Like they did later in Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico, the Spanish used religious missions to control local lands and native populations throughout modern Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama. The main cities of Spanish colonization were in north Florida at the coastal cities of Tallahassee and Saint Augustine, with the majority of the missions in those areas. The missions of this region were divided into four provinces named Apalachee, Guale, Mayaca-Jororo and Timucua after the major Indian tribes in the colony. The total number of missions in Spanish Florida was around 100 with 69 in modern Florida, 19 in present-day Georgia, and a handful in Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi.
The missions thrived until the early 1700s when Queen Anne’s War and the War of Spanish Succession pitted England against Spain. In 1702 the British began to systematically attack the missions, and by 1704, nearly all were destroyed and their inhabitants killed or exiled.
The first mission in Florida and the US was the Mission of Nombre de Dios in Saint Augustine. The original site of the mission is marked by the 208 foot tall Great Cross. This is the approximate site where, in 1565, according to a plaque at the site, "the Cross of Christianity was first permanently planted in what is now the United States." The modern, somewhat obnoxious cross was built in 1965 by the local Diocese of St. Augustine to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of this mission and the city.
A plaque at the site reads:
MISSION NOMBRE DE DIOS
On this site, September 8th 1565, Pedro Menendez
de Aviles landed with a band of settlers to
found St. Augustine, first permanent Christian
settlement in the United States. Father
Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, Spanish
diocesan priest, offered here the first Mass
in the nation's first parish. The Spanish
pioneers named the landing site Nombre
de Dios - Name of God - and founded here the
first Mission in the United States.
St. Johns County Historical Commission
in cooperation with
Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials 1963
Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche is considered America's Most Sacred Acre.
There is a very large 208 ft Cross on the grounds. It is said to be the site of the founding of St. Augustine on Sept. 8, 1565.
The grounds are open from 7am-7pm. There is a gift shop that is open daily.
Some say its the first mission in the United States. Regardless it is a beautiful site on the north end of the city.
This 208 foot tall stainless steel Great cross rises from the site of America's first mass, over 400 years ago.