What are the top things to do and see at the Mission and Shrine?
Father Lopez statue
Visitors are greeted by an imposing and inspiring statue of Father Francisco Lopez de Gajales, the priest who celebrated the first Mass. Father Lopez accompanied Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles, commander of the Spanish fleet that arrived here in September 1565. Menendez is the founder of the City of St. Augustine.
Erected in 1965 to celebrate the city’s 400th birthday, this gleaming, stainless steel cross is 208 feet in height – the tallest free-standing cross in the western hemisphere. It marks the location where the Spaniards came ashore to proclaim the site of St. Augustine in the Name of God, Nombre de Dios. Illuminated at night, the Great Cross is one of St. Augustine’s most distinctive and inspiring features.
Chapel of Our Lady of La Leche
In the early 1600’s, Spanish settlers and newly-converted Native Americans in St. Augustine began their devotion to Our Lady of La Leche and here established the first shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary in what is now the United States. Restored numerous times over the centuries, today this beautiful chapel reflects the devotion of the citizens of St. Augustine. A canonical coronation on October 10 resulted in the placement of a newly-crowned image of Our Lady of La Leche in the chapel. Sculpted in Northern Italy, the new image depicts the Virgin Mary nursing the infant Jesus.
Opened in conjunction with the October canonical coronation, the Rosary Garden provides a unique opportunity to walk and pray the rosary. Each rosary bead is 16 times larger than those in a typical rosary and are crafted from blue calcite collected in Madagascar. The beads are linked with a stainless steel chain 30 inches above the ground. In addition to a seven-foot crucifix crafted from red cedar trees destroyed in recent hurricanes, the centerpiece of the garden is a coquina grotto with an image of Our Lady of La Leche.