery such as old St Mary's or Tolomato. The custom of detailed, individualized grave markers has come and gone throughout history. At Tolomato, for example, we have fewer gravestones than many cemeteries of the same size because the early custom was simply to put a small wooden or metal cross above the grave. Spanish grave markers for the average person at that time tended to be simple, at least in part because burials were often somewhat temporary and remains would be removed to an ossuary or another place after a certain time. In addition, until the mid-19th century, the economic situation of St Augustine was a little more fragile than that of Charleston (see the mid-late 19th century photo below). Yet we see throughout human history the desire to commemorate the deceased and preserve a few facts about his or her life so that passing strangers years later may see them and think about that life. 1880s photos_Kear_chapel2  An examination of the gravestones at Tolomato will also tell us these stories. Think of the story of our earliest marked burial, that of Elizabeth Forrester who died at the age of 16 in 1798, or of the sad Benet-Baya monument, commemorating the loss of an entire family. Or the happier stone of Fr. Miguel O’Reilly (d. 1812), which tells of his Irish birth, Spanish education, and New World labors.  IMG_1063
Perhaps gravestones will someday come back into style. By coincidence, one of our board members, Janet Jordan, was surfing her way around and came across a group called the Association for Gravestone Studies. If you’re interested in gravestones, take a look at their page! But I noticed that the topic of one of their recent meetings was this very issue: will there be no gravestones to tell these stories in the future?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Yet Another Tolomato Connection Found.

Just in time for the St Patrick’s season, we have an interesting glimpse of the Irish life of Fr. Felix Varela, for whom the Varela Chapel at Tolomato was built. He was St. Augustine's Cuban-born local son, a brilliant philosopher and scholar who grew up here speaking Spanish and English, was ordained in Cuba and expected to spend his life in Cuba or Spain. But by those mysterious crooked lines of God, he spent his priestly career working among impoverished Irish immigrants in New York from the 1820s to 1850. He even learned Gaelic to work with them, and his church in New York, St James parish, was the founding place of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in 1833.


The photo above shows you the St James Church school...and the street sign commemorating the Ancient Order of Hibernians, originally a protective group founded in response to mob attacks on Catholics and the burning of old St Mary's church in 1831.  Below, we see the church, with the kids from the school across the street having recess in front of it.


St James Church is temporarily closed because of water damage that occurred during New York's harsh winter this year, but on a recent trip to NYC, I was fortunate enough to meet a parishioner and the parish priest, who invited me to view the building. But that will be the subject of another post.


In the meantime, I found another great connection. The cemetery above is all that remains of the old Shearith Israel Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Cemetery. It was opened in 1683, succeeding an earlier Jewish cemetery whose location has been lost. At that time it was outside the walls of the original Dutch city at the lower tip of Manhattan. It continued to receive burials until 1833. The cemetery is located about two or three 19th/20th century tenement buildings behind St James Church. Bernard Baruch, the famous NYC financier and philanthropist, paid for its restoration in the 1960s, and you can read more about it if you click right here.


Around the corner, Fr. Varela founded St. James Church in 1827, originally calling it the “Church of the Immigrants.” But the name was changed to St James by 1836, the year in which he built the current building. St James, aka Santiago, is the patron saint of Spain, and this may have influenced the name change. In any case, enough money was raised to build a large church - on the foundation of an old brewery - that was possibly designed by Minard Lafever, an important early master builder/architect. The area includes the cemetery and the church and a tiny park known as St James Triangle. When you look at the photo of St James Church above, notice the similarity to the façade of the Varela Chapel at Tolomato.  This was probably in the mind of the Cubans who commissioned the Varela Chapel in Tolomato Cemetery.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Great Day for Great People!

Here are our Tolomato Docents posing after a record day. We had 611 visitors today!  The TCPA crew was exhausted by the time 3:00 pm rolled around, but really happy to have had so many wonderful, interested visitors. 

Here we see (l-r) great tour leader Brooke Radaker, warm greeter Priscilla de la Cruz, fearless leader Patty Kelbert, happy chapel harpist Mary Jane Ballou, the dynamic Ray Hinkley (with the fingers) and the scholarly and ever-informative Matt Armstrong.  Lin Masley and Norm Merski were also there most of the day to lend a hand but didn’t make it for the photo-op, so you’ll just have to imagine them.


A wonderful, wonderful day!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Meanwhile, from Mexico…

While Tolomato Cemetery had served as an Indian mission in St. Augustine’s First Spanish Period (1565-1763), and probably did have burials in or around the chapel that was located there, no visible evidence of these burials remains.

We don’t have anything like this, for example…


Or even this…the text of which starts “Under this stone…”


These were in, respectively, the cemetery and the churchyard of the parish church of Santiago Tejupan in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, where I recently spent a few days touring various historic (and often remote) churches in the area.

This beautiful church was built by Dominican missionaries in the 16th century, and is still in use as the parish church of this small town.  Burials used to be in the churchyard directly in front of the church, but in the 1850s, when Mexico underwent a period of great and sometimes disruptive change known as the Reform, the order went out from Mexico City that cemeteries could no longer be under the control of churches but had to be located elsewhere. In this case, the parishioners just moved it to the outside of the old fence of the churchyard, so it’s still accessible from the church.  However, the old burials were left in place.  And they are very old indeed.


Above you see the happy visitors (mostly organists touring the historic organs still contained in these churches) taking photos – from the midst of the old churchyard cemetery.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Varela Chapel Amid Stormy Seas


feb pix3_edited-1

Our humble, peaceful Varela Chapel was shown in a different light in 1853, the year of the death of Fr. Varela.


We have been doing research on the chapel and its building, and came across a pamphlet published for the dedication of the cornerstone on March 22, 1853, less than a month after the death of Fr. Varela (February 25, 1853). The money for the building of the chapel had originally been collected by his Cuban friends to get medical treatment and more comfort for him while he was living in the little wooden room behind the schoolhouse next to the current Cathedral. But when they arrived with the money, they found that he had died only a few days earlier.

So they immediately decided to build a mausoleum and funeral chapel, since Fr. Varela himself had often regretted the fact that the cemetery had no chapel at that time and had unsuccessfully urged that one be built.  The chapel was speedily designed by a local builder, in consultation with the Cubans, making a conscious effort to keep it simple and unpretentious and in keeping with Fr. Varela’s life.  His friends felt they were fulfilling a wish of his, as well as providing a dignified final resting place for him.

Feb pix2

The dedication was conducted by the parish priest, the French Fr. Edmond Aubril, and attended by a priest representing the Archdiocese of New York and a priest representing the Diocese of Savannah, since Fr. Varela had spent nearly 30 years working in New York City and was the Vicar General of New York, while St Augustine at that time was not a diocese but was under the Diocese of Savannah.  It was also attended by the church wardens, the children from the parish school, and large number of local citizens. A contemporary account states that “the deep feeling which pervaded the spectators might have been observed from the tears and sobs of the many who knew so well, and love so tenderly, the good Father Varela.”


The addresses and homilies that were delivered – in Spanish and English - at the dedication were sealed into a metal box and placed in the cornerstone, where we may assume that they remain to this very day.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Ermita of Tolomato

The 18th century maps we call upon for much of our knowledge of the layout of St Augustine, including the location of the “Pueblo de Indios de Tolomato,” the Indian Village at Tolomato, often label the building there as an “ermita.”  In fact, the word “ermita” turns up all over our early maps.  Below is the description from the 1763 de la Puente Map of the “Ermita de Piedra” at Tolomato. It is often translated “hermitage,” but was it?  Were there really hermits scattered all over early St Augustine?


Highly unlikely, since the word “ermita” had by then come to mean simply a chapel usually located in some place outside of town to make religious services more available to the population that lived around there, or occasionally to house a shrine and be the focus for particular devotions.   Usually an ermita did not have a resident priest, and was often served not by the priest of the nearest parish, but by a member of a nearby religious order.   In the case of the ermitas in St Augustine, this would have meant a Franciscan from the Convento de San Francisco, now the St. Francis Barracks. 


Above we see the depiction of the ermita at Tolomato on the 1763 map.  The chapels that were built for the Indian towns or missions were often referred to as “ermitas” on the maps, although an “ermita” back in the Old World generally did not provide full parochial services (such as baptisms, funeral masses,  etc.). However, we can assume that the mission chapels did so. Tolomato had a doctrinario, that is, a friar who was the regular spiritual shepherd of the little group of mostly Guale Indians, and thus Tolomato must have been considered a doctrina, or a settled Christian Indian village with regular instruction, prayers, and religious activities.  A doctrina often had a resident priest, although in the case of Tolomato, since the Convento was so close, we don’t know whether the friars actually lived in the village or not.

But what was the origin of the “ermita” as a concept?  A couple of years ago, spending time in La Rioja, the winegrowing region of Northern Spain, I saw this in action.  In the photo below is a bluff filled with caves, which were very probably what the first ermitas looked like. Except that there would have been a genuine hermit living there, descending from his cave only occasionally to get water or food and once in a while, to attend prayers with the other hermits who had settled in the area.


