National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, Florida

On September 8, 1565, five Spanish ships landed on the coast of modern-day St. Augustine, Florida, then known to the Spanish as La Florida. Under the command of Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, 600 Spanish colonizers sought to establish a permanent settlement for the Spanish Crown in North America.

After disembarking, the crew, settlers, Menéndez, and the expedition’s priest, Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, celebrated the first recorded Catholic mass on North American soil.

In 1577, the first shrine to the Holy Virgin was built where Lopez conducted mass. Then, in 1677, a stone church was constructed—the first built in what was to become the United States. 

Today, the modern shrine is known as the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre De Dios and dates back to 1915. In 1966, a large, 208-foot-tall cross was also erected at the site, one of the tallest free-standing crosses in the world. 

Every year, many pilgrims and visitors come to the site once hailed by President John F. Kennedy as the “most sacred acre in America.” 


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