Located in historic St. Augustine, St. Photios National Greek Orthodox Shrine preserves the history of the first Greek community to arrive in what eventually became Florida. The shrine is housed the historic Avero House which was built in the 1760s by the De Avero family who were influential members of the St. Augustine community during the First Spanish Period. The site is known locally as the Minorcan Chapel as it is believed that members of the Minorcan Colony used the site for worship during the British occupation of St. Augustine. The Avero House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine is dedicated to the first Greek colony that came to America in 1768. The first Greek immigrants to arrive in the United States came to Florida after an attempt to settle New Smyrna, a small colony south of St. Augustine, approximately 600 Corsica, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, and Minorcan settlers fled and found refuge in St. Augustine. In 1777, the Spanish governor Vicente Manuel de Zespedes gave the abandoned Avero House to Father Pedro Camps and refugees as a place for them to gather and worship for approximately seven years.
The Greek Orthodox Diocese of North America purchased the building in 1966 and restored the house to its 1730s appearance after the local Greek community learned of the home’s availability on the market in 1965. Work was completed in 1982 making the present site the only Greek National Shrine in the United States. The gold reliquary was gifted to the Shrine by Archbishop Lakovos from the Three Hierarchs Church in Brooklyn, NY. The reliquary contained bone fragments from 18 saints and was certified by the Vatican. The saints represented include 3 apostles and those of St. Nicholas of Myra who served as the basis for the legends of Santa Claus. A plaque in New Smyrna says more than 1,400 refugees pledged up to 10 years of labor for passage. As time passed, many had died and the remaining moved to St. Augustine.
The shrine is covered with Byzantine style frescoes highlighted with 22 Karat gold, depicting many apostles and saints of the Christian church. The shrine is also an institution of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The exhibits in the museum display the life of the early Greek settlers and the development of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. The exhibit also contains various artifacts, photographs and historical documents of the Greek Orthodox settlers.