Monasticism came to Spain very early, from the deserts of Egypt, and early monasticism was “eremitical,” that is, based on a collection of hermits living in some proximity but not really having a community life.  The word “eremitical” comes from the Greek word erēmia, “desert,”  and the English words “hermit” and “hermitage” refer to this tradition of living alone in the desert.  Below we see the cave of San Millán, a 6th century hermit in La Rioja.



But as time went by, the hermits began to develop a more regular community life and community prayer.  Rules were written to govern their lives together, with one of the very first ones being the Rule of St Augustine, written by St Augustine in the 5th century.  As more hermits accepted the rule, they built permanent structures, such as the building we see below, San Millán de Suso (the “upper” San Millan), built high on the mountain next to the hermit’s then abandoned cave.

San Millan

Eventually, they built huge monasteries to accommodate hundreds of monks for a cycle of regular prayers, chant and study.  Below is San Millán de Yuso, the “lower” San Millán , built down in the valley when the group of hermits turned into a “cenobitical” community, a term coming from the Greek words meaning “common life.”



And of course, towns grew around the monasteries.  This photo shows us the town cemetery.

San Millan Cemetery

So we can see that the ermitas of San Agustin were far removed from the origins of the term.  And now we generally translate the word as chapel or even church, which was how the structures at the mission village sites were described by the English when they in turn began to make their maps of Florida after their installation in 1764. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Santa Helena to Santa Fe to San Diego

Spending Christmas in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I came across an unexpected trace of St Augustine, or more properly, of Florida.

As we all know, the Franciscans established an extensive mission chain in Florida, starting in the 16th century. It lasted until the 18th century, when it was finally destroyed by British and hostile Indian attacks. La Natividad de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de (or possibly "del") Tolomato was one of these missions, having started in Georgia in the 16th century, relocating to Florida in the 17th century and finally moving to the site that is now Tolomato Cemetery in the early 18th century.  At one point, Tolomato probably looked like this New Mexico cemetery below, although minus the plastic flowers.

Franciscan administrative areas are divided into provinces, and "our" Franciscans were from the Provincia de Santa Helena de la Florida, which had a convento in Havana that served as its convent, seminary and headquarters. They founded a convento in St Augustine, at the site where the St Francis Barracks are now located, on land given them for this purpose in 1588.  The wooden convento and its library, alas, were destroyed in 1702 by the English pirate Robert Searles, but it was rebuilt in stone sometime in the mid-18th century, only to be turned over to the British shortly thereafter when Britain received St Augustine in the settlement of the French and Indian War in 1763.  This more or less terminated the Franciscan presence in St Augustine.

However, I found one of our Franciscan community a long way from home, in the Southwest where he died in 1781 during an Indian revolt. I found this out from a rather unexpected source, a painting done in the late 18th century (with very little information offered about it, unfortunately) on display at the New Mexico Museum of History in Santa Fe.  It shows two friars, wearing the grey-blue habits worn by these missionary Franciscans, standing in front of a scene depicting their deaths. They were both clubbed to death at their remote mission. 


While the sign next to the painting attributes the scene to the Pueblo Revolt, this turned out not to be the case. The well-known Pueblo Revolt in what is now New Mexico, the culmination of Indian conflicts with the Spanish administrators over the years, began in 1681 and was over a few years later; in fact, only 12 years later, the Spanish returned, since the idyllic era that the revolt’s leader, Popé, had promised never materialized and conditions were in fact worse than before for the Indians (who were also now vulnerable to hostile tribes such as the Apaches).  But in the meantime, several hundred Spanish settlers and 21 friars had been killed. 

But reading the text, I found that the Franciscans in this painting were killed nearly 100 years after the Pueblo Revolt, and in fact, the places mentioned were not even in New Mexico.  Who were they and when and where did they die?

Reading the information under their portraits, we find that the friar on the left was Fr. Francisco Garcés, who took the habit in his native Aragon, Spain, and went directly to the Franciscan missionary school (Colegio Apostólico de San Fernando, but more about that some other time) in Mexico City in 1763.  He died at the “Misión de la Purissima Concepcion del Rio Colorado” in the area rather vaguely known as Sonora (a formerly disputed territory now part of Mexico, Texas, Arizona and even California) in 1781 at the age of 42.

The other friar was Fr. Juan Antonio Barreneche, a native of Navarra, Spain, who had come to the New World, specifically, to Havana, where he was took the habit and was ordained, becoming a member of the Franciscan province of Santa Helena de la Florida.  This, of course, was during the period in which St Augustine was no longer Spanish, so the Franciscans no longer had a presence in our town.  After ordination, he went to the missionary school in Mexico City, and from there, accompanied Fr. Garcés to the mission, where he arrived in 1779 and died a holy death there in 1781 at the age of 31. It is recorded that during the attack, he continued to hear confessions and give last rites to the Indians and the Spaniards until he himself was finally killed, one of the many who died in what looks to us like a barren and unpromising land.

