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Beyond Destin: Mission San Luis

Savannah Vasquez
Docent, Fray Marzelo De San Joseph explains how he uses the sections of the hand to teach music to children.

Destin has a lot to offer, and although its beaches are world-famous and its seafood delicious, there are hundreds of hidden treasures in the surrounding area of Northwest Florida that yield for fun adventures, day trips and weekend getaways. This column which will be featured once a month, will follow the wanderings of reporter, Savannah Vasquez, and explore the many opportunities in Destin’s surrounding area. I invite you to explore with me Beyond Destin.

I had never been to a historical site with real live actors until I visited Mission San Luis in Tallahassee last month. Apparently the actors have a term, docents, and they never break character (even for a reporter) when asked questions. This is how my discussion went with one such character.

Me: What is your name?

Docent: I am Diego Rodriguez, merchant mariner from Spain!

Me: Are you here everyday or only on special occasions?

Docent: Every day madam, except when I am sailing.

Me: Ok…what do you do?

Docent: I bring goods such as silver, pottery, spices and sweets from Europe to the Americas to sell and trade with the Natives and settlers.

Needless to say, I learned a great deal about the historic timeframe of the Mission and it’s eclectic inhabitants.

Mission San Luis was founded sometime between 1607 and 1633 when Apalachee Indians living in the area requested Catholic friars to minister among them. San Luis, originally named San Luis de Inhayca, is thought to be one of the first missions to be founded in this way in the Northwest Florida area.

Mission San Luis differed from other missions in the county in two ways; First, it was requested by the Native Americans and second, the buildings on the grounds represented both traditional Native American design and Spanish-influenced design. In fact, Mission San Luis functioned as two settlements in one, with a Native American side and a Spanish side although the people worked and lived in the shared community spaces.

A tour of the Mission begins in the interpretive center with a short historic film and miniature museum filled with artifacts from Spanish missions across the country. But if you are anything like me, you will be most impressed with the reconstructed village full of wandering costumed characters.

Inside the huge, circular Council House Cristian and I met Diego Rodriguez, the merchant mariner and the Deputy Governor of San Luis, Antonio de Sartucha. The two were giving a lecture to visiting school children on the ins and outs of commercial trade at the time. We learned that the council house was the communal gathering place for the Apalachee Chiefs and Spanish dignitaries and also functioned as the daily marketplace.

Next, we visited the Spanish settler home where two women worked preparing lavender from the garden and feeding their chickens. We learned that during the Mission years, the survival rate for children was higher than other parts of the country as they thrived in the warmer Florida weather.

Our next stop was the Catholic church and the friary. Fray Marzelo De San Joseph was a very interesting young character and gave us the grand tour of his home, kitchen and workplace. Apparently his jobs included teaching young boys to sing in the choir, tending to villagers with medicinal herbs and of course giving the weekly sermon to crowds upwards of 500 people.

Finally, we visited the fort in the rear nicknamed "the blockhouse." The fort was built between October 1695 and 1697 to prepare for the mounting threat of British invasion as Spain went to war against England in 1701.

From the militia man in the fort we learned that in 1704, the British invasion had nearly reached Mission San Luis. Given that the blockhouse was not fortified enough to stand a battle, we were told that the Spanish destroyed it and instead retreated to St. Augustine, while most of the Native Americans moved westward.

If you love learning by experiencing, Mission San Luis in Tallahassee is definitely worth your time!

Mission San Luis is located at 2100 West Tennessee Street in Tallahassee. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and $2 for children. Active duty military members are free with ID.

For more information visit https://www.missionsanluis.org/index.cfm or call 245-6406.

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