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The next point of interest in Royal Street, is in the square between Orleans Place, on the south side, and St. Anthony's Place on the north. Immediately behind the pretty garden, so gracefully laid out in palms and ferns, and magnolia trees, stands the historic St. Louis Cathedral.

Turn into the dim Cathedral Alley, past the quaint brick buildings looking down so silently over the entourage of vines and flowers, And enter through the side door the famous old shrine, whose history may indeed be said to be the history of New Orleans. The Cathedral occupies the site of the first church ever erected in the great expanse known afterward as the "Louisiana Purchase." This church was erected by Bienville when he laid out the city in 1718, and named St Louis, after the patron saint of the then reigning monarch of France.

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The primitive Church was destroyed by fire and a new church was erected in 1721. This, too. was burnt to the ground in the memorable conflagration of Good Friday, 1788. As the entire city almost was consumed the disaster seemed to preclude the possibility of erecting a new church, when Don Andres Altmmaster y Roxas, a wealthy Spanish nobleman, erected at his own expense this. Cathedral Church at a cost of $50,000, on condition that a mass would be said in perpetuity every Sunday for the repose of his soul. The design was the usual Spanish style, with three round towers in front.

In 1851 the building was remodelled, and steeples were raised on the towers. The present portico, with its columns and pilasters, dates from that period. The beautiful frescoing was done by the famous painter, Humbrecht. The large mural painting above the high altar represents "King Louis of France proclaming the Ninth Crusade." The statues which surmount the high altar are Faith, Hope and Charity.

To the left of the sanctuary is the archiepiscopal throne, surmounted by the symbols of episcopal authority, the miter and the crossed keys and crozier. On the walls of the sanctuary appear many tablets inscribed to the memory of the dead Bishops and Archbishops of New Orleans, most of whom are buried in the crypt beneath the grand altar. A reproduction of the famous grotto of Lourdes forms one of the side altars; the water which trickles perpetually over the rocks is supplied from the miraculous shrine at Lourdes. The side chapel on the north side is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Don Andres Almonaster sleeps beneath a large slab on which is inscribed in Spanish his many deeds. Many quaint institutions maintain at the Cathedral, not the least curious of which is the sexton or "Suisse," who attends with cocked hat, sword and halbert all the services. Notable events in the history of New Orleans have been linked with the Cathedral, most important perhaps of which was the solemn high mass offered by Bishop Dubourg at the request of General Jackeon after his famous victory on the plains of Chalmette. It was attended by General Jackson and his army and a solemn "Te Deum" of Thanksgiving was sung. In 1893 the centennial of the Cathedral was celebrated with great pomp and ceremony, and in December, 1903, were held in the Cathedral the religious services incident to the Louisiana Purchase Centennial celebration.

In the St. Louis Presbytery, facing the Cathedral Alley, may be seen curious old portraits, among them the only one in existence of Don Almonaster, Mgr. Penalver, the first Bishop of New Orleans, and Pere Antoine, whose memory is so linked with early days in the French Quarter. His name was given to the pretty garden fronting on Royal Street, with the Cathedral as a background. Pere Antoine was a Spanish priest who came to New Orleans toward the close of the eighteenth century and who worked many years at the Cathedral. He died beloved by all. His name is given to the beautiful little square in the rear of the Cathedral; For many years, too, his name was associated with a palm tree that stood until recently in a woodyard at the corner of Bourbon and Orleans Street. This yard formed part of the land on which Pere Antoine lived. Innumerable tales were told of how this strange palm came to be there, not the least romantic of which was that it sprang from the heart of a young girl who was buried in this spot, and who died dreaming of her native palm-befringed shore. At 625 St. Anthony Place are kept the ancient archives of the Cathedral.

The Picayune's guide to New Orleans (1904)
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New Orleans History, 1897-1917




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