Digging up the oldest church in the nation

Raphael Cosme reported to Historic City News that Archaeologist Kathleen Deagan and her team are excavating a section of grounds at the Mission of Nombre De Dios that could be the exact location where the oldest church in the nation once stood.

“This is an important find,” Deagan said. “Last summer, some of the church’s stones showed up near the surface, and then we rescued a 17th century kaolin pipe fragment at the site.”

Throughout the last four decades, in collaboration with the Florida Museum of Natural History, Deagan has followed her instincts. If she is right this time, she has found the first stone church in the United States; certainly, the largest church in Florida during the 17th century.

“We went deep, with a pit three by three meters, and found a section of the church foundation,” Degan said. “The team is opening it up, where the dividing interior walls meet the outer foundation, to try and better understand how it was constructed and when it was built.”

The artifacts already recovered at the dig say that the building existed somewhere between the late 17th and early 18th century.

Degan believes that her team has discovered the foundation of one-of-two possible churches.

First, we know that in 1677, the governor of Florida ordered a stone church built in St Augustine to honor Nuestra Señora de la Leche. This may be the foundation.

Second, we know the mission church was burned by the English in 1702. Degan’s team may have located the foundation of the church that was rebuilt after the English invasion.

Degan says she is confident that the structure discovered dates somewhere within that very short time period — between 1677 and 1702.

“This could have been built before the 1702 church,” Degan said. “At this point, we’re just gathering information to put together a larger project.”

Photos and article contributed by Raphael Cosme

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