Location: 615 Pere Antoine Alley., New Orleans, LA
Architect: J. N. B. de Pouilly, among others
Built: Construction began in 1725 and was completed in 1727
History: The church was established some time between 1718 and 1721, depending on which source document you read. According to the church’s official website, French engineer Adrien De Pauger designated the church site in 1721 in coordination with LeBlond de la Tour, Engineer-in-Chief of Louisiana. De Pauger died the year before the building was completed, but built between 1725 and 1727, it was New Orlean’s first "brick between posts" (bnquete entre poteaux) church.
Unfortunately, the church was destroyed during the Great New Orleans Fire—on Good Friday of all days in 1788. A year later, groundwork for the new church began, thanks to funds from the real estate developer Andres Almonester y Rojas. In 1793, the year before construction was completed, the church received cathedral rank.
The church’s official website does not cover its history after that point, but according to Wikipedia, as the church’s congregation grew the need for a larger structure became evident. In 1834 J. N. B. de Pouilly was brought in to design the new building; and in 1849, John Patrick Kirwan was contracted to do the work. However, in 1850, things weren’t going as smoothly as had been hoped: the central tower had collapsed and de Pouilly and Kirwan were fired and others brought in to complete the work.
Faring better than it did in the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788, the church has also weathered:
- A dynamite bomb in 1909 that damaged galleries and blew out its windows
- The New Orleans Hurricane of 1915 that caused the foundation to collapse and forced church to be closed from Easter 1916 to 1917
- Hurricane Katrina, which tore a hole in the roof and dislocated the ornamental gate. The hurricane also broke off the thumb and forefinger of “Touchdown Jesus,” the marble statue of Jesus, leaving locals to say “that the statue of Jesus sacrificed his two fingers while flicking the storm away from the city and saving it from total destruction,” according to Wikipedia.
The cathedral’s triple steeples command attention, as they preside over Jackson Square. Striking to behold, they make the cathedral look like a castle. The steeple in the middle is adorned with a cross, seemingly reminiscent of Jesus speaking to the thieves on His right and left as He hung on the cross and now looking over the city of New Orleans.
The central tower, added in 1819, holds a clock and bell.
Uniform columns give the cathedral a stately look.
Interior Design: Similar to the interior architecture of most churches of this style, the nave and side aisles are divided by two rows of columns. The altar is designed in an intricate Rococo style.
In addition to the architecture and internal structuring of the church speaking to its craftsmanship, the artwork within the church is both beautiful and symbolic. Stained glass windows and murals enhance the worship experience.
Even the ceiling of the cathedral renders beautiful portrayals of Christianity. The chancel ceiling shows the "Sacrifice of the Divine Lamb." In the nave, the part of the ceiling closest to the sanctuary shows the Nativity of Christ and the part of the ceiling closest to the center shows Jesus telling His Apostles (in French), “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.”
What distinguishes St. Louis from other cathedrals is that there is a mural by the altar that tells the story of Louis IX, sainted King of France.
Interesting Fact: This is the oldest Catholic cathedral that has been continually used in the States.
Pop Culture: There was a memorial service for playwright Tennessee Williams here. Harry Connick, Jr., married Jill Goodacre here.