Having eliminated the possibility that they died in the Pueblo Revolt, I moved on to other possibilities. There were several different tribes in this area, the Yaqui, the Pima, the “Moquis” or Hopi, the Quechua, etc. and at various times, particularly as conflicts flared between peninsular Spain and the criollos of Mexico and then between Mexico and the North American settlers in the West, there had been many fierce but generally brief conflicts.  And of course, there were several missions dedicated to the Purísima Concepción (Immaculate Conception), for whom the Spanish and particularly Spanish Franciscans had a great devotion. Below we see La Conquistadora, a Spanish statue that is now an image of the Immaculate Conception, brought to Mexico by Franciscans in 1625 and eventually arriving in Santa Fe,  where it has been a devotional focal point for centuries, through all wars and disturbances and crises.

One mission of that name turned out to have been founded by the Jesuits, which disqualified it immediately; another important mission of that name was founded by the Franciscans, but it was in San Antonio, Texas. And then, finally, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I found that a Misión de la Purísima Concepción had been established in 1779 in what is actually now a part of California, a place now known as Fort Yuma (right across the Colorado River from the city of Yuma, Arizona) by Padres Francisco Tomás Hermenogildo Garcés and Juan Antonio Barreneche.

It didn’t last long, because there was an uprising of the Quechan (or Yuma) Indians in 1781, and while it was directed at the Spanish administrators, the missionaries were killed as well, even though the mission population tried to protect them.  The mission itself was destroyed and in its place a fort was built by the US government some years later in the 19th century.  And then in 1919, it became a mission again, and is now known as St Thomas Indian Mission, which constitutes the easternmost parish of the Diocese of San Diego.

There is a monument to Fr. Garcés at the mission.  Below is a photo, from the town’s website, but better photos and a more detailed history can be found at US Mission Trail, a site maintained by a devotee of the missions.

So while the museum’s caption on the painting was completely wrong, it’s a story that certainly was repeated throughout the Franciscan missions and no doubt reflects the situation in New Mexico as well.

The text underneath the painting tells the personal side of the friars’ stories.  Let’s translate that of Brother Juan Antonio, who passed through Cuba at the same time that most of St. Augustine’s former residents had been long established around Havana.  Here is his story:

V. R. del Ven P. Fr. Juan Antonio Barreneche, Originario del Pueblo de Lecazor en el Reino de Navarra, tomo el Santo habito en la Prov. De Sta. Helena de la Florida, en el Convento de la Avana, hizo tránsito y se afilió en este Apostólico Colegio el año de 75, en el de 79 fue destinado a las Missiones de Sonora, Estando de Ministro en la de la Purissima Concepcion del Rio Colorado, y en compañía del Venerable P. Fr. Fran. Garcés, se sublevaron los Yndios y el día 12 de julio de 1781 le quitaron la vida a palos. Se advirtieron in este V. Religioso mientras el motín algunas cosas prodigiosas y después de quatro meses de enterrado su cadáver se hallo casi incorrupto Fue Religioso mui apacible, humilde, pobre, penitente y Oediente, con cuias virtudes y otras en q[ue] se exercitó constante dio exemplares pruebas de su Apostolico espíritu. Pasó de esta vida a la eterna de edad de 31 años.

 [Religious Life] of the Saintly Fr. Juan Antonio Barreneche, a native of the town of Lecazor in the Kingdom of Navarra, who took the Holy habit in the Province of Santa Helena of Florida, in the Convent of Havana, was transferred and affiliated with this Apostolic College in the year [17]75, and in [17]79, was sent to the Missions of Sonora, having his Ministry at the mission of the Purissima Concepcion del Rio Colorado [Mission of the Immaculate Conception on the Colorado River], accompanying the Saintly Fr. Francisco Garcés, when the Indians revolted and on July 12, 1781, they took his life by clubbing him.  During the riot, some remarkable things were observed about this Holy Religious and four months after his burial, his body was found to be almost incorrupt. He was a very gentle friar, humble, poor, penitent and obedient, who through these virtues and others that he constantly practiced gave an example that was proof of his Apostolic spirit. He passed from this life to eternal life at 31 years of age.

So we find a connection between Spain, St. Augustine, New Mexico, Mexico, Arizona, California, numerous Indian tribes, and, most important of all, St. Francis.  Below we see the Nativity Scene in the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Fe, since, after all, the Nativity Scene as such was introduced by St. Francis in 1223 and it also continues to this day.