Historic Churches in the Nation’s Oldest City

St. Augustine is the site of the first Catholic Mass and Thanksgiving. But that single event was just the start of what has evolved into a destination for the faithful of many different religions.

November 29, 2022
mission shrine sunrise on the water with sailboats and cross in water reflection in St. Augustine Florida

St. Augustine is the site of the first Catholic Mass and Thanksgiving. But that single event was just the start of what has evolved into a destination for the faithful of many different religions.

St. Augustine History

Founded on September 8, 1565, St. Augustine was the site where the Spanish and native Timucuan Indians celebrated Thanksgiving and the first Mass led by Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales. This event established the Ancient City as the first Catholic Parish in North America. Today, the city’s many historic churches and significant places of worship attract the faithful as well as the fans of historic architecture.

A visit to Florida’s Historic Coast would not be complete without exploring the beauty, reverence, and inspirational presence of its magnificent historic churches. Here are some stops you might want to include in your self-guided tours.

The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche

Historic Churches

The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre de Dios

This small mission is a hidden gem worth a visit. A quiet walk along the beautiful grounds reveals the little chapel, covered in vines, a peaceful sanctuary for intimate worship. A National Pilgrimage site, the site traces its origins to the founding of the city of St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, when Pedro Menéndez de Aviles landed and proclaimed this site for Spain and the Church. The mission grounds include the Great Cross, the Rustic Altar, stations of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, a museum, and a gift shop. While visits are self-guided, the mission and shrine do offer tours for groups, as well as planning for retreats or pilgrimages.

Cathedral Basilica

Cathedral Basilica, a Spanish Colonial Renaissance structure, was built in 1797, reconstructed in the late 1880s, and symbolizes the nation’s oldest diocese. Centrally located in the heart of the St. Augustine’s historic district, the Cathedral serves America’s first parish. Virtual tours and a gallery of photos are available online.

Trinity Parish

Founded in 1821, this is the oldest Protestant church in Florida and it's known for its beautiful stained glass windows, which were placed in 1859. A self-guided tour or virtual tour offers a closer look at this beautiful collection. Ten of the windows, including the “Triptych” above the altar, were made by Franz Mayer & Sons, Munich, Germany. There is also a rare, signed Louis Comfort Tiffany Window in the chapel. Each of the 28 windows is different, but collectively tell the story of Christianity.

Ancient City Baptist Church

Ancient City Baptist was first organized in January 1887. In the late 1880’s, Railroad Magnate Henry Morrison Flagler worked with the St. Augustine community to build churches, including his own Memorial Presbyterian Church, built in memorial to his late daughter Jenny Louise and her newborn baby that died in childbirth, and Grace Methodist Church in exchange for land where he wanted to build one of his grand hotels. In 1894, Mr. Flagler provided the congregation of the Ancient City Baptist Church a lot of land worth $5,000 to build a church with the conditions that church was complete within two years, cost no more than $10,000, carried no debt, could never be mortgaged, and a bell was never to hang in its tower.

Grace Methodist Church

Grace Methodist Church, which was also built by Henry Flagler, was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Guests to St. Augustine are welcome to visit the historic Grace sanctuary most weekday afternoons from 1 - 3 p.m.

Memorial Presbyterian, and Flagler mausoleum in historic St. Augustine.

Memorial Presbyterian Church

Built in 1889 and dedicated in March 1890, Memorial Presbyterian Church stands as a tribute to Henry Flagler’s beloved daughter, Jennie Louise. Since that time, Memorial Presbyterian Church has remained an iconic presence in the St. Augustine skyline and a major contributor to the community surrounding it. The sanctuary is open to visitors on Saturdays from 11 a.m - 3 p.m.

First Congregation Sons of Israel

First Congregation Sons of Israel is the oldest synagogue in the Nation’s Oldest City. Located on Cordova Street in the Historic District, the synagogue traces its heritage to the late 1980’s when the congregation’s first families came from Russia and Eastern Europe to settle in St. Augustine. The synagogue was dedicated in 1923 and has served its congregation for almost 100 years.

St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church

The congregation of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in 1873 and worshiped at a few locations in Lincolnville until the Reverend E.F. Williams was assigned to pastor the church and under his leadership built the present church at 85 Central Avenue in Lincolnville in 1904. Reverend Williams is remembered as the architect and builder of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church. At the ground-breaking, a morning prayer was uttered: "Upon this spot God's Church is built and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." During the Civil Rights Movement, St. Paul’s was the site of spirited speakers prominent among the were, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and his colleagues Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy, Hosea Williams, and Reverend Andrew Young.

St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church

St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church was built in 1889 in the city’s historic Lincolnville area to care for the spiritual needs of those who had recently been freed as slaves.

St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine

Dedicated to the memory of the first colony of Greek people who came to America in 1768 as part of the Andrew Turnbull New Smyrna Colony, St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine is an institution of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Located in the Avero House, the shrine consists of exhibits depicting the life of early Greeks in America and the development of the Greek Orthodox Church in the U.S. One of the most photogenic shrines, St. Photios Chapel includes a museum, gift shop and beautiful garden. The shrine is located on St. George Street and is open for self-guided tours from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily.

Learn more about the oldest city's history here.