Oldest American city turns 445

New York: St. Augustine in Florida, the oldest city in the US, will celebrate its 445th birth anniversary this week.

St. Augustine will commemorate its founding by Spaniard Pedro Menendez de Aviles with the inauguration of the Nombre de Dios Mission Museum and the celebration of a Mass of thanksgiving, among other events.

The anniversary will be marked with a historic recreation of the arrival in 1565 of Florida`s first governor, Menendez de Aviles.

"In September 1565, 445 years ago, Adm. Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles disembarked in Matanzas Bay and founded St. Augustine, the oldest occupied European city and port in US territory," said Davis Walker, director of the Florida Living History.

On Saturday, a mass of thanksgiving will be followed by a solemn procession and the transfer of the casket of Mendez de Aviles - which was transported to Spain after his death - to the Nombre de Dios Mission Museum.

"When Menendez de Aviles died in 1574, his body was transported in a wooden coffin to Santander (Spain) so that he could receive a Christian burial" in his native land, said Walker.

Three-and-a-half centuries later, in 1924, his remains were transferred and deposited within the crypt at the San Nicolas Church in his hometown of Aviles, Spain.

Later, the coffin along with a doublet that covered one of Menendez de Aviles`s arms was presented as a gift to the city of St. Augustine.

In 1940, the city commissioners voted in favour of donating the coffin and the armour to the Nombre de Dios Mission.

It was on that site where the Mission currently stands, according to historians, that in 1565 Menendez Aviles knelt down and kissed a wooden cross that the expedition`s chaplain, Rev. Francisco Lopez de Mendoza, offered to him.

Lopez de Mendoza celebrated the first mass in the new lands claimed by Spain and began work to erect the first mission in what would become the US, a structure dedicated to the devotion of Our Lady of La Leche.

Among the events that will be held during the celebration will be a recreation of Menendez de Aviles, played by actor and historian Chad Light, reading proclamations in both Spanish and English.

In the proclamations, Light will present a reading of a document in which Menendez de Aviles claimed possession of Florida in the name of King Philip II.

St. Augustine each year receives 4.5 million visitors, according to Mayor Joseph Boles, due to the attraction of its historic past.