Is it a sign — a final warning — that much of the nation’s oldest Marian shrine — site of the first documented Mass in North America and the world’s tallest Cross — has temporarily closed?
I found this out yesterday in going there to pray and present to the museum the new book, Where The Cross Stands — which centers on this shrine, signs of the times, and the future of America. I had heard there was some damage to the shrine during Hurricane Matthew — that cyclone that threatened to become a category-five, that on radar resembled a skull, that had sent floodwaters through the downtown, including the cathedral — but I had no idea that the main part of the shrine, the oldest sector with the Cross and chapel, was no longer accessible by land.
The nation’s oldest shrine largely barricaded, including all means of getting on land to the Cross. Repairs are underway.
I boarded a kayak to enter by water on the inlet and stepping ashore — the only means of entry — noted some roof damage to the rarefied, antique chapel there, though this tiny sanctuary, housing the most famous image of Our of La Leche (“Our Lady of the Milk,” showing Mary nursing Jesus), remains largely intact. So does an archaeological spot where the first church in America stood. I was there alone.
The large gift shop, which serves as an entrance to the ground, has been condemned (temporarily housed now in a trailer), and a bridge that serves as the other means of entry onto the older part of the shrine is barricaded. It was lifted by the floodwaters and settled back down in a way that’s apparently too dangerous.
The museum, built much more recently, as well as the new, main church, remain totally intact — with their own anointing.
The power of this place is palpable.
This is the spot where Mass was celebrated (by Father Francisco Lopez) in 1565 (seven decades before the Puritans landed at Plymouth) and where a wood Cross was first planted in the earth on the feast day of St. Augustine (while the admiral of the fleet, Pedro Menendez — a devout Catholic — set foot on land on September 8, in commemoration of Our Lady’s birthday).
This is the true history of the United States as we now know it.
It is a spot that has weathered various maelstroms. It seems destined to weather more. Since 1615, when the first known church was built here, it already had been destroyed or severely damaged three times by war, pirates, and storm.
But there was a different kind of feeling with it, this time, at this point — this stormy, turbulent point — in U.S. history.
There are relics. There are bishops’ vestments from olden times. There are oldest statues that emanate the grace of Mary and the Power of Jesus, all in the “Name of God” (the actual title of this shrine). There is a newer, huge statue of the Blessed Mother of the Milk. St. Augustine produced America’s first seminarians and was the site of the first Confirmations, as well as regular Eucharist.
Please visit this place. And if you can, please help it.
The statue of Father Lopez also has survived, just feet away from a seawall that is not much more than a gaggle of large cement slabs skewed by the storm. A narrow escape. A smaller bridge near him is also barricaded near the inlet where those first European boats arrived. Nearby, a cannon sounds from the Ponce de Leon Museum.
It is a must-visit, must-pray-there spot, this site that is not only important to Catholics but to all of America — this spot where America was first established as the nation it would become (or should be).
What does it mean — the damage, which swept by last October 6, barely missing landfall, as the perhaps most potent hurricane to affect northeast Florida since 1898?
It is too coincidental. It is too symbolic of our times. It is too obvious not to be some kind of indicator, and also a beacon back: to the faith and active Catholicism and standing up for the Christianity that is at the root of our nation.
I need say little further. The book details many more observations and facts, about our entire nation, about the evil that rose through the centuries and decades, about the revelations and alleged messages from Mary in various places that pertain to our time.
It was damaged, so symbolically, this shrine, but the fact is that the Cross still stands, with no damage itself, and inside the main church Our Lady is still above the altar, where the Blessed Sacrament, exposed each afternoon, remains aglow in the glint of reflection, a beacon to America to no longer waste time, to (hurriedly): come back.
— Michael H. Brown
[resources: Where The Cross Stands]
[March retreat in Atlanta]
[Michael Brown Special Reports]