Acclaimed by Four Centuries: The Fame of Their Martyrdom

Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Centuries

In the Franciscan Family there has been a constant and uninterrupted memory of the heroic death of the Five Martyrs of Georgia, along with an awareness of the generosity of their sacrifice.

As we have demonstrated, within a hundred years of their death in 1597, chronicles and histories recounting their slaying in testimony to the Faith had appeared and were spread far and wide in both the Old and the New Worlds. The result was that the names of the five religious who, far removed from the world's attention, had died for the sake of the Faith became known throughout the Order in all its units. Especially through the choral recitation of the Divine Office – in the friaries of the three autonomous branches of the Friars Minor, in the convents of the various groups of the nuns of St. Clare, and in the numerous religious houses of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, both of men and women – annually the memory of the sacrificial death of the Five Martyrs of Georgia was piously recalled and cherished.

Through the later phase also the chronicles of the seventeenth century which we have already noted were much sought and widely used. Besides the second edition of Daza's Coronica de N. P. San Francisco, which came out in 1677, there was also a second printing of Torquemada's Monarquia Indiana in 1723. The Martyrologium Franciscanum, first published in 1638, within fifteen years of its original appearance had a second edition in 1653. Indeed, as we shall see further on, it became the basis for successive printings of the Order's official martyrology during the next three centuries, each edition a new attempt to detail more exactly the story of the martyrdom.

Further, a look at the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries will demonstrate that, despite some extremely adverse historical developments, the memory of the sacrifice of these martyrs remained alive in the Church. It was the era following the upheaval of the Reformation, when the ideal of voluntary sacrifice for the Truth entrusted to Christ's Church tended to be obscured. It was the era of Reason and the French Revolution. It was the era of Independence and the American Revolution. It was the Age of the Enlightenment, equating Faith with the Abdication ofReason. The creators of the New Age were men of little or no faith, far removed from the ancient ideal of following the Savior in bearing testimony to divinely revealed Truth. Martyrs, the heroes of Christianity, in such an atmosphere were less likely to be remembered in any significant way. That the memory of our Servants of God should have survived at all under these particularly unfavorable circumstances demonstrates a special care of Divine Providence.

On the Iberian Peninsula at this time in history, the Catholic Church was the object of attack and repression. Catholic scholarship was hampered by the prevailing Rationalism which, originating in France in the wake of the Napoleonic era, affected in a notable degree the neighboring countries, Italy and Spain. The Christian heroes of the past centuries, noted as the age of extraordinary missionary expansion, were eclipsed and all but forgotten. In the New World also, precisely in the territories where during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Spain had endeavored to build a new Christian civilization among the native peoples, revolutions convulsed the body politic. Spain's hegemony in North America slipped from her enfeebled grasp, to be taken over by her great rival, England. Even where their memory was not deliberately destroyed, in the new social atmosphere many of the Catholic foundations laid out in the previous period were weakened and destroyed. Such was the case with the once-flourishing Florida missions. Under the English domination – which shortly gave way to the not dissimilar American spirit following the Independence War of the later 1770's – the missions were completely ignored as the force which had brought civilization, a Christian civilization, to the area.

This confluence of many adverse circumstances was bound to affect the awareness of the faithful, in both Europe and the New World, as to the Catholic heritage of the land once known as La Florida and now called Georgia in honor of an English King. This wave of history helps to explain why several generations of Catholics failed to be informed and inspired by the events which had accompanied the life of the Church in the previous centuries.

Yet there were sporadic and significant signs that the sacrifice of the Martyrs in colonial Florida-Georgia was not wholly forgotten. Even during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the memory of the Five Martyrs of Georgia was not entirely lost. While it may not have flourished, there are evidences that an awareness of their sacrifice in 1597 remained alive. A look at the following publications will show that there remained a true conviction that the Church in time would recognize the sacrifice made by these Heralds of the Great King, who in the very infancy of the Church in the Southeast of the United States had given their lives for His teachings and His Law.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

01 - Fr. Francisco de S. Nicolas Serrate. Compendio Histórico de los Santos y Venerabiles de la Descalzes Serafica. Sevilla, 1729. Pp. 92-94.

