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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  165                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 150

Today’s Mileage: 5                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1112

As I rode the bike this evening my thoughts drifted to yesterday’s visit to a Christian Easter Day service.  The service was joyful with the reading of scripture and singing, directed by my partner Susan.  The service brought back memories of my childhood and significant church holidays.  The one thing I missed was the sight of children running around the lawn collecting colored eggs!

While I enjoyed the service I also made it a point to take a walk around the church campus before and after the service.  It was a particularly beautiful day and as always nature bombarded me with distractions.  I have decided to share with my readers several poems and musings I wrote before and after the service.

Across the Street

Church lawn:

   Pristine green

   Parallel mower marks

   Edged pathway

   Leads to a

   Tall white building

   Stark wooden cross

   Bares white cloth drapery

   Easter Lilies

   In plastic pails

   Circle the base

       Signs of a Church’s belief in resurrection!

 Across the Street

 Empty house:

   Unkempt lawn

   Mats of dark green clover

   Points of purple and yellow

   Dandelions and wild violets

   Scattered about

   Flowering dogwood

   Twisted wooden fingers

   Bearing pink jewels

   Majestic white irises

   Circle the base

       Signs of Nature’s promise of renewal!

****

Tree Mysticism!

In the Shadow of Giants

 Ancient oaks

Tower overhead

Midriff bulge

Extends its base

Onto the sidewalk

Like a living

Volcanic flow

What was two

Had become one

An extra

Roll of bark

Marks their seam

They are not alone

A vine

With a girth

Similar to my own

Sends tentacles

Like heavily laden

Fire hoses skyward

Braiding with branches

And twin trunks

A small flowering dogwood

At their base

Cannot compete

For size and age

It counters

With its beauty

Living in the shadow of giants

 ****

Natures Gifts!

Holiday Treats

 Forty steps

Along the sidewalk

From the back

Of the church

Before the Easter  

Sunday service

I found green grass

Colorful blossom gifts

On the lawn

All that was missing

Was a basket

And a chocolate bunny

 ****

Gaia!

What was…

 My favorite part

Of the Easter

Church experience

Standing at the base

Of a majestic

Magnolia tree

In the sun

Surrounded by

Spring bird calls

I admired the

Tree’s shade and

Structure

It must have been

Wondrous being a child

Around these trees

They were designed

For climbing and

Hiding in the branches

 ****

Patterns, cycles, beauty!

I hope that you enjoyed my words and caught glimpses of the beauty I find in nature!  My experience yesterday reminded me of the fact that “one size does not fit all.”  While the church was filled with people finding meaning in their sacred scripture and the story of a risen savior, there are others, myself included, who find meaning and guidance in the “voices of nature.”  I do not believe that one path/approach has more “truth or validity” than the other, they represent preferences based on our experiences and history.

After a recent posting concerning the Catholic Church one reader made the comment: “Sorry to hear that you are a former Catholic. Only Catholics that don’t know their faith leave because if you truly knew the faith of your birth you would see that there is no other faith to move to. The Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus founded upon Peter and it has lasted the last 2,000 years. Come home!”

Nature Saints?

I respect this reader’s right to his opinion and recognize his exclusionary beliefs about the Catholic Church.  However, I have found my path and like many others “my home” is within the realm of nature, its symbolism, its cycles, and its beauty!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  164                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 149

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1107

Happy Easter to everyone!  As I type this the afternoon temp has made it to 80 degrees!  I was afraid that we might go from Winter right into Summer, I hope my prediction does not prove to be true. 

I spent part of the morning in my first Methodist Easter service.  I joined Susan at the church where she serves as the choir director.  It was a beautiful service and gave me some ideas for a future blog topic on the importance of “transformation” as represented by the resurrection of Christ.  I will save that for sometime in the coming week.  In the mean time we have been lingering around Jacksonville Florida and there are two churches I want us to visit as pilgrimage sites.

An Historical Church!

