Thursday, January 13, 2011

Honeymoon Adventures, Part 2: The Churches of New Orleans

"He took her to plays and annoyed her by whispering that God probably didn’t approve of such amusements, and to churches and, sotto voce, retailed funny obscenities and then reproved her for laughing." 
--Gone with the Wind, Chapter XLVIII

Yesterday we explored the theatres of New Orleans that Rhett and Scarlett could have frequented on their honeymoon, and today we turn our attention to our second installment of their honeymoon adventures with a look at the churches of New Orleans.  So without further ado, let's get started on examining the Butlers' more spiritually-minded pursuits.  

St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans
St. Louis Cathedral.  We would be remiss if we did not start our discussion with the most famous place of worship in the New Orleans: the St. Louis Cathedral, which presides in stately grandeur over Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter. Named for King Louis IX of France, St. Louis Cathedral bears the distinction of being not only the oldest church in the fair city of New Orleans, but also the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the United States. Originally established in 1718 as a modest wood building, the church was upgraded to a larger, brick structure in 1727, only to be destroyed in the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788. The cornerstone for the new church was laid in 1789 and by the time of the church's completion in 1794, it had already been named a cathedral the year before. 

Later renovations were made in 1849-50 to bring the St. Louis Cathedral its "modern" state, which is how Rhett and Scarlett would have encountered on their honeymoon. The Illustrated Visitors' Guide to New Orleans (1879) describes the legendary church thusly: "the exterior of the Cathedral is of majestic appearance, while the the interior is at once grand, solemn, rich and artistic." Had she attended church there, perhaps Scarlett would have enjoyed her lofty surroundings, as well as felt a connection between the Cathedral's French origins and her own Robillard ancestry. Of course, this wasn't the only church in New Orleans in which Rhett could have brought his new wife, nor the only one that had a connection to Miss O'Hara's background. Which brings us to...

St. Patrick Church, New Orleans
St. Patrick Church. If ever there was a church to catch the fascination of Scarlett O'Hara (a questionable prospect to be sure), St. Patrick Church in New Orleans holds a strong claim to that crown. For as you'll see, the Church recalls Scarlett's own heritage in some truly lovely ways and one would venture that Rhett would score points with his bride if he took her there. In the first decades of the 19th century, Irish immigrants attended church services at St. Louis Cathedral--but its masses conducted solely in French did little to inspire these new arrivals from the Emerald Isle.

So with Gerald O'Hara-like pluck, they set out to establish their own church, one that would be grand enough to rival even the imposing St. Louis Cathedral. The cornerstone for the church, naturally named after the patron saint of Ireland, was laid in 1838 and by 1840 the church was complete. Modelled after the Exeter Cathedral, St. Patrick's elaborate Gothic architecture fulfilled the dreams of its Irish builders and the church soon become nationally renowned for its beauty. In 1850, it even served as the pro-cathedral for New Orleans while St. Louis went under renovation.

Noted for its "grave and quiet grandeur" per the Illustrated Visitors' Guide to New Orleans, St. Patrick's interior features three soaring murals behind the main altar: the Transfiguration of Christ in the main panel, with the Christ Walking on Water on the right--and St. Patrick baptizing the Princesses of Ireland in the halls of Tara. Of this, we think Scarlett would wholehearted approve. Perhaps a longer honeymoon would have even made a church-goer out of her, if  she only went to St. Patrick's Church to gaze at the royal princesses of Tara.

Christ Church, New Orleans
Christ Church. Thus far we have operated under the assumption that Rhett Butler only took his Catholic (in name, at least) wife to Catholic churches. But perhaps Mr. Butler had other ideas and used their honeymoon excursions to better acquaint Scarlett with the Protestant faith (Ellen Robillard spins in her grave as we speak!). If this was the case, an excellent option for our couple would have been Christ Church, the oldest Protestant Church in New Orleans and Episcopalian in its denomination. (GWTW of course hints that Rhett is Episcopalian). Christ Church was founded in 1803 by an intrepid band of 53 Protestants who endeavored to create the first non-Catholic place of worship in New Orleans. In order to decide on the church's denomination, they held a vote--and the Episcopalians won in a landslide, garnering 45 total votes. The church grew rapidly and by 1846 a new Gothic structure was built to better accomodate its growing faith community. Recognized for its buttresses and central tower, the Christ Church was described by Jewell's Illustrated Crescent City as "one of the most elegant church structures in New Orleans," thereby making it an ideal venue for our always image-conscious twosome.

So ends our look at the churches of New Orleans. We hope that you've enjoyed our exploration of the theatres and churches of New Orleans, and that it's given you a little more insight to the places that Rhett and Scarlett could have actually seen on their honeymoon.

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