We sat on top of St. Louis Cathedral, on the ledge that went around the base of the tall middle steeple.
–A Beautiful Evil, p. 63
Looking remarkably like a Disney castle, St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans is actually the third church building to sit on that site. The first was a wooden colonial building in 1718. Next came a brick-and-post building that opened its doors in 1727. It stood for six decades.
In 1788, a fire down the street set off a catastrophe that burned much of the block, including the church. The second church, this one a much bigger cathedral, opened Christmas Eve 1794. Underneath were at least 12 dignitaries who had been buried there while the first church was standing.
A clock and bell (and bell tower) were added in the early 1800s, and they still ring over Jackson Square today.
In the 1840s, the cathedral underwent renovations to compete with the newly remodeled and expanded Pontalba Apartments, which flank the church on both sides of the square. It was in terrible shape and collapsed. It reopened in the 1850s. Pope John Paul II visited in 1987.
Lore: Story of Pere Dagobert
In 1764, the King of France quietly gave the colony of New Orleans to the King of Spain. He forgot to tell his Creole subjects in New Orleans. Spaniards arrived in 1766, took down the French flag and replaced it with a Spanish one. Thinking that they were being invaded, the people formed an army led by six prominent Creole men.
The Spanish left in haste, escaping to Cuba. In 1769, a fleet of 24 Spanish ships carrying troops and a fiery new governor of Irish decent, Don Alejandro O’Reilly, retook New Orleans. The new governor had his troops chase down the six leaders of the rebellion and shot them, leaving their bodies in front of the church.
The new governor forbade anyone from moving the bodies for burial, but decreed that they were to be left to rot in front of the church. Anyone caught moving the remains would suffer the same fate.
The beloved Pere Dagobert visited this merciless governor twice, pleading to be allowed to give these men a proper burial. However, the governor refused him both times, and threatened to shoot Pere Dagobert if he came back again to ask for the bodies.
During a big storm, Pere Dagobert gathered all the families, had the remains put into pine boxes, led a funeral and sang the mass. He led the procession down to St.Peter’s cemetery, singing all the way, where the remains were buried in unmarked graves. No one stopped them. While Pere Dagobert was replaced by a new Spanish monk, Dagobert lived until he died of natural causes. He was buried under the main altar.