Religious & Spiritual Retreats on Florida's Historic Coast
St. Augustine is the site of the first Catholic Mass. That was the beginning of what evolved into a destination for the faithful of many different religions.
As the site of the first Mass in 1565, the first Mission in 1565 and the first Marian Shrine in 1620, it’s no surprise that many faithful followers have made pilgrimages to St. Augustine over the years.
Devotion to Our Lady of La Leche (Our Lady of the Milk) dates back to Jerusalem many centuries ago. And by the time of St. Augustine’s founding in 1565, devotion to Our Lady was widespread among the Spanish settlers and indigenous people who had been converted. As early as the 1600’s, a statue of Mary nursing the infant Jesus was placed in the first shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the New World. Rebuilt in 1915, the chapel is home to the statue, recently Canonically Crowned. Pilgrims to the site can visit The National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, the stations of the cross built with stones, and the Rosary Garden.
Near the Shrine on the waterfront grounds of the Mission Nombre de Dios is the Great Cross, over 200 feet tall, and an outdoor rustic altar commemorating the first Mass and Thanksgiving celebrated by Menendez and the first Spanish settlers in 1565. Nearby is the sculpture of Father Francis Lopez de Mendoza Grajales. Made of bronze with a polished granite base, the sculpture memorializes the first parish priest and pastor in the newly founded St. Augustine.
In the heart of the Historic District downtown is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, the oldest Catholic house of worship in St. Augustine. Completed in 1797, the Cathedral features Spanish Mission and Neoclassical architecture, while its interior walls are decorated with murals depicting the history of Catholicism in the New World. Stained glass windows illustrate the life of St. Augustine of Hippo.
Also in town, just walking distance from the Cathedral is St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church. Dedicated in 1911, the church honors the patron saint of African Americans. St. Benedict was beatified in 1793 and canonized by Pope Pius VII in 1807. The church has played a central role in the city’s African American history and during the turbulent 60’s Martin Luther King Jr. used the rectory as a site for planning Civil Rights demonstrations in the area.
Those considering a group pilgrimage to St. Augustine may want to consider enhancing their experience with a retreat at Marywood Retreat & Conference Center, offering 100 acres of quiet settings and ample opportunities for individual reflection.
Whether you’re part of a group or on a personal quest to connect spiritually, St. Augustine welcomes all with open arms. Throughout the year there are special events and occasions to celebrate communally, such as the recent Canonical Crowning at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. Those who missed the event are welcomed to visit the statue in the chapel, explore the sacred grounds and contemplate in peaceful surroundings, free of charge.
During the Christmas season, many families participate in “Las Posadas” (The Inns) festivities at the Shrine. As presented by the Historic Florida Militia, Las Posadas is a 16th century Spanish procession that commemorates St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary seeking safe refuge in Bethlehem where Mary could give birth to the baby Jesus.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine offers a guided tour “A Walk Through History” which gives visitors a behind the scenes view of private areas within the church, such as the choir loft, sacristy, confessional, baptistery, chapel and more. Learn the stories behind the stained glass windows, the Stations of the Cross, the bishop’s coat of arms in the rafters, the murals and the three burials within the church. Tours are Monday through Thursday at 3 p.m. and last about an hour.