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For 170 Years, St. Augustine’s Faithful Pray To Nameless Saint For Deliverance From Storms

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Ryan Benk
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WJCT News
Carol Lopez-Bradshaw sets a picture of the Hurricane Lady atop her living room mantle every hurricane season to ward off bad storms.

Two weeks after Hurricane Matthew skirted the First Coast, many residents are still displaced after their homes were flooded

But if the eye of the storm came ashore, it could have been much worse.

Some true believers credit a St. Augustine religious legend for minimizing the destruction.

Paula Ziegler was ordered to evacuate Crescent Beach. She boarded up her Beachside Grill restaurant and escaped west with her husband.

“We really weren't expecting this restaurant to be here when we came back and we were very blessed. We didn't even get any kind of water in our restaurant. Almost like angels were touching the place and keeping it safe for us,” she said.

Ziegler was shocked, but the First Coast being spared the brunt of Matthew came as no surprise to St. 

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Credit Ryan Benk / WJCT News
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WJCT News
Carol Lopez-Bradshaw goes through old pictures and records documenting the statue's 170-year-old history.

Augustine’s Carol Lopez-Bradshaw.  

“In 2004 we had three hurricanes come up the state. The first one that came up the state, I talked to the Hurricane Lady and I told her, ‘We can't handle a hurricane.’ When it got within an hour or two away from us, it was downgraded to a tropical storm,” she said.

Lopez-Bradshaw said a 170-year-old statue, dubbed the “Hurricane Lady,” is responsible for the area’s good fortune.

Her myth starts aboard a ship in dire straits off the coast of St. Augustine. As a violent storm tossed the Spanish vessel, the captain ordered the crew to throw everything that wasn't bolted down overboard.

“One of the crew came up and said, ‘There’s this crate down there and it has a statue in there of a Madonna.’ There’s nothing on it saying where it came from, where it’s supposed to go,” she said.

Legend has it, the crew prayed to the nameless saint. The captain promised, if she delivered his ship to shore, he’d deliver her to the first Christian family he met.

He kept his word, and the statue was passed down for generations until it ended up with Catholic nuns, the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

Her original crate sits in Lopez-Bradshaw’s living room, with some small modifications. She said the same can’t be said for the statue herself — her appearance has been radically altered by the nuns.

A dagger she originally held was lost, and she’s been labeled the Holy Mother.

Lopez-Bradshaw doesn’t buy the nuns’ theory. Instead, she pointed to an old legend about Santa Barbara: A peasant farm girl attacked by pirates.

“They were running after her. So she stomped in the middle of the field and a storm came up and the clouds encircled her, it was just over her,” she said. “The lightning strikes kept coming down which scared these pirates and they left.”

Lopez-Bradshaw, who’s president of the Minorcan Cultural Society and a Minorcan descendent, said the Hurricane Lady’s crown of lightning bolts and wheat flowers backs up her story. And that dagger she once held? It’s actually a tool used for harvesting grain.

Jay Smith is a professor of St. Augustine history at the University of North Florida. He said myths like the Hurricane Lady are typical of seafaring cultures like the Minorcans.

“Having a background of making your living on the ocean, of being aware of the dangers that are out there and relying on your faith to help you survive through that, I think, is very powerful,” he said.

He said Minorcan is a catch-all term to describe the community of mostly-Mediterranean people who were recruited to colonize St. Augustine and New Smyrna. Many were from the Island of Minorca, fertile ground for growing a myth, Smith said.

“The rich culture that Minorcans have is this seafaring kind of mythology that blends itself very easily with Catholicism into this strong belief behind the Virgin Mary and behind icons,” he said.

Lopez-Bradshaw insisted her belief isn't based in legend, but fact. But she said don’t take her word for it.

“If you believe in the Hurricane Lady, she takes care of you,” she said.

To pay your respects to the Hurricane Lady, visit the Father Miguel O'reilly Museum in downtown St. Augustine.

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Credit Ryan Benk / WJCT News
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WJCT News
The Hurricane Lady in her current state at the Father Miguel O'Reilly House Museum in St. Augustine.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk