- Religion, Power, and Politics in Colonial St. Augustine
In studying the place of religion, power, and politics in colonial St. Augustine, Robert Kapitzke has restricted himself to the eighty-some years from 1680 to the end of the First Spanish Period. His rationale is the relative abundance of documentation beginning in 1680 compared to what is available prior to that year together with the reality he proposes that, until the decade of the 1670's, St. Augustine had failed to "develop as a distinct community apart from the military presidio." In reality his work is even more narrowly focused than that on the whole. After an introductory chapter on the "Religious Environment," four of the five remaining chapters cover exclusively or largely the twenty or so years after 1680 while the concluding chapter presents the sixty years after 1702.
In the first of those four chapters the author discusses the politics of religion, maintaining that "the institution of religion...also functioned as a separate branch of the royal government" in a system in which "the lines of jurisdiction were left intentionally ambiguous to produce" informal checks and balances to limit colonial officials' personal power base. In the second one he presents a detailed study of Father Alonso de Leturiondo, a Florida Spaniard who returned to the city in 1686 after a twenty-year absence to find it polarized by conflict between the governor and the city's regular and secular clergy. From then to 1700, the author maintains, the city's religious life "revolved around the capable and sometimes contentious" priest. He devotes the next chapter to "ecclesiastical asylum" claims in the city as a bone of contention. In the fourth one the major topic is the dissension that developed between St. Augustine's secular pastors and the Franciscans involving Leturiondo and others later and the creation of an auxiliary bishopric for Florida. A 1689-1690 conflict involved the Franciscans' poaching on Father Leturiondo's parish preserve in performing burial services and providing burial in their convent for people who were Leturiondo's parishioners.
The book is well written and does not at all reflect its origin as a dissertation. The chapters on the post-1680 period are based on extensive documental research on the legal disputes between the governor, St. Augustine's pastor, and [End Page 349] the friars. The author set out to fill a gap that he perceived in prior work on religion in colonial Florida because of that work's exclusive focus on the interaction between Franciscan missionaries and the Indians they worked with and on "the relationship between the friars and governmental and secular church officials living in St. Augustine." But, of necessity, to a considerable degree he re-explores much of the same ground as do earlier works such as those of Michael Gannon and Amy Bushnell.
As Kapitzke observed, colonial St. Augustine's "peculiar cultural stability" for almost two hundred years provides the historian "a unique perspective on the functioning of a Spanish parish in the Americas" while its isolation offers special advantages for studying and understanding "the complex jurisdictional system of colonial administration" and its jurisdictional conflicts and religion's role within it because they were manifested at St. Augustine on a lesser scale than elsewhere in view of its isolation.
On occasion the text juxtaposes a peculiar admixture of the correct use of an obscure technical clerical term with the incorrect use of a common term such as priest. The most glaring example is his presumably correct use and definition of the clerical term "prone" while on the same page speaking of St. Augustine's pastor's requesting that the position "of organist be given to a priest of minor orders." For Anglicans, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox, according to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, the rank of "priest" implies someone who has received the three major orders. But this is a minor failing that does not distract from the book's overall usefulness and value.