I have labeled the first church a Historical Worship Site pilgrimage.  Its history highlights what some would call part of our dark past, a past that included institutionalized racism and segregation.  The church in question is the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church.  In 1838 the first Baptist church was established in Jacksonville.  There were six charter members, the pastor and his wife, the deacon and his wife and two slaves known as Bacchus and Peggy. The first racially mixed meetings were held in the Government Block House until a building could be constructed.  The Legislative Council of the territory of Florida incorporated the Bethel Church in 1841.  In 1861 the congregation moved into a new building, however a short time later the Union army captured Jacksonville and turned the church into a military hospital during the Civil War. The church was left in a “deplorable condition” when it was vacated by army troops at the end of the war.

With the end of the war an effort was made to separate the Colored and White members but an agreement could not be reached over possession of the property.  The two sides went to court and the decision was made in favor of the Colored members because they represented the majority of members.  However, a short time after the court decision the Colored members sold the property to their White brethren and purchased other property. 

We Cater to White Trade Only!

In 1868 they erected a one room wooden building where they worshiped for the next 27 years.  Their White brethren went on to establish the First Baptist Church I downtown Jacksonville.  In 1895, Bethel constructed the first Institutional Church building erected in the South by a Colored congregation out of red brick and Georgia marble. As the “Church History” section of their webpage notes: It was erected by Colored mechanics under the direction of Colored contractors.  The fruits of their efforts were short lived as the building burned in the devastating 1901 fire that destroyed much of the city.  In 1904 the current sanctuary was completed.  Since 1966 the church has experienced continued growth and has significantly expanded their physical presence in the city while retaining its historical main sanctuary building. Its webpage lists some 32 different ministries!

Church front!

The second church we are going to visit today represents what I call an Architectural Worship Site Pilgrimage.  It is the Riverside Baptist Church of Jacksonville.  In 1908 a tent meeting was held by the Home Mission of the Southern Baptist Convention with the goal of establishing a church.  In 1913 the growing church built a small wooden structure for services.  Like much of the Florida coast in the 1920s Jacksonville was experiencing a construction boom which fueled tremendous growth in the church.  At this time the decision was made to build a new and impressive church.  What happened next set the Riverside church apart from all other churches in the area.

Baptism of Christ!

World-famous American architect, Addison Mizner was busy building structures up and down the coast of Florida.  He had never designed a church building, but had made a promise to his mother before her death that he would design one in her honor.  He was offered the opportunity to design the new church with a “free license in designing the church.” He donated his effort in memory of his mother by refused any monetary compensation for his services.

The building he designed is a master piece incorporating three major design types: Romanesque, Byzantine and Spanish.  Many of the design ideas, building materials and furnishing were directly influenced by his tours of European castles and cathedrals.  The shape of the church is that of a Greek Cross, with a Spanish red tile roof and plaster work which was done in a way to give the impression of aged limestone blocks.

The Adoration of the Shepherds!

The church building has large cypress doors, three Romanesque windows and a large carved bas-relief of the baptism of Christ above the doors.  The interior is spacious with a Gothic style spacious ceiling.  Numerous paintings in the Fifteenth Century Italian Renaissance style adorn the ceiling and front of the balcony.  The caps of the various columns are made of cast stone to give them the appearance of being had carved.  Large rose stained glass windows illuminate the northern and southern transepts. Wrought iron grills, commonly used in Spanish churches, enclose the choir and bapistry. 

To add a local connection to the effort Mizner included a painting by the local artist Lee Adam who was a member of the church at the time of the commission.  This work entitled: Adoration of the Shepherds, used the artist’s wife as the model for the Virgin Mary. In 1973 the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation of the National Park Service listed Riverside Baptist Church on the National Register of Historical Places.

He has Risen!

I believe that both of these churches speak to a process of transformation.  In the first case we have a group of people over come prejudice and natural disasters to rise up and become a powerful presence in their community.  In the second case we have congregation who trusted in the creative process of a master architect, who transformed a small sliver of the New World into a sacred memorial to the artistic forces that shaped the European religious experience of their ancestors.

I hoped you enjoyed that visit to these two special sites and that everyone celebrating Easter had a wonderful and joyous holiday!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  162                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 147

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1098

We are almost to Jacksonville Florida and tomorrow we will visit the first of three pilgrimage sites in the area, including two historical architectural churches and a nature site highlighting the beauty and diversity of the flora in Northern Florida.

Wired to love?

I’m sure that some of my friends and students found themselves saying “Oh my gosh, Dr. Edwards has gone over to the dark side!”  I want to assure everyone I am still my optimistic and upbeat self.  The title of today’s blog came from a statement made by Andrew Breitbart in a Time magazine article.  Mr. Breitbart is a highly outspoken mouth piece for right wing political thought on the web who the Time article described as a “Tea party Tycoon.” As I read the article I found myself shaking my head, not in disbelief, I’m a Clinical Psychologist I am seldom surprised by human behavior anymore, I shook my head out of sadness and concern. 

I have recently blogged on the characteristics that can lead religions to produce “evil” outcomes.  We have seen some of the sad results of this process in the tit-for-tat historical massacre of Christians by Christians and in the recent news reports of the arrest of a small group of “Christian militia” who intended to attack police officers and hasten a second revolution.

All hate all the time?

In recent news cycles a lot of attention has been given to “hate speech” or what you might call “alarmist speech.”  Terms like “lock and load,” “on the firing line,” and “reload” maybe seen as a colorful call to arms by the people using them, but it concerns others with the imagery of armed rebellion and violence.  Often the people making these statements will defend their “freedom of speech” and will attack those who raise concerns as being the source of the problem (e.g., the Obama health care bill caused the anger and threats of violence) and not the potential victims.

As a therapist I know from experience that words matter!  Among yesterday’s news announcements was the sad story of the teenage girl who after months of verbal and physical bullying by nine fellow students committed suicide. Their words mattered… they drove a desperate young girl to take her life! 

Matching hate speech!

I have spoken personally with members of a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville Tennessee, that lived through the terror of a gun wielding assailant who blasted away randomly during a children’s Sunday service.  A handful of innocent adults died in the pews, luckily no children were injured!  On the seat of the assailant’s vehicle in the parking lot lay a hateful letter targeting “liberals” filled with references to the “inspiring words” of a list of popular conservative talk show hosts.  These talk show hosts words mattered… they cost innocent people their lives!

In my last blog we talked about the triple filter test.  I have had a lot of comments about this post.  Many of them agree with my statement that we would all be better off if we followed this test before we spoke, before we made public statements, before we stepped in front of a microphone, before we painted a placard with hateful statements.  I noted that the three filters were truth, goodness and usefulness.  I would like to highlight the usefulness question because I believe it comes in two variations.  Is it useful for the person receiving the information (e.g., a compliment, feedback) or not (e.g., gossip, lies)?  Is it somehow useful to the person providing it (e.g., advancing an agenda, raising alarm and/or money, undermining someone else’s efforts)? 

As I noted in the last posting if Senator Scott Brown continues to repeat a lie (e.g., that Rachel Maddow is running against him) because it generates campaign fund then it is certainly useful to him given an “ends justify the means” approach to politics.  I guess some people would see it as an effective tactic or a screwed move.  I see it as nothing more than a useful lie, an example of false propaganda from a politician who will no doubt speak out of the other side of his mouth when he asks the people of his state to “believe in me” when they cast their reelection votes.  

Brought to you by Westboro Baptist Church!

Mr. Breitbart’s statement, which I used as a header for this posting saddens and concerns me.  He has a right to his belief, and he like all of us chooses the “process” he is going to follow in making his decisions.  That process might be the Golden or Platinum Rule, Might makes Right, the Ends Justify the Means, it’s all a Game, or The Triple Filter, to name just a few.  However, whatever process we use we must live with and accept the outcomes we sow and reap. 