The author gives a summary of the lives and of the slaying of the Five Martyrs, with special reference to Fray Blas Rodríguez and Fray Antonio de Badajoz. He perpetuates the mistaken name of Fray Pedro Velasco instead of Fray Francisco de Veráscola. The date assigned for the martyrdom is September 8.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

02 - Fr. Sigismondo da Venezia. Biografia Seráfica degli Uomini Illustri que fiorirono nel Francescano Instituto. Venezia, 1846. P. 536.

A brief retelling of the story of the martyrdom which correctly identifies all the victims with the exception of Fray Francisco de Veráscola, who is called Fray Pietro de Velasco. The date assigned is the birth-date of the Virgin, September 8.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

03 - (Anonymous). Seraphisces Martyrologium, Salzburg, 1860. P. 412.

A martyrology in the vernacular, seemingly intended for the use of pious lay people, tells, under the date of November 22, the story of the sacrifice of the Martyrs. Four of the Martyrs are correctly identified, while Fray Francisco de Veráscola is called Fray Petrus von Velasco. The date assigned for the slaying is November 22.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

04 - P. Marcellino da Civezza. Operazione dei Frati Minori circa la Propagazione della Fede. Roma. 1861. Pp. 42-43.

In a lengthy communication from Fr. Panfilo da Magliano (dated October 9, 1861) reproduced in its entirety, the surnames of the Five Martyrs are correctly listed (the given, or first, names are not used). Details of the several slayings are presented, including the place-names (Tolomato, Tupiqui, Guale and Asao ). The impression is created that the author of the letter which Civezza reproduces had been informed of these details by someone who was conducting research in the matter from the perusal of documents contemporary with the event. The whole story is put in a historical context which details the earlier history of La Florida, as well as the events following the slaying of the Martyrs. He mentions the conditions in Florida at the time of the letter itself.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

05 - A Poor Clare Nun and Fr. Panfilo da Magliano. The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi and a Sketch of the Franciscan Order. New York, 1867. P. 572.

A brief paragraph recounts the martyrdom of 1597 and mentions all five of the martyrs, using only their surnames. A mistaken impression may arise from the opening line of the paragraph which highlights the city of St. Augustine. The place-names of Tupiqui, the Island of Guale and Asao are given.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

06 - Paul Guérin (Director). La Palmier Seraphique ou Vie des Saints et des Hommes et Femmes Illustres des Ordens de Saint François. (Mois de Septembre; Tome Neuvieme). Bar-le-Duc, 1873. Pp. 125-131.

Within an historical setting of early Florida history, with a text based primarily on Daza's Chronica de la Provincia de Saint-Gabriel, the article gives a satisfactorily accurate picture of the events of the martyrdom. Properly identified by name are the Five Martyrs. Except in the case of the martyrdom of Fray Miguel and Fray Antonio, the scenes of the several slayings are correctly identified by name. The incorrect date of September 8 given by Daza is repeated for the slaying of Fray Pedro de Corpa, with the other deaths vaguely assigned to other days in September and October.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

07 - P. Arturus a Monasterio. Martyrologium Franciscanum. Venetiis, 1879.

In this third edition of the Martyrologium of Arturus, the story of the martyrdom is recounted under date of September 8. First published in 1638, with a second edition in 1653, the work had been intended primarily for choral usage; for this reason the extensive historical notes which increased the bulk in the previous editions have in this edition been eliminated, The text of the proclamation is identical with the two previous editions, perpetuating the mistaken notion that all the Five Martyrs were slain on the one day, September 8. The place indicated is a vague reference to Florida. Still misleading is the detail that the mode of death was the use of bows and arrows. This third edition dispenses with the lengthy and voluminous commentary and citations from other sources, making it more convenient for use in the choral recitation of the Divine Office. Recently a new edition was published in Paris in 1953.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

08 - John Gilmary Shea. The Catholic Church in Colonial Days. New York, 1886. Pp. 152-155.

