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Where was the first Mass ever said in the New World, and specifically North America?

It's more complex than you think.

There are dozens of candidates.

The first documented one was at Saint Augustine, Florida, on September 8, 1565. No one denies that. There was a liturgy of thanksgiving (including a  meal with the local Timacuan Indians, half a century before Plymouth Rock!). This was at the behest of explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and the Mass was celebrated by Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales.

A shrine dedicated to Mary -- the first known one dedicated to her in the U.S. -- stands near the site of the liturgy (along with the tallest known Cross, right there on an inlet of the Atlantic).

So we have that.

In previous decades, explorers -- with priests -- had landed in places like current-day Charlotte Harbor, Florida (1522), Cape Fear, North Carolina (1526), and possibly Santa Rosa iosland in Pensacola, Florida in 1559 (though it may actually have been Pascagoula, Mississippi).

In all probability, there were also Masses in 1509 when Juan Ponce de León, along with Catholic clergy, established a settlement in Puerto Rico.

Since we're talking the New World (the Western Hemisphere), you can toss in the first recorded Mass in South America. That was April 26, 1500, in Brazil (where a Cross was also erected).

Now it gets very intriguing.

Enter Canada.

There is evidence, according to scholar John B. Buescher, that in 1498, the very first Mass anywhere on the North American continent was celebrated at a harbor in Newfoundland, for a church, which may have been named San Giovanni a Carbonara, was established. (Today the town is known as Carbonear.)

Four years previous, in 1494, the first "American" Mass may have taken place in the Dominican Republic.

Hopefully, your head is not yet spinning. Because there's more:

None of the above consider the possible Norse settlements -- again, in Canada -- that may date  back to 1121, perhaps at L'Anse aux Meadows, or even 512 at a place known then as St. Brendan's Island (no one's sure where this is now).

512 A.D.!

Fifteen hundred years ago?

Bottom line: even history is a mystery.

Back then, Church and state were not as separate, and phenomenal success was attained by intrepid explorers as a result. Less than a century after Saint Augustine, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in Mexico, effectively evangelizing millions of Indians.

[See also: America's first Mass]

[photo at top courtesy]

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