I believe that when someone chooses to place themselves into a public position of authority, like a politician or clergy member, or are elevated by the popularity and marketing of their opinions, like a talk show host, news caster or leader of a movement, they have a responsibility to choose their words wisely!  Their proclamations should do more than serve their narrow needs, they should think about the greater good!  We would hold someone in contempt if they shouted “Fire” in a crowded theater just to secure a better seat, and then shrugged their shoulders at the trampled people’s suffering.  Then why do we turn away in silence when someone espouses hateful attitudes just to create distress in others or advance their personal agenda?

I believe that all of us have a responsibility to make sure that those who lead us, (whether Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat) or act as our mouth pieces, (talk show hosts, favorite bloggers, or letter to the editor writers) or act as our cheerleaders  (family and friends) or offer us guidance (religious leaders) do it in a way so that the answer to the “usefulness”  question is not just that it is useful for them (e.g., makes money, sells books, strokes their egos), or even that it is just useful for our movement or side (e.g., we win the election, we save our school at the cost of som other school, or our church grows larger) but that it be useful for all members of the community, nation and world community.

Lets make it so!!!!

I know I am a dreamer!  I know what I ask is almost impossible to imagine in our present overly charged and highly emotion political and religious landscape.  However, if we who represent the “moderate core” the loving, compassionate, caring individuals, and yes dreamers in every faith and political movement stand up and make ourselves heard we can drown out these voices of hate and divisiveness.  I believe we can!  Join me… stand up… speak up… be heard!  After all we only have a world and a future to lose!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  160                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 145

Today’s Mileage: 10                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1090

Evil is NOT Alien... it is potentially found within ALL Faiths!

As I ride the bike this morning I pondered several potential themes for our posting.  We are traveling north towards Jacksonville leaving St. Augustine.  I decided to discuss an always sensitive topic: the potential “evil” outcomes of religious communities and movements.  I have on numerous occasions had discussions with my student concerning this topic.  Sometimes students will note that they believe humanity would be better off “without religion.”  I could not disagree more!  I point out to them that the social institution of Religion serves numerous functions for both individuals and society at large.  I often note that, like many things, it is how an individual or group uses their religious beliefs that can be problematic or have an “evil” outcome.  If your belief system acts to keep you from growing and exploring new experiences then that system might be problematic.  If a belief system subjugates or alienates a portion of society (e.g., women, minorities, gays, youth) then that system may be problematic.

You might be asking yourself: Why is he bringing up this topic?  My friends and students know that I tend to be very optimistic and upbeat and choose to not dwell on topics that drive wedges between people.   However, two things elevated this topic in my mind.  They have to do with a set of historical events, and a recent event in the news.

Several days ago we explored the history of St. Augustine and three “Forts” in this area.  Fort Matanzas has the tragic history of being the site of a massacre of 250 defenseless French Huguenot soldiers by a Spanish Catholic force.  They were killed when they refused to denounce their faith and were labeled as “heretics.”  This tragic story did not end there!  For the French had in 1564 established a settlement near present day Jacksonville named Fort Caroline.  When a Spanish force arrived the next year and established St. Augustine the ill fated French force had travelled south to “deal with” the new arrivals.  A storm was the down fall of the French, destroying their ships and casting them on the beach where they were discovered and massacred by the Spanish force.  Don Pedro Menendez, the Spanish commander took advantage of this development to conduct a counter attack upon Fort Caroline.  The defenders fought valiantly but in the end, surrendered.  What remained was a hand full of soldiers and 50 women and children.  The decision was made to once again kill the survivors as heretics.  It was reported that the women and children were all burned at the stake.  With this event the French presence in Florida came to an end.  The Spanish converted Fort Caroline into their settlement in an effort to extend their control further north along the coast.  However, in 1568 a French military force attack the Spanish settlement destroying it and massacring all of its inhabitants in revenge for the earlier kills of French settlers.

I know that some people would simply attribute these events to “an earlier time” when such conflicts were common place.  However, all one has to do is listen to recent news out of Nigeria, where Christian and Muslims are taking turns killing each other, or remember back a couple decades to Northern Ireland, where Christians were again killing each other, to know that such sad episodes are by no means a “thing of the past.”

