St. Photios stands as a tribute to the first permanent colony of Greeks who arrived in America with fellow immigrants from Corsica and Italy on June 26, 1768. They were recruited by Scottish physician Andrew Turnbull and his partner, who received grants from Great Britain to help develop settlements in newly acquired Florida.
The Greeks escaped oppression in their homelands only to find themselves toiling under deplorable conditions as indentured servants in New Smyrna, south of St. Augustine, where they were promised tracts of land in exchange for their hard work. Though many perished, hundreds who survived fled to St. Augustine in 1777.
The English allowed them to worship in Casa Avero, a home built in 1749. The Avero House was purchased by the Greek Orthodox Diocese in 1966, and in 1972, it was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The shrine has been established as a living memorial “…to the first Greek settlers on the American continent and to all the Greek Orthodox pioneers whose love of freedom and desire for a better life for themselves and their children brought them to this New World.” (Shrine Newsletter, Sept. 2013).
St. Photios is filled with photographs, historical documents and artifacts. The chapel is a real gem in which religion is brought to life through art and architecture. Archways gracefully yield one to another.
Walls and ceilings are frescoed by artist Geroge Fillipakis, with Byzantine-style scenes from the life of Christ, the apostles, and the saints. The paintings are heavily embellished with 22-karat gold leaf.
It is easy to see why the St. Photios Chapel is referred to as “The Jewel of St. George Street.”