One of my favorite things to do while traveling in places of history is to visit historical churches. I love everything about their beauty, ornate details, high ceilings and windows, and the respect they demand as a place of reverence.
I should start out by saying that I’m not Catholic and don’t really understand the significance of much of what I saw at the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. Yet, I don’t think that disqualifies me from enjoying and respecting a place of worship. I was raised non-denominational protestant. If we’re going into detail, I grew up in a church movement that developed in the 60’s and 70’s out of ministering to the heavy drug surf culture in southern California. We didn’t have cathedrals or ornate buildings, but we did have a surfboard rack!
My upbringing might be why I so enjoy visiting grand old churches. They are other-worldly to me. Which fits, because I think the grandeur is supposed to induce a sense of the spiritual. But, then again, I could just be grasping at straws. I know that’s how I feel when I’m in a gorgeous historical church.
The St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the United States. The first church building was built in 1718, but didn’t become a cathedral until 1793. Interestingly, there have been 3 different church buildings on the site. The church grew considerably over the years that New Orleans was most active and growing as a port city. Finally, the 2nd church building was completely destroyed by the great New Orleans fire in 1788. It seems the church is a bit of a disaster magnate. It was also damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
I would like to mention a neat piece of history tied to the cathedral regarding the Venerable Henriette DeLille. Henriette was born in 1813 and died in 1862. Those dates are super important because they are before the civil war and the end of slavery in the USA. Why does that matter? Well, I learned that Henriette founded the Roman Catholic order of the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans, LA. The order was for freed female slaves. Henriette was of mixed descent, with French on her father’s side and black creole on her mother’s side. The order was very charitable and took care of elderly women who needed constant care, while also tending to the sick and poor, and teaching free and enslaved people.
While, I’ve only briefly summarized Henriette’s story, I hope you’ll read more because her family history and the system she was born into was quite complex. I love her story because it’s about a creole woman of faith going above and beyond to help her fellow humans during a time when slavery was very much still in practice. What a legacy!