The majestic St. Louis Cathedral stands at 615 Pere Antoine Alley, New Orleans. Known to be one of the oldest in the United States, the Cathedral is also the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. It is a little known fact that the structure now stands where 4 of it’s predecessors have fallen.
The original structure was erected in 1718 and was no comparison to the Cathedral that we know today. It was a modest wood framed building, which served the tight knit community of New Orleans well, until burning to the ground in the French Quarter fire of 1788.
By 1794 the Spanish had erected a new Cathedral, it was declared so in 1793 by Pope Pius. The new brick and mortar improvement boasted two rounded steeples on the front facade, with beautiful Spanish architecture throughout. Later in 1819 the addition of a central tower was commissioned to Ben Henry Latrobe, who designed the white house. Latrobe would have the bell and original clock shipped in from Paris to complete the addition.
The beautiful new cathedral drew crowds from all around and by 1849 and expansion was desperately needed in order to house the congregation. In 1850, during the aggressive renovations, the central tower collapsed causing a brief halt in the renovations in order to redesign and basically, rebuild the ST. Louis Cathedral that we know and love today. *(The St. Louis Cathedral is now recognized as a basilica ordained so in 1964, by John Paul 11.)
Now that we’ve studied up on the physical history of the Cathedral, lets’ explore the haunted history!
Pere Dagobert was a Capuchin Monk who would become Pastor of the St. Louis Church in 1745. A beloved member of the community, Dagobert saw to the needs of the poor, the slave and the imprisoned. He was known as a compassionate man, respected and loved by all. In 1764 when the local French community discovered that New Orleans had ceded to Spain, six of the most prominent men would gather forces and rebel. All six of these men were close associates to Pere Dagobert. When the revolt had ended, the six men were hunted down and assassinated by firing squad and were left in the street to be unburied, by orders of the new Spanish Governor. Dagobert could not have these brave men left dishonorably in the streets to rot. Dagobert managed, somehow, to recover the bodies from the street, contact the relatives and perform a sanctified burial Mass in the church and then had them buried within St. Louis Cemetery #1.
You will know that you have encountered Pere Dagobert when you hear him singing church hymns along the street of the Cathedral toward the cemetery.
Pere Antoine arrived in New Orleans around 1774 with the Spanish Inquisition but not that he was a participant! Antoine was a peaceful man, he too saw to the needs of the less fortunate and undesirables. He would also become Pastor of the St. Louis Church until it burned down in 1788. So loved by the community was he, that he would continued to Pastor the newly constructed Cathedral of 1794 until his death 1829. During this time as he ministered to and cared for the needy, he was assisted frequently by Marie Laveau. Antoine had baptized Laveau into the Catholic religion and would even perform her wedding ceremony.
You are most likely to see Pere Antoine early in the morning strolling along a small street named for him that runs along side of the Cathedral. It is not likely that he will notice you as it is said that he is reading from his prayer book as he walks. There is another occasion where Antoine is said to appear. Pere Antoine’s Christmas Midnight Mass, Antoine is sometimes seen walking to the left side of the main altar, He is usually holding a candle and can be recognized by his robes, they are not elaborate as the Archbishops and other Priests’.
Marie Laveau well know for her practice of Voodoo, was also a devout Catholic. After having served alongside Antoine within the community for years, Laveau would be denied a proper burial. Though her tomb is unmarked, it is local “common knowledge” where she rests (or not) within St. Louis Cemetery #1.
Aimee Brusle was a member of Antoines’ congregation since her youth. Daughter of a successful local baker, Brusle would council with Antoine in reference to her upcoming marriage to a local business man named Edward Gottchalk. Against Antoines’ advice, Bursle would proceed with the marriage; Antoine, begrudgingly would perform the ceremony. It would not be long before Brusle regretted the marriage. Gottchalk had a mistress that he kept in a house down the street from his family home where Brusle raised their children, less her youngest daughter who succumbed to yellow fever. One of her children, Louis Gottchalk, was a musical child prodigy that would go on to be recognized as an artist of great acclaim.
Brusle grew depressed, the only place she knew peace was on the keyboard of the Cathedra;s’ newly installed organ where she would play for hours on end to sooth her own soul. It is there, in the loft where the organ was installed that you will see Aimee, staring down upon the congregation below. It is said that sometimes she appears distraught and her sobs can be hear echoing through the Cathedral. Other times she seems to want to communicate but there are also times when she is quite angry and she will not hesitate to express it!
Ben Henry Latrobe was the architect that designed the center tower of the Cathedral. It was one of his crowning achievements but he would not survive to witness it upon completion. Latrobe was said to haunt the tower while still under construction. Workmen refused to labor without a partner as a chilling presence could almost always certainly be felt and if they were to remain for too long, his presence would be confirmed as he would materialize before the men. It was common practice not to lay down tools within the tower as they would disappear into thin air. Many by standers have heard the bell toll ever so slightly even when the air stands still.
Jean Delachaux was a local clock maker, commissioned with seeking out a clock worthy enough to be installed in Latrobe’s new tower. Upon acquiring the clock in Paris, he would accompany it to the construction site at the ST. Louis Cathedral. Ever burdened by his choice, Delachaux still has doubts of the clocks’ quality and dependability. He can be seen in 1800’s attire, pacing in front of the cathedral.
Madame LaLaurie, New Orleans’ most noted serial killer, is known to haunt the Cathedral as well. Upon so shamefully having been driven from her home, it is said that LaLaurie died in Paris. Her remains were shipped back to New Orleans and buried in a unmarket grave in St. Louis Cemetery #1. Madame LaLaurie can be seen perched upon the third pew, praying profusely as she stares up to the central altar. She has also been spotted pacing back and forth in front of the confessionals, perhaps awaiting absolution for the atrocities she had committed in life.
There are of course many reports of other apparitions that have never been identified. Ghostly disembodied faces are said to stare back at you from behind the lavatory mirrors. Cries can be heard from within the vestibule at any given moments, cold spots, orbs and other unexplained phenomena are all the norm here at the New Orleans St. Louis Cathedral.