Rorate Caeli

460 years ago today

On July 19, 1549, a group of sailors accompanied by two Dominican friars, Gregorio de Beteta and Juan García, arrived near the fort-harbor of San Juan de Ulúa, in Veracruz, New Spain (Mexico). Those long-suffering men were the remnant of a glorious mission, and Brother Gregorio had a story to tell about the first martyrs of what would become the eastern United States.

In late Spring 1549, the Dominicans had left Veracruz under the leadership of Father Luis de Cancer de Barbastro, on a mission to take the Gospel to the restless Indians of the Florida Peninsula. After a brief stop in Havana, their ship, Santa Maria de la Encina, first landed near the entrance of Espíritu Santo Bay ("Holy Ghost", now known as Tampa Bay) in late June 1549. The friars were initially well-received by the natives (probably of the Timacuan tribe), but two were kidnapped, together with their interpreter, an Indian woman called Magdalena, who had come with them from New Spain.

A Spaniard who had remained captured in the Florida coast after the De Soto expedition was able to communicate to the missionaries that the captured friars had been killed. Father Luis de Cancer insisted, despite some resistance aboard, that the mission had to go on. Knowing that fresh water could be found inside Espíritu Santo, the ship captain entered the Bay. On June 24, Father Luis de Cancer and Father Juan García celebrated Masses on shore on the Feast of Corpus Christi

On June 26, Father Luis de Cancer went ashore by himself. Some Indians approached him; on his knees, he was grabbed by one, and hit on the head by another, as he spoke his last words: "Adjuva me, Domine". Their interpreter had betrayed them.

The three Dominicans were the protomartyrs of the eastern United States, and the Dominican protomartyrs of North America.

On June 28, 1549, the remainder of the mission returned to New Spain.


  1. Joe B8:55 PM

    I wonder where these martyrs are buried. I live here and would love to go there and pay homage. I'll have to check on that, although there is a good chance that nobody knows.

  2. These men would easily be Saints already if we didnt have the long bureaucratic canonization process.

    It's amazing that in the first millenium, in the martyrology, there are something like 10000 Saints, and from then (at least until John Paul II's large number) the ones canonized by Congregation number only around 500! And, of course, that leaves the newly discovered regions of the world with a dearth of Saints for us to call our own.

    That's what unsubsidiarity will do for you.

  3. Joe B3:07 PM

    There's a plaque commemorating Padre Cancer somewhere along Tampa Bay. The June 21 issue of the Christ the King church's on-line bulletin apparently gave the details, but it's no longer on line.


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