St. Louis Cathedral – New Orleans, Louisiana - Atlas Obscura

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St. Louis Cathedral

This cathedral dedicated to Louis IX, sainted King of France, holds many secrets. 


The Basilica of St. Louis King of France, the oldest Roman Catholic Cathedral still in use in the United States. A stunning three-spired brick and post building, a type of construction used in New Orleans until the mid-19th century, its bells can still be heard tolling the hour.

The soaring center spire is flanked by two smaller spires on either side and a perfectly symmetrical façade opening up to a pedestrians-only plaza facing Jackson Square. The park, with a statue of Andrew Jackson in the foreground, is New Orleans architecture at its finest.  In 1721 French architect Adrien De Pauger dedicated the site for the construction of the church where it served the people of New Orleans until the great fire of 1788. The church was rebuilt and dedicated on Christmas Eve 1794 under the title Cathedral of the Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas.

A testament to French architecture, people have come to this stunning church for 300 years to worship and seek eternal life. But when you enter the St. Louis Cathedral, you are just as close to death.

Just beneath your feet as you sit in the pews are buried hundreds of the church’s faithful. Since 1850, the church has entombed bishops and archbishops of New Orleans alike in the crypts beneath the Cathedral; the most recent in 2011, Archbishop Philip Hannan.

The prominent members of the church, as well as the laypeople of New Orleans, lay interred within the crypts beneath the church. Through three centuries of disasters and renovations, the church has lost track of exactly whose remains rest in each tomb.

There are seven crypts remaining in reserve for the archbishops of New Orleans at the westernmost foundation for the Cathedral.

To access the crypts, you must open several panels in the floor of the main sanctuary, descend a centuries-old stairway and pass through an equally aged set of double doors. The oldest of the crypts are partially submerged and access through crawl spaces under the cathedral. These are inaccessible.

Know Before You Go

Situated in the heart of the French Quarter, the St. Louis Cathedral is directly across from the Jackson Square. Located at 615 Pere Antoine Alley, it is best to pay for parking on Dumaine Street and walk through the French Quarter to reach the Cathedral as driving in historic downtown New Orleans can be challenging at any time of the year.

The crypts are not opened often; in most cases, they are opened for funerary purposes, written requests, or occasionally the media.

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September 2, 2021

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