Brigita Arrendondo was enchanted by the garden in the courtyard of her house on St. George Street. She had frequent conversations among the flowers with the dearly departed spirits of Maria and Antonia Horruytiner. Maria Ruiz was the wife of Don Pedro Horruytiner who had occupied the house in the 1600s. Antonia was her daughter-in-law.
The house became an issue with Brigita and her husband Fernando in 1819 at the time Florida was being transferred from Spanish to American occupation. Fernando Arrendondo wished to return to Cuba but Brigita loved the house and wanted to stay in St. Augustine. Brigita’s husband told her he would keep the house if she would give up her nonsensical dreams of chatting with the mystical women.
One day Brigita was seated in her lovely garden, amidst her gorgeous roses dreaming and wishing about going back in history to meet the ladies who had lived there.
As she contemplated her beautiful surroundings, Maria Ruiz appeared to her and talked of her roses and how she had planted lovely flowers. So Brigita picked the yellow roses and handed her a bouquet. As they were talking, Maria asked if Brigita wanted to meet her daughter‑in‑law. Of course she did and Maria called to Antonia to join them. The three ladies conversed at length about the garden and the house before Maria and Antonia departed, leaving Brigita breathless with her experience.
When Fernando came home he expected to find Brigita finishing with preparations for a dinner party. He couldn’t understand why she wasn’t dressed and when she tried to explain her encounter in the garden, he refused to believe her. He went off to get her a glass of wine to calm her nerves. While he was out of the room a good friend, Mr. Alverez, came to the door. Brigita told Mr. Alverez about her experience and he, too, refused to believe her.
“My dear lady,” he said, “It is just a figment of your imagination. Try to put it away from you.”
She said, “He has promised me the house if I would stop talking about the spirits. I want the house. I don’t want to give it up. But, this was so real.”
They talked for awhile and finally he left her. As he reached the gate he stepped on a bouquet of freshly picked yellow roses. Slowly he returned to the house. “You must have dropped these,” he suggested softly, presenting the bouquet to Brigita.
Her face was pale as she held the flowers tenderly, whispering only,” Maria’s roses. Maria’s yellow roses.”
This story was related to me by Eleanor Philips Barnes, a prolific genealogical researcher of St. Augustine residents. While producing records for family interests, Mrs. Barnes uncovered facts which enriched our understanding of the heritage of the city. This story is of particular value since it connects several periods of history into one story. It takes place in a house still in existence at 214 St. George Street.
Luis Benedit y Horruytiner was governor of Spanish Florida from 1633-1638. His brother, Mosen Gilbert Benedit y Horruytiner, was a rancher in Florida with lands along the St. Johns River. His son, Pedro Alcantatra Benedict Horruytiner, the nephew of Luis, became governor of Florida from 1646-1648
The ownership of the Horruytiner House has been thoroughly documented. Don Pedro Alcantara Benedict Horruytiner y Puevo did indeed live in the house in 1763, selling it the following year to a Spaniard, Juan Elixio de la Puente, who had been appointed by the King to dispose of Spanish property at the outset of the British Period. The house changed hands many times until it was purchased by Fernando de La Maza Arrendondo in 1801. Arrendondo was an aide to Governor Vincente Manuel de Zespedes and probably did keep his promise to Brigita. The house was not sold until 1839 when Virginia Watson purchased the structure by auction.
The individuals named in this legend have been thoroughly documented. The basis for the apparition, however, I leave for the reader to determine. It is a St. Augustine tale with Spanish flavor. It would be interesting to know if there are similar Spanish stories of spirits and rose gardens. Or is it the house? Everyone knows the Horruytiner House is filled with ghostly spirits. Don’t they?