39th Annual Art & Antiques Show Highlights Florida’s Spanish Heritage
Florida’s roots reach deep into Spanish culture and history. Indeed, our shores were the first in North America to be touched by European feet, and those feet were Spanish.
In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon, the infamous conquistador who had embarked on a tireless quest to find the miraculous Fountain of Youth, discovered an “island,” which he named La Florida, in honor of the Pascua Florida, or Feast of Flowers (Easter). His precise landing spot is unknown but was likely somewhere between present-day Melbourne and Ponte Vedra Beach. Eight years later he briefly explored Florida’s west coast, where he received a mortal arrow wound.
Following Ponce de Leon’s initial expedition, Captain General Adelantado Pedro Menendez de Aviles, commissioned by Spain’s King Philip II, led a fleet of nineteen ships and more than a thousand people to La Florida, which then encompassed a vast territory extending the entire length of North America’s Atlantic coastline. On September 8, 1565, he stepped ashore and founded St. Augustine, which is now the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the continental United States.
For the next two centuries, St. Augustine was a Spanish colony, part of Spain’s vast empire. Later, Florida came under other flags — Britain, France, Spain again, the Confederacy and eventually the United States. But Spain’s influence on Florida’s culture has endured.
2015 marks the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine, which still overflows with the flavor of Spain. Visitors to St. Augustine flock to the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest stone fortress in the continental U.S. The city also is home to the oldest Catholic mission, founded in 1587, twenty years before Jamestown. In fact, when Jamestown was settled in 1607, St. Augustine already had existed for forty-two years and was one of Spain’s largest and strongest colonial settlements. St. Augustine also boasts the only surviving Spanish colonial church in Florida. Other architectural beauties feature many later structures, such as Henry Flagler’s magnificent hotel and church, but even in those Spain’s cultural influence remains strong.
Article written by Grace M. Sarber
Photographs by Glenn Hastings