How can we explain these tragic outcomes when the same religious groups and movement have given the world some its greatest artwork, music and inspiring leaders?  Dr. Charles Kimball, an ordained Southern Baptist minister and academic scholar in Islam wrote a book entitled:  When Religion Becomes Evil.  Dr. Kimball notes in his book that there are five warning signs (characteristics) of possible corruption of a Religion.  The more of these characteristics that are present in a belief system the greater the danger that this faith might produce “evil behaviors” in its followers.  Recent examples would include: flying planes into buildings full of people; gunning down abortion doctors; leaving threatening phone messages toward individuals holding opposing views.

Just War or Evil Crusade?

What are these characteristics?  Dr. Kimball lists them as: 1) Absolute Truth Claims – all faiths have truth claims, however when they are treated as rigid doctrines anyone holding other views become “heretics.” 2) Blind Obedience – beware any movement that seeks to limit the intellectual freedom and individual integrity of its adherents (maybe associated with Charismatic Authority Figures; enslavement to doctrine and/or withdrawal from society).  3) Establishing the “Ideal” Time – Often involve concrete ‘divinely ordained” plans, especially dangerous when religion is joined with the goals of the state.  4) The Ends Justify the Means – Beware when a particular goal or end is articulated as essential or paramount, in defense of this goal all calls for compassion and constructive relationships are ignored or attacked as “joining with the enemy.”  5) Declaring Holy War – the lines separating the forces of good and evil become blurred, represented by the crusades, jihad, and “just war.”  Especially problematic when combined with Ends Justify the Means characteristic.

It would appear that the presence of several of these characteristics in the 1600-1700 European churches might account for the tit-for-tat massacres surrounding the St. Augustine area.  In particular, Absolute Truth Claims; the Ends Justify the Means; and Declaring Holy War.  Of course conflicts like that taking place in Nigeria involve not just religious conflict but also economic and tribal conflict and feelings of revenge.

Beware combining politics and religion!

In closing I would like to highlight a news story I came across the other day.  It seems that a popular Lebanese TV personality, who conducted a call-in TV program broadcast across the Middle East, travelled to Saudi Arabia on a religious pilgrimage and was arrested by the Saudi religious police.  He was charged with “sorcery” charges after confessing (after interrogation) “that he consulted spirits to predict the future.”  The Saudi religious courts have now handed down a death sentence in his case!

While I believe people have a right to their religious beliefs and a right to their governance system of choice, I do feel that such behavior on the part of the Saudi government and their religious leadership represents an “evil outcome.”  They may feel self-righteous in their claims of absolute truth (for Sharia law) and their demands of blind obedience to this law, that does not give them the right to execute an individual whose beliefs would be tolerated if not embraced  by the rest of the world (including much of the Islamic world).

Not Options for religious moderates!

I always end this discussion with a “call to arms” directed toward moderate and liberal elements of the world faiths.  I believe that it is the responsibility of the moderate elements in Islam, the Jewish Faith, Christianity and Hinduism to rise up and take control of the “message” being expressed to the world.  These “evil influences and forces” can only be counteracted and lessened by a wave of moderate voices from “within!”

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  159                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 144

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1080

Today we will be visiting a major Catholic Historical site and Shrine in the St. Augustine area.  Just north of the Castillo de San Marcos and the old city we find The Mission of Nombre de Dios and Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche

Fr. Lopez giving thanks!

This site traces its origins to the founding of the City of St. Augustine.  On September 8, 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed at this site and proclaimed it for Spain and Church.  It was here that Menendez knelt to kiss a wooden cross presented to him by Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, chaplain of his expedition.  It was here that Fr. Lopez would celebrate the first parish Mass and begin America’s first Mission name Nombre de Dios (Name of God) and the Spanish settlers would begin the devotion to Our Lady of La Leche (Our Lady of the Milk).

