St. Augustine’s Huguenot Cemetery and the Real “Huguenot Cemetery”
Time again for another virtual trip to St. Augustine, Florida, a veritable wonderland for a history buff like me but a sad trek for anyone looking for Protestant history . . . there is little to be found here. Save for twenty-one years of British rule, St. Augustine was Spanish and thus Catholic from 1565 to 1821. Protestants were buried (“unceremoniously,” as trolley tour guides ruefully admit) on the adjacent island, and any non-Catholics who ended up passing through St. Augustine were treated with suspicion if not downright vitriol.
There are two Huguenot burial grounds in or near the Nation’s Oldest City. One is an actual cemetery but has only been given the name “Huguenot” to intrigue tourists --- no such people are actually buried there. The other is not a “cemetery” per se but is the actual resting place of the 245 French Protestants killed in September and October 1565.
The Huguenot Cemetery’s official name for many years was simply the “Protestant cemetery” or the “public burial ground.” It was created in 1821 when an influx of Northerners fell to a Yellow Fever epidemic. By the time it came into being, Northerners had long associated “Protestant” with “Huguenot,” as the Huguenots killed fourteen miles south were best known for their Protestant faith. Thus the burial ground soon became known as the “Huguenot Cemetery,” probably to enhance tourism brochures. In the 1950s cedar trees were planted inside the walls to honor the memory of the Huguenot martyrs.
As to the second place, the location of the actual Huguenot “cemetery” at Matanzas Inlet is unknown. Some think it will simply be uncovered someday after a hurricane or a particularly virulent squall. No one is entirely sure where the Huguenot martyrs were buried or if they were even afforded that respect. If they were, somewhere on the beaches of Matanzas there lie the remains of nearly 250 men who have been mostly ignored for 450 years. I have been to this area twice and have noted a “feeling,” a somber, isolated sense of grief and despair that is difficult to explain.
As so many places in America, especially English-founded, have Protestant origins, it is intriguing to learn that the Nation’s Oldest City had anything but.
(c) 2012 Joyously Saved