Volume V - Nos. 2 & 3
AMERICA'S OLDEST RECORD?
A Baptismal Entry of 1594
BY ALBERT MANUCY,
It was a ceremonious landing on that day 375 years ago when Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés set foot on Florida soil at Saint Augustine. Chaplain Mendoza said the first mass of record in this country, Avilés read his patent before the assembled company of soldiers and Indians, and then, as the explorer Pence de León had done nearby in 1513, he claimed the sunny land for Spain. That was September 8, 1565.
With ecclesiastical pomp and ceremony, La Fiesta Grande was celebrated this September at the outworks of old Castillo de San Marcos, now Fort Marion National Monument, in commemoration of that first mass and of the birth of America's oldest city. Combined was the observance of a day of prayer set aside by Presidential proclamation "for beseeching the Ruler of the Universe to bless our Republic, to make us reverently grateful for our heritage and firm in its defense, and to grant to this land and to the troubled world a righteous peace."
Of special religious and historical interest during a three-day program, attended by a long list of Catholic dignitaries from throughout the nation, was the transcription and translation by the Service of what appears to be the oldest European original manuscript that is both native to and on deposit in any archives of this country. It is the earliest of the extant records for the Catholic Parish of Saint Augustine, a baptismal entry dated June 25, 1594. Earlier records appear to have been lost, due probably to such unfortunate incidents as Francis Drake's visit in 1586 when virtually the entire settlement was looted and burned. The 1594 baptismal sheet was originally about 8 x 10 inches in size. It is somewhat smaller today be cause of the ravages of insects, the passage of nearly three and a half centuries, and long handling. The transcription and translation of the entry follow:
With slight variations, virtually all the baptismal entries employ the same literary formula. In 1594 Saint Augustine was a tiny settlement of not more than 300 or so souls, but the records indicate that these few inhabitants were a prolific people. From June to November there were six infant baptisms: four girls, María, Agustina, Francisca, and Isabel; and two boys, Antonio and Mateo. As shown in the transcription, the young lady with the distinction of the first recorded baptism was María Ximénes, daughter of Señor Ximénes de la Queba and Señora María Menéndez.
1Sixteen volumes of the parish records were recently treated by the National Archives to assure their preservation. The process was simple, though tedious: after cleaning, each sheet was laminated between transparent sheets of acetate. Photostatic copies were made.
2Emendation where manuscript is damaged.
3Title of respect.
4A sacred oil.
5The Spanish abbreviation in obscure, but probably signifies Christianos.
6No punctuation or capitalization has been supplied.
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