Sunday, January 20, 2013

January 20, 2013

Revision in the Nation's Oldest City
(Originally posted 21 Aug 2012)

(I’ve added notes and current thoughts relevant to the topic).

I have mentioned many times throughout this blog that I am particularly driven to remember and honor the French Protestants killed near St. Augustine, Florida, in September and October 1565. It is my “calling,” a cause I feel I was chosen to uphold, and I think often of what I can do to keep these men’s memories alive. The Matanzas massacre is a story not very often told. Many might think it insignificant, but I personally feel it was a huge part of early American history and an invaluable reminder of the necessity of religious freedom.

While looking for references about the Huguenots of Matanzas, I came across an online book called “The Catholic Church in the United States of America,” which mentioned St. Augustine founder Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. It has always bothered me how I see terms like “the Matanzas massacre revised” and “rethinking the Matanzas massacre.’ It is as if people seek to diminish the horror. This particular book said of Menéndez: “There is but one blot on his fame, that of the Matanzas massacre, nor is the shame of it palliated when it is ascribed, not to fanaticism or bigotry, but to the reasons assigned by his master – the desire not to risk his own people. If this was, indeed, his motive, it was a worthy one.”

Stop there. This is, sadly, a sentiment I have heard before, that the massacre was “justified” if it was done so that the Spaniards would not starve. They apparently could not risk ‘more mouths to feed.’ Yet even by the cruel standards of 1565, slaughtering Frenchmen because they were a “burden” was not “worthy.” The author went on to say that he does not believe it was done purely for self-preservation, but then continued, “But we must not allow our judgment to be so outraged by this cold-blooded murder as to blind us to his {Menéndez’s} signal merits . . .”

If he had shown remorse, asked forgiveness, expressed regret, I agree. But he never did. It seems that some are desperate to prove the Matanzas massacre was not a religious martyrdom, even though there are various letters (from Menéndez himself and from his chroniclers, including Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales) that clearly state it was done for religious reasons. ‘Evil sect’ is but one way these men referred to the Huguenots’ Protestant faith. I have never understood why I feel so strongly about the 245 Frenchmen slaughtered fourteen miles from St. Augustine. I have been visiting the city for over a decade; it is deep in my heart and soul, and I have stood at the spot where the men were killed. I cannot bear to hear people justifying, revising, re-editing.

There are three things about the Matanzas story that bother me *immensely* for reasons even I don’t completely understand.

-          Firstly, while I love visiting the Mission Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine, I find it disturbing when specific emphasis is made that this is where Christianity in America began. This is where the Catholic Church began. I feel as if many modern-day folk might be inclined to forget that the only reason this particular denomination was here “first” was because the Protestants in the vicinity were stripped of their lives. No mention or restitution is made of this.

-          The men who are today so inadequately remembered are often vilified in writings and in private sentiment. One example is a “William and Mary Quarterly” article titled “Borderland or Border-sea? Placing Early Florida” by Amy Turner Bushnell. One sentence states in part, “. . . the alchemy of propaganda converted the corsairs killed at Matanzas into Calvinist martyrs.” That, to me, smacks of vilifying the dead. They weren’t perfect . . . they probably had done things less than pleasant. But why would they have to be “converted to martyrs”? They were martyrs. They refused to recant and were killed. One particular point in which this bothers me is the recent attention given to Catholic priests who were martyred in St. Augustine in the early years of the 18th century. I am very certain that those who honor and cherish these men’s memories would not be very happy to have the priests’ very martyrdom questioned, or to hear that it should be swept under the rug. Why is it all right to treat the Huguenots in such a way? Are they somehow less important?

-          So many events, good and bad, are commemorated in St. Augustine … Civil Rights buildings, Native American burial sites, lots once blackened by pirate attacks. Why is it so important to commemorate every historic and religious event in the city’s past except the one in which over two hundred men were killed for their beliefs and for flying the French flag? Why is it so important to remember everyone else but does not matter if these men were slaughtered? Why is it almost a sort of dirty “joke” that such things happened, such as a video I once saw where a costumed reenactor dressed in 18th century Spanish garb said, “another Protestant bites the dust”?

These are things I can never reconcile.

(c) 2013 Joyously Saved

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