Prince of Peace Church

The mission and shrine site has numerous structures and includes a “walking tour” that allows pilgrims to circle the grounds and visit various significant locations.  At the entrance of the grounds the Prince of Peace Church, built out of the “native stone” Coquina, greets visitors.  It frames a large circular fountain and houses an imposing stained glass window depicting “the Holy Spirit.”

The Great Cross

Continuing on the tour we see the imposing Great Cross built in 1966, along with the Prince of Peace church to commemorate the Four Hundredth anniversary of the Mission and the City.  The cross is 208 feet tall and has been labeled a “Beacon of Faith” on the shores of the Matanzas River.

The Chapel

Next on our path we come across The Chapel of Our Lady of Le Leche.  This area has been referred to as “America’s Most Sacred Acre.”  Like many of the other structures the Chapel was also build from Coquina and reflects the Spanish mission style of the sixteen century.  The Chapel houses the statue of Our Lady of La Leche and is described as a “special place of quiet prayer for those seeking Our Lady’s intercession.”

Shrine of Perpetual Help

Just up the path we find a unique site called Our Lady of Perpetual Help Shrine.  A beautiful mosaic of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is housed in a Byzantine style cupola.  This gold-laden icon was a gift of the Byzantine Rite Catholics who make a bi-annual pilgrimage to the mission.  The icon includes the image of Mary, the baby Jesus along with Archangels Michael and Gabriel.

Perpetual Help Icon

The final two sites we visit on our tour are the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a gift from friends of a distinguished modern day missionary in Brazil.  The shrine commemorates the 1531 visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego in Guadalupe, Mexico.  Lastly, we see the Rustic Altar an outdoor altar commemorating the first parish mass celebrated in 1565.

Guadalupe Icon

We have during our virtual pilgrimage across Florida visited some two dozen separate Pilgrimage sites ranging from National Parks, Hindu and Buddhist temples, Monastery and Convents, Beach side parks and Art Galleries, to a Holocaust Memorial.  Today’s site has significant historical religious importance for Christians and Catholics in particular.  Clearly this site continues to add to its importance with a growing number of shrines, set in a peaceful and tranquil setting. It will be interesting to discover sites around the country that represent similar “firsts” for other Christian denominations (e.g., first Methodist church, first Quaker service, etc.).

Holy Spirit Window

 I hope you have enjoyed the beautiful pictures of the mission’s grounds.  Tomorrow we will be leaving St. Augustine and heading toward Jacksonville.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  158                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 143

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1076

The Bastion System!

As I ride the bike today I have decided to speak to three pilgrimage sites in the St. Augustine Florida area.  All three represent historical and archeological site.  All three have a history tied to the politics between European powers in the 1600-1700s.  One speaks to the desire for freedom and a fight against oppression and one site speaks to the “dark side” of religion.

Perhaps the best known landmark in the St, Augustine area is the Castillo de San Marcos.  Construction of this fortification began in 1672.  Its architecture is distinctive and unique.  It is the oldest masonry and only intact 17th century fort in North America and represents an example of the “bastion system” of fortification.  It weathered hurricanes and repeated attacks over its active history.

The bastion system of forts was developed in the 15th century and had a distinct star shape structure.  This pattern was used to avoid a straight head-on shoot from cannons, and yet allowed plenty of wall space to mount guns for counter fire.  Adding to the distinctiveness of this fortress was its construction from the building material unique to the northeast coast of Florida.  Coquina, which is an aggregate of compressed sand and shells that is remarkable soft and porous, however once it has dried and aged its softness has unexpected benefits.  Cannon balls did not “explode” the material like stone, but were either embedded in it like a marble in Styrofoam or harmlessly glanced off of it.

The City Gates of St. Augustine

The fort went through numerous “changes in ownership.”  The history of the entire Atlantic coastline was one of constant struggle and warfare between the European powers.  Conflicts that often started on distant lands were carried to the shores and wilderness of North America.  The Castillo de San Marcos played a central role in the early Spanish control of the Southern coast of the New World.  It was an important point from which they projected the power up and down the coast and protected rich Spanish treasure fleets from pirates.  The fort withstood assaults from the French and the English, never falling to an attacking force.  As we heard in Mondays posting the fort did come under British control from 1763-1783 as a result of a peace treaty between Spain and England.  It was the British governor who offered the Greek survivors of the New Smyrna colony sanctuary in St. Augustine. Following the US Revolutionary War the fort and city returned to Spanish control until 1821 when the growing USA acquired the territory of Florida.

