As regular Tolomato visitors and readers of this blog know, the chapel at Tolomato Cemetery was originally designed in 1853 as a funeral chapel and the mausoleum of Fr. Felix Varela, a Cuban born priest who was brought up and died in San Augustine and is now on the way to canonization.
He was originally buried in the crypt in 1855, having first been buried immediately after his death elsewhere in the cemetery next to his aunt, Rita Morales, while the chapel was being built. Below is a photo of the chapel probably taken in the 1920s.
In 1876, the first bishop of St. Augustine, Bishop Augustin Verot, was buried in the vault next to the bones of Fr. Varela.
Fr. Varela had taught at the seminary of San Carlos in Havana and had written a great deal about Cuban politics. He was a great hero to the Cubans in their struggle for independence. After Cuba's liberation from both Spain and its occupation by the United States, Cuban representatives came and reclaimed the remains of Fr. Varela. They placed them in a marble urn at his former seminary, now part of the University of Havana.
Bishop Verot’s casket remained in the vault, which was opened in 1976 to verify the fact that all of the remains of Fr. Varela had been removed. It was closed up again until 1988, when Bishop Verot’s casket was removed and placed in the vault specially designed for him in the center of the cemetery. Below is a bust of Bishop Verot, which is located above his tomb and was created by sculptor Ted Karam.
The crypt and the stone were left in poor condition. One of the objectives of the TCPA has been to restore the stone and restore the chapel as much as possible to its appearance in 1855.
We've made a start on it! The stone was removed today by Marble Masters of Jacksonville and taken off for restoration. It wasn't easy to it get out, but they did it.
They will clean it, give it a low buff, and replace it on a marble cradle or frame. In the meantime, we're taking out the 1970s terra-cotta tile and replacing it with a flooring that will be similar to the original light-colored coquina or possibly shell dash, but easier to maintain and more durable.
So we waved good-bye to the Varela stone and will welcome it back to a much improved home.
And by one of those non-coincidences, today was the date of death of Bishop Verot, so we like to think that he was smiling on this latest moment in the history of the Varela Chapel.