Witnesses to the Truth: The Remains of the Servants of God

The Remains of Fray Blas

At dawn on the morning of November 5 at the Governor's orders, a detail of soldiers set out for Tupiqui. At the doctrina in that native village Fray Blas Rodriguez, missionary in La Florida since 1590, according to information received in San Agustin had been slain in the uprising.

The exact location of Tupiqui is a subject now being studied and debated. Believed to have been in the vicinity of the present-day town of Eulonia, Georgia, the mission is reliably thought to have been situated on the banks of the Sapelo River, some fifteen or more miles north of Tolomato.

Both Tupiqui and Tolomato had been the scenes of Franciscan missionary activity for some years. In these two missions there was a small but encouraging number of baptized converts, who were not strangers to the taunts and' persecution of their more numerous pagan neighbors. The relative proximity of Tupiqui to Tolomato made it possible, and even easy, for the two friars in charge of these two neighboring missions – Fray Blas in Tupiqui and Fray Pedro in Tolomato – to meet regularly for mutual support and fraternal counsel. Even easier was it for the natives – children of the forest, accustomed to life in the wilderness – to traverse the marshy land that lay between these two outposts of the Franciscan apostolate.

According to the information which had reached Méndez de Canzo in San Agustin, the missionary in charge ofTupiqui had been killed in the general uprising. Sweltering in their heavy protective clothing – a defense against the myriad mosquitoes in the swamps as much as against the surprise of an ambush – the soldiers set out for Tupiqui at daybreak on November 5. Leading them was Sargento Mayor Alonzo Diaz, who on the previous day had conducted the expedition to Guale (St. Catherines) Island.

After a trek of several hours through the subtropical forest, they arrived at the site of the mission. It was an appalling scene of destruction. The village was completely abandoned. The primitive chapel and the palm-thatched house of the friar were burned almost to the ground. So also were the council-house and the dwellings of the cacique and the people. In the devastated church the bloated body of Fray Blas was discovered in a shallow grave. Disinterred by the soldiers, the decomposing corpse presented a grisly record of the atrocity that had taken place some six or seven weeks earlier. The friar's head, still attached to the body, was proof of the horrible ending of his protracted torture. His skull had been shattered in three or four places, obviously with a stone hatchet. The soldiers reinterred the body in the same grave, for it was already in such a state of decomposition that to transport it to San Agustin was ruled out.

Obeying orders received from the Governor, the Sargento had his men put a torch to whatever huts were still standing in the village. Their depressing work completed, in the deepening darkness of that early November evening, the troop started back through the forest to the ship anchored off Tolomato. All that remained of the once-pleasant village of Tupiqui on the banks of the river were the smoldering heaps of the torched huts, and in the middle the ruins of the simple chapel.14

At the trial of certain natives suspected of complicity in the slaying of the friars – a trial which was held in San Agustin in the month of July following the Revolt – the principal suspect was the young brave named Lucas, the son of Don Felipe, the former cacique of Tupiqui. Having been present at the slaying of Fray Blas, he was able to give some details of the scene when his priest was killed. He told of the eight caciques who burst in upon the missionary at night. After the friar was tortured and killed, Lucas was present also at his burial in the church. It was there that, some seven weeks later, the soldiers had found his badly decomposed body.15

Oré says that at the time he was writing his Relación (completed seemingly about the year 1617) the whereabouts of Fray Blas' bones was unknown. The tradition which he then relates, namely that the body was buried in an unspecified place in the neighborhood of the mission of Tupiqui, can be reconciled with the earlier affirmation of Lucas and with the findings of the detachment of soldiers under Sargento Diaz. The village of Tupiqui, and along with it the mission church which was completely abandoned at the time of the soldiers' visit on November 5, was never revived. At a later date, an old man, piously mindful of all that Fray Blas had done for his people, and desirous of showing respect for the memory of the Servant of God, decided to remove the martyr's bones from the profaned ruins of what had once been the house of God. A more seemly last resting place would be the natural beauty and the pristine sanctity of the woods outside the village where he had given his life in witness to the teachings of Christ. The bones of the Servant of God were never recovered.16

Información juridica…, ed. Omaechevarría, MH 12 (1955): 309-10.

Proceso, ed. Omaechevarrîa, MH 12 (1955): 331.

Oré, ed. López, 1:95; Geiger, Martyrs, 76.

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Credits/External Links
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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