Facing Jackson Square and flanked by the historic Cabildo on one side and the equally historic Presbytere on the other, St. Louis Cathedral is among the tallest and most imposing structures in the French Quarter. And one of the most recognizable. It has been seen in hundreds of movies, TV shows and other visual presentations and it is a local and international architectural icon.
As the mother church of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, St. Louis Cathedral has a long and interesting history. It is the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the United States, originally built in 1727 and dedicated to King Louis IX of France, “The Crusading King” who was later canonized by the Church. The original St. Louis Cathedral burned during the great fire of 1794 and was rebuilt. The present structure was completed in the 1850s.
In September 1987 the cathedral witnessed the historic visit of Pope John Paul II and the plaza directly in front of the church was renamed in the pope’s honor. Shortly afterward the status of the Cathedral was upgraded to a Basilica.
The towering center spire of St. Louis Cathedral, complimented by two smaller spires on each side and a perfectly symmetrical façade opening up to a pedestrians-only plaza has been a favorite subject for painters, photographers and filmmakers for many years. Viewed from Jackson Square, with the statue of Andrew Jackson in the foreground, this is possibly the single visual image most closely associated with New Orleans.
At the rear of the Cathedral is the St. Anthony Garden dominated by a statue of Jesus with His arms upraised. At night, floodlights project an imposing shadow from the statue onto the Cathedral – a particularly awe-inspiring sight. The front is also lit up at night, illuminating the Cathedral’s powerful presence in the heart of the French Quarter. It is one of the cultural and architectural treasures of the French Quarter and no trip to New Orleans is complete without a visit to St. Louis Cathedral.
Although it is a Catholic house of worship, the rich history and beautiful design of St. Louis Cathedral appeals to visitors of all faiths and nationalities. The interior is open for self-guided tours when masses and other functions such as weddings or funerals are not going on. The stained glass windows and paintings in the church are extraordinary works of art, as is the Rococo-style, gilded altar that graces the front of the church.
Those coming to St. Louis Cathedral to worship can purchase religious items in the church’s gift shop, with all proceeds going to the maintenance and upkeep of the historic structure.