Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 22, 2005
Ethnic roots glorify St. Augustine
Texas church blends Mexican heritage with Gothic architecture
St. Augustine — August 28
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
For the tourists comfortably settled on wooden benches in the city's main square, it was a remarkable event.
They watched enthralled as throngs of well dressed guests entered San Agustin Cathedral for an April Saturday evening wedding. Into this principal Laredo house of God filed 10 bridesmaids with escorts to the vigorous tolling of ancient tower bells.
Then, much to the pleasure of those waiting at plaza bus stops, arias by male and female vocalists from within were broadcast outside. A long red carpet led from the church to a decorated trolley, waiting to whisk the principals to a reception following the Mass.
Large weddings are regular events in this historic border town where faith is always close to the surface.
Laredo is laid out around the Plaza San Agustin. Once the scene of weekly paseos (strolls), when young people walked and met under the watchful eyes of chaperons, it's now the urban transportation hub for the city.
Still a vibrant downtown oasis, live oaks, palmettos and soaring palm trees set off the impressive cathedral and provide welcome shade.
In addition to the mandatory gazebo, two larger-then-life statues are the main attractions here. One is the image of General Ignacio Zaragosa, born in Mexican Texas and the hero of the 1862 Battle of Pueblo where French forces were defeated by a Mexican army, an event remembered each year on the Cinco de Mayo holiday. The other statue is that of San Agustin (St. Augustine) facing west with his church behind him. In traditional bishop's attire, the city's patron saint was placed here in 1969.
Catedral San Agustin de Laredo, with its five-storey corner tower, dominates the skyline of the historic core of the city. It's a Gothic revival masonry structure, with side aisles and transepts. Noteworthy features of the church are the eight lateral structural bays with brilliant, old stained glass windows.
Visitors attending Saturday 6:30 p.m. Mass enjoy a fine choir and organ that compete with noisy ceiling fans.
A dramatic reredos honours the Sacred Heart and San Agustin.
Laredo has chosen a most prestigious patron in Augustine, pre-eminent philosopher and doctor of the Church. Like many of the great saints, a long and difficult struggle ensued before this fifth-century North African came to accept Christ. Supported by his Christian mother Monica, he excelled in school and became an educator, travelling to Rome where he was converted by St. Ambrose.
Writer and teacher
Desiring to live a reclusive, contemplative life, Augustine returned to Africa, but after a few years was prevailed upon to become bishop of Hippo. He was a prodigious writer and influenced early Church teaching for another 35 years.
The saint's name was attached to the settlement early when in 1767, it was formally established as the Villa de San Agustin de Laredo on the north bank of the Rio Grande River.
By the 1800s, the town had its first resident pastor and an adobe church, "a poor jacale (adobe house)" according to visitors. The present church, a Texas historic landmark, was built in 1872 by famed Oblate, Father P.Y. Keralum.
Following the war when Laredo became part of the U.S., many citizens, preferring to remain Mexican, moved across the river and in 1848, founded the Villa de Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.
Within nine years, their first church, Templo del Santo Nino, was blessed. Since its birth, the city has continually outstripped its parent in population and - connected to its sister-city by several major bridges - is familiar everywhere as one of Los Dos Laredos.