Monday, August 21, 2023

The Cathedral of St Louis IX in New Orleans

A highlight of my time in New Orleans last month was a chance to visit the city’s cathedral -- the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the United States of America -- dedicated to St. Louis IX, whose feast we will celebrate later this week. In what follows, I shall make use of descriptions taken from the cathedral’s website. All photographs are mine.

“The St. Louis Cathedral is one of New Orleans’ most notable landmarks. This venerable building, its triple steeples towering above its historic neighbors, the Cabildo and the Presbytere, looks down benignly on the green of the Square and General Andrew Jackson on his bronze horse and on the block-long Pontalba Buildings with their lacy ironwork galleries. Truly, this is the heart of old New Orleans."

“Since 1727, New Orleanians have worshipped in churches on this site. Half a dozen years earlier, the French engineer, Adrien De Pauger, who arrived in the newly founded city on March 29, 1721, designated this site for a church in conformity with the plan of the Engineer-in-Chief of Louisiana, LeBlond de la Tour, who was at the capital, Biloxi.”

The current church, whose foundation stone was laid in the auspicious year of 1789 (!), has a quite distinctive aesthetic style, with the second-floor galleries, the quasi-pendentives, and the ornate painted ceiling featuring French texts, as do the Stations of the Cross. 
“The new parish church, dedicated to Louis IX, sainted King of France, was thus perhaps the first building in New Orleans of ‘brick between posts’ (briques entre poteaux) construction, an effective method of building that continued to be used in Louisiana until at least the middle of the nineteenth century.” This church was elevated to the status of cathedral in 1794 and completed in 1795. It had further additions in 1819 (clock and bell tower) and 1849-51 (remodeling and enlargement of structure).

St. Louis IX calling the seventh Crusade

As with French churches in general, a strong emphasis on the cult of the Blessed Sacrament.

All the older churches I saw in New Orleans had this kind of pulpit with the large acoustic shell behind the preacher--appropriate also for churches built near the Gulf of Mexico.
“During the six decades that the church stood, there worshipped within its walls French Governors Perier, Bienville, Vaudreuil and Kerlerec and Spanish Governors Unzaga, Galvez and Miro. In this first little church were baptized the children of the colonists and the children of the slaves. Here were married the lowly and the highborn, and through its doors were borne the mortal remains of the faithful for the burial rites of Holy Mother Church on the last journey to the little cemetery on St. Peter Street.

In 1829 an organ was imported and in 1825 Francisco Zapari, an Italian painter, was employed at a fee of $1,855 to decorate the interior of the church and its three altars.”
Organ loft: note King David, St Cecilia, and St Gregory the Great

But the aspect of the cathedral I found most wonderful was the great sequence of stained glass windows, five along each side of the ground level, on the life, death, and glorification of King Louis IX. The windows were produced by the German Oidtmann Studios in 1929 and installed in 1930.

Educated by his mother Blanche of Castile
Coronation of Louis IX (November 29, 1226)
Marriage of Louis IX to Marguerite of Provence (May 27, 1234)
King Louis IX builds Sainte Chapelle (ca. 1241)
Louis IX leaves on the 7th Crusade (June 12, 1248)
Louis IX receives keys to Damietta (June 12, 1249)
Wally Gobetz gives us the following description of the above scene:

“This window depicts the Louis IX receiving the key to the city of Damietta. In the middle of May, 1249, the royal fleet left Cyprus and headed directly for Damietta. Louis and the other leaders seem to have chosen Damietta as their first point of attack soon after they arrived in Cyprus. The crusaders prepared themselves for battle by confession and making their wills. Early Saturday morning, after Mass, Louis armed himself and ordered his followers into the boats. The Moslem defenders were afraid that the sultan had died, that no further help was coming, so they withdrew quietly from the city of Damietta Saturday night. Access to the city was made so easy that many Christians had entered Damietta by Sunday afternoon, and the king’s banner was placed triumphantly on a high tower.”
Louis IX ministers to lepers
Death of King Louis IX (August 25, 1270)
Body of Louis IX brought home to France (1271)
Canonization of Louis IX by Boniface VIII (August 9, 1297)

If you should ever find yourself near New Orleans, it is certainly worth a detour to go and see this lovely cathedral, its square, and the French Quarter in which it lies.

May St. Louis IX, Christian king par excellence, intercede for us, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ the King.

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