Father Miguel O’ Reilly House Museum

The peaceful museum offers insight into St. Augustine’s past and possible protection against hurricanes.

By Nancy Moreland

Some of St. Augustine’s most intriguing sights are off the beaten path. The venerable Father Miguel O’ Reilly House Museum is located on the south end of Aviles Street, which was named for the town’s founder and considered by some to be America’s oldest street. The picturesque brick lane is about as close as you can get to Europe without changing time zones.

The peaceful museum with the perplexing name (Father O’ Reilly was born in Ireland, educated in Spain) reflects St. Augustine’s multicultural and spiritual heritage. Father O’ Reilly was St. Augustine’s parish priest in the late 1700s. The building at 32 Aviles was his home during that time. 

Located within the original city boundaries, some speculate it might actually be St. Augustine’s oldest house. The architecture reflects several eras in St. Augustine’s history. According to museum staff, Florida State University dated the foundation at 1580 and Florida’s Division of Historical Resources documented that the house was built in 1691.

The Gonzalez-Alvarez House, part of The Oldest House Museum, dates to the early 1700s.

In 1866, the Sisters of St. Joseph order relocated from France to St. Augustine to educate freed slaves. They settled in the house that once belonged to Father O’ Reilly, transforming it into a small schoolroom. The tranquil house and its historically-accurate garden remain under the care of the same order today. Displays feature architectural, religious and educational themes.

Saintly Protection from Hurricanes

One of the most fascinating exhibits is the iconic Hurricane Lady.
Anyone wanting a little extra hurricane protection should pay her a
visit. According to legend, the statue was on a Spanish cargo ship bound
for St. Augustine in the late 1700s when a storm hit. The Sisters of St. Joseph believe the icon depicts St. Barbara, patron saint of sailors.The sailors
prayed to the saintly icon for safe passage.

They promised her a place of honor in the city if she answered their prayers with a safe journey. Prayers were granted, promises kept and locals say the Lady is the reason St. Augustine has been spared from a direct hit hurricane. A testimonial from a museum visitor credited the Hurricane Lady with saving her Naples, Florida, home from the hurricanes of 2004. Before evacuating, she glanced at her post card of the Hurricane Lady and prayed for protection. Later, when she returned home, her house was the only one left standing in an otherwise devastated neighborhood.

The O’ Reilly House Museum is located at 32 Aviles Street and is open Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.- 3 p.m.

Admission is free. For more information, call 904-826-0750.

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Photo credits: Nancy Moreland