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The Chapel of St. Mark at Fort Marion

Castillo De San MarcosFort Marion, now a U.S. National Park site, is the oldest existing masonry fortress in the United States. It sits at the harbor entrance at St. Augustine in Florida. The Chapel of St. Mark, which was part of the original fort built by the Spanish, is an excellent representation of Spanish-Catholic commitment to providing a worship space for their garrisoned soldiers.

The Spanish arrived at the present site of Fort Marion in August if 1565 and established the colony of San Agustín in September. Having barely survived attacks from the French and British with their hastily-built forts, on 2 October 1672, the Spanish broke ground on what would become Castillo de San Marcos but it would take 84 years to complete.

In 1740, enough of the fort was completed to offer safety to the besieged garrison and citizens of San Agustín when James Edward Ogelthorpe, from the British colony of Georgia, attempted to conquer it. The fort proved to be impregnable as canon fire from Ogelthorpe’s guns did little damage. During the 27-day siege, “the garrison chapel was the scene of daily Masses, and occasionally marriages and christenings…”1

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The Jesuit Chapel at Old Fort Niagara

Jesuit Chapel Old Fort Niagara

A modern picture of the Jesuit Chapel at Old Fort Niagara showing a French reenactor, from the Old Fort Niagara National Park website.

The French began building on the site of Fort Niagara in 1679. The third building project on the site was the “French Castle” built in 1726-27. As you go up the stairs to the 2nd floor, on the left is the “Jesuit Chapel,” which may be the oldest military chapel in the United States (depending on the criteria used for assessment). The inclusion of a chapel at the fort would have proceeded with little thought, since France was a Catholic country at the time and the majority of its Soldiers would have been devout Catholics, needing an appropriate place to celebrate Mass. When in control of the British, the worship space would have been used for Anglican services, before returning to Catholic use again later in its history.But throughout the life of Old and New Fort Niagara, there has been a chapel available for the worship of God.

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