A Student of History

May 14, 2007

Spanish Martyrs for Virginia

Filed under: Early America,The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 7:38 pm

When I was a kid growing up in Virginia, I was always intrigued by the story of the Spanish mission near Yorktown.  Probably because of the English success in Virginia, as opposed to the Spanish lasting but a few years, along with a healthy dose of anti-Catholicism within the very “reformed” state as far as what gets taught and celebrated in the Old Dominion’s history lessons, the friars’ story gets short shrift.  Granted there is a historocal marker nearby, and the evidence is not as overflowing as that with regard to John Smith, Jamestown, and the Indians.

I have recently run across an an article that is 4 years old, but is a detailed account of the Spanish in Virginia in the 15th century by Matthew Anger.  It looks like he wrote the piece after some renewed interst in the mission in 2002, and I quote here the first few paragraphs of his lengthy article:

In 2002, the Diocese of Richmond opened the cause for the canonization of the Spanish Jesuit Martyrs of Virginia. This has renewed interest in the fascinating, almost fantastic, tale of a lost Spanish colony in Virginia and the men who died trying to convert the Ajacan Indians. In 1571, Fr. Segura and his seven companions were killed by hostile tribesmen at the St. Mary’s mission sited on Virginia’s Lower Peninsula, near the Chesapeake Bay. This was close to the spot where the English would permanently settle just thirty years later. Fr. Russell E. Smith is the postulator for the martyrs’ canonization and a judge with the diocesan tribunal. Fr. Smith learned about the Jesuit settlement while growing up in historic Williamsburg, Virginia and as a priest he took up the matter with the postulator general for the Society of Jesus, in Rome. The Virginia Historical Society and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities have also lent their scholarly support for evidence of the Spanish mission. Meanwhile, the Richmond diocese has designated St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in New Kent County as the new Shrine of the Jesuit Martyrs.

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