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.
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.