Evidencing his work with the original sources of the history of the Catholic Church in the early days of America's growth, the "Dean of American Church History" reveals a surprisingly accurate knowledge of the slaying of the Florida Martyrs. Though still mistaken in some minor details, Shea accurately identifies the Five Martyrs and the time of the successive slayings. Confused by the custom of bringing with them the place-names of their former locations as the Indians relocated their mission-sites, Shea yet gives evidence of using all available sources to determine the true site of the several slayings. Shea's account is not very far from a perfectly accurate retelling of the events of September of 1597.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

09 - P. Peter Paul Ausserer, O.S.F. Seraphisches Martyrologium. Salzburg, 1889. P. 976.

Under date of November 22, the author lists five martyrs who died in Florida in I 597, correctly identifying all but Fray Francisco de Veráscola; in his place he names Petrus von Velasco. The implication that all five died on the one day (November 22) shows that none of the then-recent corrections had come to his attention.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

l0 - P. Marcellino da Civezza. Storia Universale delle Missioni Francescane (Vol. VII, Parte 11). Prato, 1891. Pp. 490-493.

In his notable work on the Franciscan Missions, Civezza published the fruit of a lifetime of research. In telling the story of the Spanish Friars' Florida Mission, he gives due prominence to the story of the Martyrdom of 1597. Identifying correctly the Five Martyrs, he cites details of their separate tortures and deaths, generally describing the particulars of time and place. In one instance he identifies Blas Rodríguez with Blas de Monte, as indeed do some of the chroniclers whom he cites. There is also confusion as to the location of some of the missions. This confusion results from the fact that when the missions were moved from their original location, they brought to their new site their original name.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

11 - P. Bonaventura Hammer. Die Franciscaner in den Vereinigten Staaten Nordamerica's. Köln, 1892. Pp. 17-18.

Written by a friar of an American Province, this popular account of Franciscan history in the United States devotes a one-paragraph retelling to the 1597 martyrdom. Using only a toponymic designation for the Five Martyrs, the author correctly mentions four of the five, erring in calling the fifth Velasco instead of Veráscola. He likewise errs in identifying Badajoz as a priest. Also erroneous is his placing the martyrdom of Corpa in San Agustin – a mistake resulting from the relocation of that mission from its original site in Guale as the effect of the pressure from the English along the seacoast.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

12 - F[rederick] G. Holweck. "An American Martyrology." The Catholic Historical Review. No 4 (January, 1921) P. 511.

In this well-intentioned effort – covering twenty-one pages – to gather into one collection the names of those who some day may be raised to the honors of the altar, the late Monsignor Holweck presented the story of the Five Martyrs. The author does, however, err in locating Tolomato, Tupiqui and Asopo (sites of the martyrdom of three of the Five Martyrs) in the vicinity of San Agustin; it was only decades later that the missions for the Guales were moved to that safer area. The martyrology also errs in including as a victim of the 1597 Revolt a sixth friar, Fray Juan de Silva. Holweck cites as one of his sources the list in the (old) Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol. X, p. 390) naming the missionaries who from the earliest years of the history of our country gave their lives while preaching the Gospel. In that list, compiled by the renowned American ethnologist, James Mooney, the five Franciscan Martyrs are correctly listed (with the relatively minor error that Veráscola is called Velasco.)

Chief chronicles and other historical records

13 - Stanislaus Melchiorri de Cerreto, O.F.M. Annales Minorum. Tomus XXIII (1591-1600), P. 293. Quaracchi, 1934.