Fort Matanzas

The second pilgrimage site in the area, Fort Matanzas National Monument can be found some 14 miles south St. Augustine at the location where the Matanzas river empties into the ocean.  This river which flows past St. Augustine posed a risk as attackers might travel up the river to lay siege to the city.  Fort Matanzas was also built of Coquina like its older and much larger sister fort to the north.  The fort sits by itself on a flat marshy barrier island called Rattle shake Island.  What is hidden from the view of visitor, who must travel there by ferry, is the site’s tragic and unsettling history.   The early history of the northeast coast of Florida involved an epic struggle between the Catholic Spanish forces and Huguenot (Protestant) French forces.  In 1565 a French military expedition under the leadership of Jean Ribault sailed for the new Spanish settlement of St. Augustine from the French settlement of Fort Caroline to settle ownership of Florida in France’s favor.  However, tragedy struck in the form of a storm that stranded the French at the mouth of the River.  When the Spanish discovered the French on the beach, they ordered then to surrender, give up their Protestant faith, and accept Catholicism.  Having lost all of their food and weapons in the ship wrecks they did surrender, but refused to renounce their faith.  So the Spanish force massacred nearly 250 Frenchman as heretics near the inlet, which was then named “Matanzas,” the Spanish word of massacre. This tragic episode gave Spain undisputed control of Florida for the next 200 years.  It also points to the fact that the conflict between European forces was not just one of land grabs for economic benefits, but also mirrored the religious conflicts which had racked Europe since the advent of the Protestant reformation.  In addition, to the slaughter and destruction of native peoples, Christians were turning on Christian out of self-righteousness against what they labeled heresy.

Drawing of Fort Moses.

The same forces of conflict did at times play out in more positive ways, at least for some populations.  One such example of this can be found several miles north of the old city of St. Augustine.  The site is Fort Moses State Historical Park.  As English influence along the northern stretches of the American coast grew so did friction and conflict between the colonists of both powers.  The English colonies of the Carolinas and Georgia made extensive use of African slaves to man their large plantations.  The Spanish settlers and their Native American allies began to direct escaped English slaves south to St. Augustine, there by predating the later Northern “Underground Railroad” by more than a century.  The Spanish governor granted a plot of land for North America’s first “free black” settlement.  The inhabitants built a wood and mud “fort” wall, dug a moat, constructed homes and a wooden Catholic church to meet the spiritual needs of the recent converts.  These free blacks farmed the surrounding land and took up arms with the Spanish neighbors to fight off hostile Indians and their former English slave masters.  The settlement prospered until 1763 when the population of Fort Moses moved to Spanish Cuba in advance of the English forces who would take peaceful control of St. Augustine from the Spanish.  The inhabitants feared that their former slave masters might renew claims toward their “rightful property.”

Don't let this be the final word!

All three of these sites speak to the fact that the Europeans who came to the New World brought with them their conflicts, hatred and prejudices.  It is reminder that this country that we heralded as the “Land of the Free,” was won, conquered and tamed at sometimes tragic costs.  These include the destruction of native cultures, the slaughter of innocent people and the “enslavement” of a whole race.  We can be proud of what we have accomplished and what we stand for, but we should never forget the suffering of these people.  I would hope that these sites act as reminders and lead us to ask: “What are we doing now, as we interact with other cultures and faiths, as we look for “new frontiers,” as we live in a shrinking world.”  What lessons should we learn from the suffering of these people so we don’t repeat past mistakes?

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  158                          Consecutive Days Blogging: 142

 Today’s Mileage: 3                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1072

A frontier Greek!

