Masonic Tourist: The Monumento de la Contitucion

Monumento de la Constitucion

May-June 2012

Photo: Monumento de la Constitucion in San Augustine (top), and its original inscription (bottom). (By the author)

A Masonic Monument in Spanish Florida?

By Oscar Patterson III, Ph.D., 32°

The Plaza de la Constitucion in St. Augustine, Florida, is named for the monument erected there in 1813 to commemorate Spain’s liberal constitution adopted the previous year. This constitution was promulgated by the national legislative assembly of Spain, while in refuge from the Peninsular War. It established universal suffrage, national sovereignty, freedom of the press, and land reform. It was one of the most liberal constitutions of its time. It was not, however, much in effect since the majority of Spain was at that time under control of the French armies of the Bonapartes. The 1812 Constitution was abolished by Ferdinand VII when he assumed the throne in 1814. The Spanish commonly called this constitution La Pepa because it was adopted on Saint Joseph’s Day, and “Pepe” is the standard Spanish nickname for “José” (Biblioteca Virtual, 2011).

At the adoption of the 1812 constitution orders were given that monuments to the document be erected in all Spanish provinces. When Ferdinand VII assumed the throne, he ordered that all such monuments be destroyed.

The monument that stands in the plaza in St. Augustine, Florida, is considered to be the only remaining structure dedicated to the 1812 constitution. It was constructed under the direction of Don Fernando de la Maza Arredondo. Arredondo was a merchant, prominent citizen, and military leader in St. Augustine. He assisted in raising troops for the town’s defense in 1811 and used his personal fortune to aid the city when tax revenues and available resources proved inadequate for defense and survival. Arredondo is also credited with settling Alachua County, Florida, in 1817 with a 280,000 acre grant from the Spanish king (Adams, 2009; United States v. Arredondo, 1832; St. Augustine and Cuba, 2010).

It is interesting to note that Arredondo, the person tasked with supervising the erection of the monument, was also considered responsible for allowing Moses Levy, a Jew, to own land in St. Augustine at a time when such ownership was forbidden under Spanish law.

The monument erected under Arredondo’s supervision has the following inscription (translation from the original Spanish to English):

Constitution Plaza
Promulgated in this City of St.
Augustine of East Florida on
the 17 of October, 1812, under Gover-
nor Brigadier Don Sebastian Ken-
delan, Knight of the Order of St. James.
For eternal memory.
The municipal Government erected
this Obelisk under the Supervision of Don Fernando
de la Maza Arredondo the young Senior
Alderman and Don Francisco Robira
City Attorney
In the year 1813

Of great interest to Masons is that clearly visible beneath the original inscription (now maintained at The Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, but an exact copy can be seen on the monument) are the Masonic square and compasses. According to Altamira (1922):

Freemasonry has existed in Spain since about 1750; first depending on centers established in other countries, later with Spanish organization. Not all Masons were revolutionists: but all abided one another and the radical elements used the lodges as a cloak for conspiracy.
In 1819 the Andalusian Masons, especially those at Seville and at Cadiz, where an expeditionary force was being assembled to be sent to the Americas, decided to further the revolution. It is highly probable that there were Freemasons in St. Augustine, and that considerable liberal sentiment existed there, So that the use of the emblems on the tablet may have received Official sanction (p. 496).

Interestingly, Altamira (1922) notes that there is no “definite authority” that when the 1812 constitution was revoked all the monuments erected to celebrate it were dismantled. Although he does write that it was highly probable. Altamira further suggests that the St. Augustine monument may not have been erected by order of the Spanish government but rather was erected voluntarily by St. Augustine’s citizens.

In 1813, after the monument was completed, a young French-Canadian girl passed her time while visiting St. Augustine by sketching things she saw in the plaza. One of the items she drew was the monument complete with the original Spanish inscription with the square and compasses at the bottom (Makin, 2010). This seems to establish that the square and compasses were on the monument from its earliest days.

Historic sources suggest that Freemasonry had come to St. Augustine by the 1750s (Altamira, 1922) and there is evidence that the Castillo de San Marcos as well as Ft. Matanzas and the Cathedral in St. Augustine were inscribed with Masonic inscriptions and emblems.

Others suggest, however, that the Masonic symbols on the monument are the results of a Civil War or post-Civil War era practical joke. The symbol on the monument in St. Augustine does not include the “G”, they note, and the Square and Compasses without the “G” were common in both Union and Confederate Lodges of the Civil War era. It must also be noted, however, that the “G” was not used by the European founders of the Fraternity; the “G” seems to be an American addition. This later fact could suggest the influence of British Masonry on the monument.

When the Spanish surrendered St. Augustine and northeast Florida to the British in 1762, all Spanish residents of the territory migrated to Cuba or other Spanish territories. When the Spanish returned to northeast Florida in 1784, however, the British settlers did not leave the area but were assimilated into the Spanish community.

Those who theorize that the emblems are not truly Masonic do note that the plaque on the monument is missing the typical Masonic date (5813 instead of 1813). St. Augustine, Florida, has been home to at least twelve Masonic Lodges. Most disappeared as the Catholic Church took an ever stronger position against the Fraternity, but as Altamira (1922) noted, Freemasonry probably existed in Spanish Florida and St. Augustine.

During the British period, 1762–1784, James Grant, British governor of East Florida, was given a warrant to form a provisional Grand Lodge operating under the Grand Lodge of Scotland. This warrant was used to create British lodges in both St. Augustine and Pensacola. These lodges were dismantled when the Spanish returned in 1784, though there is evidence that St. Fernando Lodge in St. Augustine, chartered by the Grand Lodge of Georgia, existed from 1806 to 1811. None of the St. Augustine lodges survived, and there was no other formal Masonic activity until the formation of Ashlar Lodge No. 98 in 1888.

The Square and Compasses are not exclusive to Masonry, but based on the sketches made in 1813 by the young French-Canadian visitor, the reputation of Fernando Arredondo, and the fact that many British citizens remained in St. Augustine under Spanish rule, it is reasonable to assume that the symbols on the original monument could well have been Masonic in origin. In addition, considering the evidence of a Masonic Lodge in St. Augustine slightly before the erection of the monument and the history of Freemasonry in the Spanish world, it is reasonable to infer Masonic involvement in a piece of masonry erected to celebrate a liberal constitution. 

References
Adams, William R. (2009). St. Augustine and St. Johns County: A Historical Guide. Pineapple Press, Inc., Sarasota, FL

Altamira, Rafel (1922). A History of Spain. MacMillan Company, New York.

Biblioteca Virtual “Miguel de Cervantes” (2011). The Political Constitution of the Spanish Monarchy: found at http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/servlet/SirveObras/c1812/
1215939644091522976624/indes.htm
.

Makin, Robert G. (2010). Fernando Arredondo’s Single Digit Salute found at http://www.starving-writers.com/singledigitsalute.htm

St. Augustine and Cuba (2010) at http://eddosrios.org/obras/historia/SanAgustin/san_ agustin_2.htm

United States v. Arredondo, 31 U.S. 6 Pet. 691 691 (1832), United States v. Arredondo 31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 691

Oscar Patterson III
is a Perpetual Member of Ashlar Lodge No. 98 in St. Augustine, Florida and of the Valley of Jacksonville, Orient of Florida Scottish Rite. He has been a minister, a combat infantry officer, and a university professor and administrator where he taught law and ethics. He currently resides in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.