Did you know that the Catholic Church has a history in this part of the world that goes back to the 1500s?
Or that the nation’s oldest book was written in Georgia? (It was a Catechism in the language of one of our lost tribes of native Georgians!)
Or that (arguably) the first documented baptism in the U.S. took place in what is now Georgia?
If you didn't, you're not alone! History books tend to brush over the area's Spanish heritage, often treating it as something of a backstory for the English founding of the colony of Georgia.
Once upon a time there were dozens of Franciscan missions up and down the Georgia coast.
In some cases, these missions were already 100 years old (or more!) when the Spanish missionaries began to establish their missions on the west coast of California.
This map attempts to chart the approximate locations of the four mission churches that are pertinent to our story of the Five Georgia Martyrs.
The exact location of the Mission of Santa Catalina is known, but as it is an ongoing archeological dig, the site is not open to the public. The exact locations of the other missions are not, to our knowledge, known.
Friar Luis Geronimo de Oré (a Peruvian Franciscan friar) recorded that on September 1597, the friar assigned to the mission of Tolomato (near Eulonia, Georgia) did not allow a baptized Guale man to take a second wife. Juanillo, who was the heir to a Guale chiefdom, opposed Friar Pedro de Corpa’s fidelity to Christian teaching on marriage and killed him on September 14th, 1597. Juanillo and the men he assembled continued to the other missions to kill all the friars.
Before arriving on Saint Catherines Island, Juanillo ordered the chief of the island to execute the two friars stationed there, Friar Miguel de Añon and Friar Antonio de Badajoz. Unwilling to carry out the order, the chief begged the friars to flee south to the mission on San Pedro Island (present day Cumberland Island), but the friars refused to believe the rumors of coming murder. Once Juanillo and his men reached Saint Catherines, the two friars were brutally killed after they prayed fervently inside the mission, today marked by twelve palm trees.
The Guale men also killed Friar Blas de Rodríguez near Darien and Friar Francisco de Veráscola as he returned by canoe from Saint Augustine to his mission on present-day Saint Simons Island.
A sixth friar, Francisco de Avila, was kidnapped and experienced horrible tortures until he was liberated months later.
The Martyrs' Prayer
O Lord Jesus Christ, reward the apostolic zeal of Friar Pedro de Corpa and his four companion friars, Blas, Miguel, Antonio and Francisco, who labored for the spiritual well-being of the native Guale people of Georgia and gave their lives in witness to the Christian faith.
Through their merits and intercession graciously grant the favor I humbly ask of You, so that, for the glory of Your Name, their heroic sacrifice may be officially recognized by the Church. Amen.