As I ride the bike this morning I am thinking about the pilgrimage site we will visit today: St. Photios National Greek Shrine and Orthodox Chapel.  I’m assuming that many of my readers had the same reaction that I did when I first came across this site on the sunny shores of eastern Florida: How did a Greek Orthodox Shrine find its way to Florida?  I had become familiar with the Spanish history of this area, something we will explore more fully tomorrow.  The Greek presence was a surprise.  Studying the history of the St. Augustine area I found my answers and I discovered a story the likes of which have long inspired people with the message of hope, persistence and tenacity of the human spiritual.  St. Augustine represents the longest continuously occupied city in North America with the oldest port.  There were other settlements up and down the Florida coast, both French and Spanish, however this was the one that “stuck it out.”  The site has gone through numerous changes of flags and ownership.  I have alluded in an earlier posting to a sad example of religious strife and killing, I will reserve that discussion for the days to come for it portrays what some people would call the “ugly” side of religious thought and dogma. Back to the question of the Greeks!

It is clear that by the 1700s North America had stoked the fire and dreams of freedom and land ownership in many poor, impoverished and subjugated peoples around the world, particularly in Europe. Not only were the major European powers sprinkling the continent with their settlements but entrepreneurs were exploiting the wilderness for their potential riches. 

Andrew Turnbull

One such individual was Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish physician who in 1766 undertook to create a settlement called New Smyrna 75 miles on the coast south of St. Augustine.  By this time the city had changed hands was now under a British flag. He collected some 1400 people from Greece, Italy and the island of Minorca who agreed to sign on as indentured servants.  They would raise sugarcane, indigo and cotton for 7-8 years to earn a plot of acreage of their own.  However, the settlement was greeted from its inception with hardship including disease and starvation.  According to several reports matters were made worse by Dr. Turnbull harsh leadership.  After 10 years little success had been achieve and the settlers felt more like slaves than servants. 

Avero House

The settlement was eventually abandoned with the residents walking the shoreline all the way to St. Augustine.  At the city gates the 300 survivors of the settlement asked the British governor for protection.  The governor repealed their indentured status and granted them sanctuary within the city. They inhabited the Avero House a location that the Greek community has come to call their “Plymouth Rock.”  These new citizens prospered as shop owners and citizens.  Their offspring became the founders of some of the most venerated families of present day St. Augustine.  Significant among that groups were the first “colony” of Greeks in the New World.  Their presence in the history of the city answers our question about the existence of the Greek Orthodox shrine.

The shrine and chapel of Saint Photios are a testament the importance, although often overlooked, role that Greeks played in the developing drama of North America as laborers and business owners in city large and small.  The chapel is filled with icons (religious paintings) created in the traditional Byzantine style which expresses visually the theology of the Greek Orthodox Church.  One of the ceiling domes is adorned with a painting “the Hospitality of Abraham.”  The central dome hold the image of “Christ the Pantocrator (the all-embracing), and the third dome depicts the Archangel Michael. 

Central Dome

One of the wall frescos depicts St. Photios (the Patriarch of Constantinople) teaching his young nephews, later known as St. Cyril and St. Methodios, before he sent them off as missionaries who are  credited with spreading Christianity to the Slavic peoples.

This story of the colony of New Smyrna is one that is repeated innumerable times across North America as waves of people followed the promises of the new world and struggled to establish a foothold in America.  I came to recognize this as a youth on the windswept plains of the Dakotas.  There was Tabor, with its quaint Czechoslovakian homes, Ukrainian Orthodox churches standing alone on the prairie servicing far flung farmhouses and any number of small farming communities with German Catholics and Norwegian Lutherans clustered about their church.

A Guardian Angel

Some foots holds worked out and survived harsh climates, native attacks, cycles of starvation and poor planning.  Others like New Smyrna failed, but the people moved on to established settlements.  Some expeditions (like Jamestown) not only failed but disappeared leaving an abandoned site and no trace of the inhabitants.  Stories of these immigrants fill our history books with their tragedy, mysteries and success at overcoming adversity in the pursuit of prosperity, freedom, and the promise of land.

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