St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans

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Saint Louis Cathedral (French: Cathédrale Saint-Louis, Roi de France), also known as the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France, is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans; it has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the (as now constituted) United States. The first church on the site was built in 1718; the third, built in 1789, was raised to cathedral rank in 1793. The cathedral was expanded and largely rebuilt in 1850, with little of the 1789 structure remaining.

Saint Louis Cathedral is in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, on the Place John Paul II (French: Place Jean-Paul II), a promenaded section of Chartres Street (rue de Chartres) that stretches one block between St. Peter Street (rue Saint-Pierre) on the upriver boundary and St. Ann Street (rue Sainte-Anne) on the downriver boundary. It is located next to Jackson Square and facing the Mississippi River in the heart of New Orleans, situated between the historic buildings of the Cabildo and the Presbytère. It is one of the few Roman Catholic churches in the United States that fronts a major public square.


Three Roman Catholic churches have stood on the site since 1718. The first was a crude wooden structure in the early days of the colony. Construction of a larger brick and timber church was begun in 1725 and was completed in 1727. Along with numerous other buildings, the church was destroyed in the Great New Orleans Fire (1788) on Good Friday, March 21, 1788. The cornerstone of a new church was laid in 1789 and the building was completed in 1794. In 1793 Saint Louis Church was elevated to cathedral rank as the See of the Diocese of New Orleans, making it one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States. In 1819 a central tower with the clock and bell was added.

Enlarging the building to meet the needs of the growing congregation had been pondered since 1834, and J. N. B. de Pouilly was consulted to design plans for a new building. De Pouilly also designed St. Augustine Church in Tremé, the first church building dedicated as a parish church outside the French Quarter. (The Mortuary Chapel on North Rampart had been dedicated in 1827 as a chapel, and St. Vincent de Paul was established in a little frame church in 1838 but not dedicated.) On March 12, 1849, the diocese contracted with John Patrick Kirwan to enlarge and restore the cathedral, using De Pouilly's plans.

These specified that everything except the lateral walls and the lower portions of the existing towers on the front facade be demolished. During the reconstruction, it was determined that the sidewalls would have to be demolished also. Then, during construction in 1850, the central tower collapsed. De Pouilly and Kirwan were replaced. As a consequence, very little of the Spanish Colonial structure survived. The present structure primarily dates to 1850. The bell from the 1819 tower was reused in the new building. It remains there today. During the renovation, St. Patrick's Church served as the pro-cathedral for the city.

On April 25, 1909, a dynamite bomb was set off in the Cathedral, blowing out windows and damaging galleries. The Cathedral suffered damage in the New Orleans Hurricane of 1915. The following year a portion of the foundation collapsed, necessitating the building's closure while repairs were made, from Easter 1916 to Easter 1917.

The cathedral was designated as a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI in 1964. Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral in September 1987. Today the parish has over 6000 members.

The high winds of Hurricane Katrina managed to displace two large oak trees in St. Anthony's Garden behind the Cathedral, dislodging 30 ft of ornamental gate, while the nearby marble statue of Jesus Christ lost a forefinger and a thumb. More seriously, the winds tore a hole in the roof, allowing water to enter the building and severely damage the Holtkamp pipe organ. Shortly after the storm, the organ was sent back to Holtkamp to be rebuilt. An electronic substitute was used until June 2008, when the organ was reinstalled in the Cathedral. Originally installed during the Cathedral's extensive renovation in 2004, the organ was donated by longtime choir master and organist Dr. Elise Cambon.

See also

  • Oldest churches in the United States

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