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St. Augustine’s Vice Mayor Raymond Connor, portraying Pedro Menendez de Aviles, reads a proclamation during the City’s 437th Birthday Celebration.
The City of St. Augustine celebrated its 437th birthday with longstanding tradition and fun filled entertainment on Saturday, September 7. While the City’s actual birthday is September 8, the official birthday celebration is held on the Saturday following Labor Day.
Founded in 1565 as a Spanish colony under the leadership of Pedro Menendez de Aviles, St. Augustine is commonly called the Nation’s Oldest City since it is the country’s longest continually inhabited city founded by Europeans.
The day’s events began in the same manner and at the same location as they did the day the city was founded. Historical accounts and archeological research indicate that the day began with the celebration of a Mass at the site of the Mission Nombre de Dios. The site is marked today with a 200 foot high cross, erected in 1965 to commemorate the city’s 400th birthday anniversary.
Starting at 9:45am with music, the Mass preceded a reenactment of the landing of Menendez accompanied by a contingent of soldiers and settlers portrayed by local re-enactors.
Each year, the organizers of the reenactment, members of the Catholic community, invite a leading citizen to portray Menendez. This year the role of Menendez was portrayed by Raymond Connor, St. Augustine’s Vice Mayor and a lifelong resident of the city.
After the arrival of Menendez, and the reading of a proclamation by Mark Alexander, Mayor of St. Augustine, there were remarks on the significance of the event by Ronnie Hughes, publisher of the St. Augustine Record.
The birthday celebration moved to the Plaza de la Constitucion at 7:00pm on Saturday evening for a 2-hour concert by Prince Pele’s Polynesian Revue and the ceremonial cutting of the community birthday cake by members of the city’s Royal Family.
During intermission, St. Augustine’s Royal Family lead the audience in singing Happy Birthday and then cut the birthday cake offering slices to the nearly 600 people in attendance. The Royal Family, representing the Spanish Royal Family in 1672, the year the Castillo de San Marcos was commissioned, is selected each year from heritage families in St. Augustine. This year's Royal Family is Nancy Louise Mickler as Queen Mariana; Jill Sherrie Wilson as Princess Margarita Maria; and Sterling Baker as the Boy-King Carlos.
As part of the reenactment of the City’s founding, Menendez (Connor) is greeted by Father Terrance Morgan, just as the real-life Menendez was greeted upon his landing on September 8, 1565 by St. Augustine’s first parish priest, Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales.