St. Louis Cathedral

St. Louis Cathedral
// Written by Drew Allen –

St. Louis Cathedral, 615 Pere Antoine Alley, is located in the heart of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Steeped in history, it is the oldest Roman Catholic cathedral in continuous operation within the United States. Named after King George IX (King of France from 1226-1270), St. Louis Cathedral has been in operation since 1727. It officially became a Cathedral in 1793 by Order of Pope Pius and was elevated to a minor Basilica by Pope Paul VI in 1964. Pope John Paul II visited the Cathedral in 1987.

Generally, a Catholic Church becomes a Cathedral when it is the central church of a given diocese, or where the Bishop of the diocese resides. A Church or Cathedral can only become a Basilica when it has been designated as such by the Pope. There are only approximately 84 minor Basilicas in the United States.

Adjoining either side of St. Louis Cathedral, are the Cabildo (where the Louisiana Purchase was signed) and the Presbytere (the former home of Capuchin monks). The Cabildo and The Presbytere are now both part of the Louisiana State Museum. The Presbytere has two permanent exhibits (Mardi Gras, and Hurricane Katrina), and both are very well done, with many displays, as well as many interactive tools one may cater to their specific visit.

Of course, although the present-day St. Louis Cathedral is both beautiful and striking, it’s history has been an interesting and eventful one. The first Buildings used to house the developing congregation were destroyed due to a Hurricane, in 1722. The first St. Louis Church was built in 1727 and dedicated to King Louis IX of France (who was later canonized), in accordance with the town plan. Unfortunately, it burned to the ground during the Good Friday Fire of 1788. St. Louis Cathedral was rebuilt and reopened on Christmas Eve in 1794, as a Cathedral. (It almost burnt to the ground once again within a year.) In 1850, while attempting to repair the Cathedral, the repair attempts instead served to cause much of what was left of the Cathedral to fall to the ground, necessitating an almost total rebuild. In 1909, a bomb was detonated inside of the Cathedral, but fortunately did not cause catastrophic damage.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit metropolitan New Orleans. As a result, 2 huge oak trees in St. Anthony’s Garden (the area located directly behind the Cathedral) were uprooted from the ground by high winds, partially destroying the gate facing Pirate’s Alley. Hurricane Katrina also was responsible for damaging the venerable marble statue of Jesus whereby part of Jesus’ left outstretched hand was broken off. This has since been repaired. It should be noted that at night, a light fixture turns on, directed at the aforementioned statue of Jesus, in St. Anthony’s Garden. The resulting shadow of Jesus with his outstretched arms is thereby shown on the façade of St. Louis Cathedral as it faces Royal Street. Locals often refer to this as Touchdown Jesus.

One alley adjoining St. Louis Cathedral was named Pere Antoine Alley after Father Antonio de Sedella, Pastor of the church from 1785-1790, and again 1795-1829. The other adjoining alley was named Pirate’s Alley after none other than Jean Lafitte (who, of course, had little if anything to do with St. Louis Cathedral).

Over the years, several various local Catholic Archbishops Priests and other individuals associated with the Cathedral were buried beneath the Cathedral. Of course, partially due to the burials of these (and other) individuals underneath the Cathedral over the years, St. Louis Cathedral has been the subject of various sightings of ghosts and apparitions over time.

The ghost of Pere Antoine can still be seen as he walks down a side alley between the Cathedral and the Presbytere, normally seen in a long dark robe, wandering the area.

The ghost of Madame Delphine Lalaurie has also been reportedly seen praying for her sins of cruelty and torture of her slaves in a third-row pew and pacing back and forth in front of the confessional booths.

The apparition of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau (buried in St. Louis Cemetery #1) has been seen walking around the church or praying on her knees from one of the pews.

Yet in addition to all of these various hauntings over time, another mysterious occurrence has arisen over the past 10 years concerning St. Louis Cathedral, no doubt causing increased uneasiness and consternation within the French Quarter community in particular. Of course, I am referring to the fact that Touchdown Jesus (the shadow created by the light fixture shining towards the statue of Jesus against the backside of St. Louis Cathedral) is no longer properly lined up!