In this modern reprinting of Vol. XXIII ( originally issued in 1880), the continuator of the Wadding opus magnum under the year 1597, records the slaying of the Five Martyrs. The account names only four victims, and one of them so named is in reality not a victim and, in fact, seems never to have been a missionary in La Florida. Those correctly included are Pedro de Corpa, Miguel de Añon, and Antonio de Badajoz; the non-martyr is Pedro de Velasco. The two genuine martyrs whose names are missing are Blas Rodríguez and Francisco de Veráscola. Under the year 1595, however, the Annales had recorded the death of Fray Blas Rodríguez, further confusing him with Fray Blas de Monte. The name of Fray Pedro de Velasco is not found in any contemporary Florida document. This account further errs in assigning as the time of the slaying "midnight of the feast of the Lord's Nativity," though allowing that September 8 is also cited. The implication is that all of the victims were killed at the one place and on the same day, being crucified and shot with arrows. The name of Francisco de Veráscola is missing completely from the account in the Annales unless we assume that Pedro de Velasco is an erroneous form of his name as found in some previous account.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

14 - Fr. Diomede Pohlkamp. "Spanish Franciscans in the Southeast" Report of the Eighteenth Annual Meeting of the Franciscan Educational Conference, Washington, 1936. Pp. 129-131.

In the context of the apostolic effort carried out in La Florida (now the State of Florida, Georgia and part of South Carolina), the paper read at the 1936 meeting of the Franciscan Educational Conference held in Santa Barbara, California, obviously would include an account of the Revolt of 1597. With an exact chronology finally established, and a definitive list of the friars working at that time in the mission of La Florida available to researchers, the recounting of the Revolt of 1597 is a wholly satisfactory synopsis of the event. With certain slight reservations as to the dating of some of the action described, this is now a definitive record. This scholarly summary has been instrumental in incentivating the Process looking to the Canonization of the Five Martyrs. At the same 1936 Meeting of the Franciscan Educational Conference, another paper, by Fr. Marion Habig (who was to become a zealous promoter of the Cause for the Canonization of the many Franciscans slain in defense of the Faith) included an extensive reference to the Martyrs of Georgia (P. 308). Among the Resolutions put to a vote by the assembled Conference was one (no. 14) which expressed the hope that "at least some of these martyrs may be raised to the honor of the altar." The Cause of the Five Martyrs of Georgia was inaugurated in the early I 950's.

Chief chronicles and other historical records

15 - P. Arturus a Monasterio; PP. Ignatius Beschin et Julianus Palazzolo. Martyrologium Franciscanum Roma, 1938. Pp. 356-357, 359-360, 361-363.

In the traditional style for such works, the latest edition of the Martyrologium Franciscanum embodies the results of contemporary studies and investigations carried out in Spain and the United States. These studies have served to clarify and to establish the details of the martyrdom. The dates assigned for the three individual and one double slayings correspond to the now-clarified chronology (with the possibly questionable exception in the case of Veráscola on September 15). An Italian copy of the 1938 edition of the official Latin Martyrologium was issued in 1946, printed by the Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, which omits the citation of sources. It is a somewhat abbreviated version, omitting the footnotes and including in the main text of each entry the year of death, which in the original Latin version appears in the footnote of sources for each entry.

”Rule of l221," ch. 16:10-11, in The Writings of Saint Francis, trans. Ignatius Brady (Assisi: Edizioni Porziuncola, 1983) 77. Henceforth, Brady.

St. Bonaventure, Major Life of St. Francis, chap. 12: I, trans. Benen Fahy in Marion A. Habig (ed.), St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Francis, 4lh rev. ed. (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983), 721. Cited henceforth as Omnibus.

Ibid., chap. 3:1, pp. 646-47.

Thomas of Celano, The First Life of St. Francis, chap. JO: 29, trans. Placid Hermann in Omnibus, 247.

Ibid., chap. I 5, p. 258.

Bonaventure, Major Life, chap. 9:5, in Omnibus, 701.

St. Francis, "Letter Addressed to the Whole Order," in Brady, 121.

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The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

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