Saint Louis Cathedral – The Oldest Cathedral in Operation in the United States
June 30, 2013
St. Louis Cathedral is one of the tallest and most magnificent structures in the French Quarter. On one side the cathedral is facing Jackson Square and on the other side is the equally historic Presbytere, right in the heart of Old City. Saint Louis Cathedral (The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis IX, King of France) is probably one of the most photographed landmarks in the city of New Orleans and is the oldest continuously active cathedral in the United States.
St. Louis Cathedral has been featured in countless movies and other presentations and it is a local and international architectural icon. The cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and widely recognized for its Spanish Colonial, and Renaissance architecture.
St. Louis Cathedral – History
The cathedral as we know is, in fact, the third church on the present site. The first and second building were destroyed and rebuilt. This first was destroyed in 1722 by a hurricane, and the second building burned down in the great fire in 1788. The construction of the current cathedral started out in 1789 and was completed in 1794. Later, in 1851, the building was enlarged by adding with the central tower. That central tower was specially designed by Henry S. Boneval Latrobe, the very first professional architect in the United States.
St. Louis Cathedral – Beauty
Although the cathedral is a Catholic house of worship, the abundant history and gorgeous design of St. Louis Cathedral draws in visitors of all faiths from all over the world. The interior can be admired in self-guided tours at times when masses and other functions such as weddings or funerals are not going on. The stained glass windows and paintings in the Cathedral are amazing works of art, just like the Rococo-style, gilded altar that styles the front of the church. The stunning interior is ornamented by paintings which cover the ceiling decorated by an Alsatian artist called Erasme Humbrecht in 1872, and these murals portray several stories from the bible. An elaborate wall painting of King Louis IX announcing the Seventh Crusade was painted close to the Cathedral’s main altar.
The main altar itself is carved-wood Baroque that had been constructed in the Belgian town of Ghent, and brought to New Orleans in components and later assembled. Colorful stained glass windows also increase the beauty of the cathedral on the first floor.
At the rear of the Cathedral, you can find St. Anthony Garden, dominated by a statue of Jesus with His arms upraised. In the evening, spotlights project a magnificent shadow from the statue onto the Cathedral, an amazing sight. The garden also features a monument to 30 members of a French ship who died in a yellow fever epidemic in 1857.
Coming back to the front of the church, visitors gaze at the beautiful exterior of the building. The steeples along with the portico and pilasters (which were not originally part of the cathedral) were added in 1851, and the clock bell, known as “Victoire”, was made in Paris by Pere Antoine and has sounded every hour since 1819. The front of the church is also lighted at night, highlighting the Cathedral’s robust presence in the middle of the French Quarter. St. Louis Cathedral is really one of the cultural and architectural treasures of the French Quarter and a trip to New Orleans is not complete if you don’t visit the church.
The historic visit of Pope John Paul II
In 1987 the Cathedral enjoyed the historic visit of the popular and much loved Pope John Paul II, and the pedestrian mall directly in front of the cathedral was renamed Place Jean Paul Deux. To memorate the visit and honor the occasion a placard was placed on the cathedral’s outer wall as well, and shortly after the Pope’s visit the status of the Cathedral was upgraded to a Basilica.
There is no charge to visit the Cathedral but remember that services are often scheduled and on the weekends there are many weddings. You even might catch a glimpse of a happy couple appearing at the lantern between the cathedral, Cabildo & the Pirate’s Cafe in Pirates Alley, for a picture from their happiest day. At night you can have your fortune told or palm read in “Place Jean Paul Deux” by the many fortune telling merchants who set up shop there for the evening. Once again, if you come to the Big Easy you absolutely should visit St. Louis Cathedral.