While I have been fortunate enough to have lived on Royal Street for the past 17 years. I am not sure precisely when Touchdown Jesus began to lean to the Right (well, as viewed by anyone looking at him; technically he is leaning to his Left, or even more properly stated, his shadow is not properly lined up as compared to other architectural aspects of the back side of St. Louis Cathedral). Perhaps this fixation of sorts is in part due to the fact that my balconies directly face Touchdown Jesus and I see Touchdown Jesus on almost a nightly basis. Perhaps this is just an example of my descending mental stability, serving to do nothing but to make me crazier than Son of Sam. (imagine the remainder of this article to be made with non-matching newspaper cut-out letters). Upon self-reflection, perhaps I should consider refilling my ADD script.

In any event, based on my continued history (fixation) of staring at Touchdown Jesus nightly over the past 18 years (thereby shunting my already underwhelming social skills), based on histories as provided by church archives, based on one phone call to Sr. Dolores Kramer, DVM (my aunt) – now residing at her Motherhouse in Chicago, Illinois, and based on my rudimentary deductive skills, I am finally able to formulate what I believe to be the Leading Theories as to what I believe has caused Touchdown Jesus to no longer be lined up properly.

  1. The ghost of Pere Antoine, as he walked down the side of Pere Antoine Alley, understandably upset that Pirate’s Alley is much better known than his namesake alley, and especially upset that Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints used Pirate’s Alley as a backdrop for their 2017 New Orleans Saints commercial, cast a nefarious spell on St. Louis Cathedral, causing the beginning of Touchdown Jesus’ off-center shadow.
  2. The ghost of Madame Delphine Lalaurie, in the midst of an especially angry tirade (previously only reserved for her unfortunate house slaves many years ago, and for Entergy customer service representatives) which in this case was caused by a City of New Orleans Parking Nazi who had booted and eventually towed her carriage away from where Ms. Lalaurie had parked it ‘just for a minute’ (near the intersection of Orleans and Royal Streets) on a Street Cleaning Day, summoned all of the evil within her, to exact revenge on the City of New Orleans and its entire population, by causing Touchdown Jesus’ ill-fated shadow to become off-center.
  3. The apparition of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, in seeking to exact revenge on all French Quarter residents due to the occasional and temporary defacement of her tomb in St. Louis Cathedral, somehow utilized all of her supernatural abilities and ancient voodoo secret chantings, to…well…you know…to cause Touchdown Jesus’s shadow to be off-center.
  4. Someone bumped into the light fixture, thereby causing it to point in a slightly different direction than initially intended, with the presumably unintended consequence that Touchdown Jesus will forever appear to be off-center when the light from this fixture would blanket the statute of Jesus, until addressed by someone with the authority, control, intelligence and 30 seconds of free time necessary to effectuate said repairs.

I have naturally spent hundreds of hours over the past few years, trying to formulate a Plan of Action, in order to ‘Stop The Lean’. To date, all of my plans have been thwarted, or remain in the planning stages. I have had recurrent nightmares over the years, each of which always begin immediately after I had scaled the fence surrounding St. Anthony’s garden. I then manage to get within inches of the light fixture near the Statue of Jesus, when invariably, I am suddenly and without warning tackled and humiliated by forces well beyond my control; namely, by representatives of the The Vieux Carre Commission (VCC), repeatedly informing me that no repair to the light fixture could ever be contemplated, until approved, in writing, by representatives of the VCC. While each of my nightmares is slightly different, they would always invariably end with my opening of a mysterious letter several days later, addressed to me, only to find enclosed in the envelope a 14-page notice from the VCC regarding a series of alleged violations, an explanation of the probable penalties to be assessed, and a hearing date scheduled for the following day.

To this day, Touchdown Jesus remains off-center.

Drew Allen is the owner of Voodoo Lounge, and is Minority Owner of French Quarter Phantoms, both located here in the French Quarter, in New Orleans. He is also a practicing Civil Trial Attorney, licensed to practice law in Illinois, where he still maintains a part-time practice.

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