On Saturday, September 4, the Nation's oldest city, will celebrate its 445th birthday with an authentic re-creation of its founding, a procession featuring its founder's casket, and the opening of a magnificent new museum. In addition, special activities will focus on the Native Americans who greeted the Spaniards in 1565 and the celebration of the First Thanksgiving. Of course, there will be free birthday cake for everyone!
St. Augustine was founded on September 8, 1565 when Spanish military forces and colonists came ashore to establish a base of operations against French trespassers in La Florida. Commanded by Admiral don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the base was named St. Augustine because the fleet had sighted La Florida on August 28, the feast day of St. Augustine, and because Augustine was also the patron saint of Aviles, Spain - the birthplace of Menendez. People of European descent have been living continuously in St. Augustine since that Saturday in 1565, making it the oldest city in the continental United States.
The birthday celebration gets underway on Thursday, September 2 in the town's Plaza de la Constitucion. Free birthday cake will be distributed to everyone attending the free 7 p.m. Concert in the Plaza. City officials and Royal Family will participate in the cake-cutting ceremony.
When the Spaniards arrived, they found a large Native American village called Seloy already located at the present day site of Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archeological Park located at 11 Magnolia Avenue. In fact, it was here that the Spaniards quickly dug defensive positions on the first days of St. Augustine's existence. Menendez lived here with the natives known as Timucuas. This year's birthday activities will include a special Celebration of Those Who Were Already Here. Beginning on Friday and continuing through Sunday, the Fountain of Youth will feature an encampment with re-enactors portraying Timucuas and the Spanish soldiers and colonists who lived here during the early days of the city's history. The encampment will open each day at 9 a.m.
On Saturday at 4:45 p.m., the First Thanksgiving will be re-enacted on the grounds of the Fountain of Youth. This well-documented event occurred on this site on September 8, 1565 when Timucuas and Spaniards shared their food in a Feast of Thanksgiving. The re-enactment will include a cooking contest with entries limited to ingredients that would have been readily available on that date at that location. The public will be invited to sample the entries. Admission to the Fountain of Youth is free for St. Johns County residents. For more information about the encampment and cooking contest, call 904.829.3168.
The colorful and dramatic re-enactment of The Landing will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday when Menendez arrives by boat at the Mission Nombre de Dios on San Marco Avenue, adjacent to the Fountain of Youth and the exact landing point of the Spanish colonists in 1565. After the landing, Dr. Bonnie McEwan, director of Mission San Luis, will speak about the importance of Mission Nombre de Dios, the first mission established here by the Spaniards. Bishop Victor Galeone will conduct a Celebration Mass at the mission's outdoor altar -- on the grounds where Father Lopez performed mass on the day of the City of St. Augustine's birth 445 years ago. Following mass, a procession of 16th century Spanish soldiers will carry the actual casket of Pedro Menendez in a solemn procession to its new home in the new Mission Nombre de Dios Museum. Bishop Galeone will provide a blessing and dedication ceremony for the new museum. All of these events are free and open to the public. For more information about the landing re-enactment at the museum, go to www.MissionandShrine.org or call 904.824.2809.
Full details on all of the Birthday Celebration events can be found on the City of St. Augustine's website www.staugustinesbirthday.com .
The 445th Anniversary of the Founding of St. Augustine received support from the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council and is sponsored by Mission Nombre de Dios and La Compania de Santiago. For information on other events and vacation opportunities on Florida's Historic Coast go to www.FloridasHistoricCoast.com or call 800.653.2489. (News bulletin from the Visitors & Convention Bureau.)