St Augustine 450th Party

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Ponce points to Spain as Emmylou and Rodney entertain the crowd.

Ponce Lights Up The Night

It was billed as one of the greatest celebrations St Augustine has ever seen. This weekend proved its point as St Augustine celebrated the 450th Anniversary of the founding of St Augustine.

In 1565 when the king of Spain sent Don Pedro Menendez de Avilés to reclaim the land from France, Menendez and his men landed on the shore and founded what was to become the first continually occupied settlement of European and African-American origin in the United States.

Fr Willis speaks at the press conference.

Fr Willis speaks at the press conference.

Upon his decent, Menendez landed on the shore with four
Catholic priests. Father López de Mendoza Grajales held out a wooden cross, Menendez bent down and kissed the cross and the first Catholic mass was celebrated on what is now the Mission Nombre de Dios. A symbol of faith, the site of the great cross sits on the very site the first Catholic parish was established.

“We are honored and look forward to continue to do the work established by Christ,” said Father Tom Willis, priest of the Cathedral Basilica, as he shared the plans for the week. “Our celebration takes place on the anniversary itself (Sept 8)” continued Fr. Willis. “A reenactment of the landing of Menendez will take place at the foot of the great cross. A grand procession with religious and civic dignitaries will follow to the Cathedral for the 11: o clock mass.”

Thousands crowded the bay front and perused the streets of St Augustine during the celebration last weekend enjoying the music, the art, the food and the history of the town. While reenactors sauntered throughout the town, taking photos with visitors and playing their part in history, The St Augustine Art Association was in the process of the unveiling “Restless Hearts,” an eight foot commemorative painting, planned and created in honor of the 450th anniversary of St Augustine.


St Augustine celebrates 450th

Lisa O’Neil and “Restless Hearts”

Painted by Lisa O’Neil, the masterpiece depicts the first settlers as they struggle with transporting their most cherished church bell. The painting was created using models from St Augustine dressed in period costume. A highlight of the evening took place as the models came through the door of the gallery dressed in period dress and stood by the painting as Lisa shared her journey of creation. “It were as if the painting came to life,” stated one visitor to the gallery.

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Burrito Works Spencer keeps a smile for the customers.

The restaurants were jammed with people enjoying the tasty food and treats. Burrito Works on St George Street had a line out the door most of the day on Saturday. Spencer, an employee was on his toes all night long taking orders. “Business is going great,” he exclaimed, only stopping for a minute to smile for the camera. “It’s the busiest we have been all year!”

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Nate Elman and family enjoy the festivities.

Nate Elman came down from Jacksonville with his family and friends. “Seeing all these St Augustine business doing so well is great to see,” Elman said as he waited for his food with his family. “It is even better than the music, seeing them do so well.”

As musicians shared their talents on the various stages throughout the town, thousands came to rest on the “natural amphitheater” using the closed Bridge of Lions for the audience. With the statue of Ponce de Leon lit up behind the stage, the musicians put on a show of celebration while people danced and sang along to the music. For two nights the music played with world renowned acts. People Helping People Gospel Community Choir, Mavis Staples and The Neville Brothers, kicked it out on Friday night to thousands along the bay front and Saturday welcomed more bands and many, many more people.

JJ grey and Mofo keep the crowd on their feet.

JJ Grey and Mofro keep the crowd on their feet.

The shuttle system seemed to be doing the job, easing the parking situation and closing down the bridge to use for the audience with the main stage facing the water was a streak of genius. The slope of the bridge gave everyone a great view and the big screen helped those in the back see the artist up close and personal.

The weather Saturday night was perfect, keeping everyone cool as a slight breeze blew off the ocean. With Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, Justin Townes Earle and JJ Grey & Mofro the crowd just kept on growing and kept on swinging, singing and jammin’ along with the music.

Grammy winners and music legends, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell wrapped up the evening with the cool sound of country. Their sweet harmony and simple style was just what the evening needed to bring it down to Earth as the crowd waited in anticipation for the big firework spectacular. And what a spectacular show it was.

People lined the bridge and the bay front when the announcement came over the speakers at the start of “Fireworks over the Matanzas 450”. At close to 11pm, the harbor was inundated with “bombs bursting in air’ while the audience watched this specially choreographed 450th show. When the numbers 4-5-0 burst into the sky the crowd went wild and for close to 30 minutes this weekend celebration ended with a bang.

For the 450th celebration the downtown was hopping. Thanks to The St Augustine Police Dept and to The St Augustine Amphitheater for keeping us entertained but most of all for keeping us safe. This celebration was a true community event. The citizens came out in droves and visitors came to celebrate right along with us. It was a weekend to feel proud as we continue this amazing settlement-St Augustine. Happy 450th St Augustine may your history continue for many more years to come.

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The 450th celebration continues with a cake cutting and music in the plaza on Monday and the processional Menéndez Landing Reenactment Celebration at the Mission Nombre de Dios followed by the 450th Procession and ending with a Commemorative Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustin.

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