The Saint Louis Cathedral, sitting along Place John Paul II, the promenaded section of Chartres Street stretching the last length of Jackson Square is the oldest, continuously operating cathedral in the United States and the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Three Roman Catholic churches have sat on this site since 1718. The first church was a crude wooden structure in the early days of the colony. Construction of a larger brick and timber church began in 1725 and was completed in 1727. It was destroyed, along with a large number of other buildings of the city, in the Great New Orleans Fire on Good Friday, March 21, 1788.
The cornerstone of the present structure, designed by Gilberto Guillemard and was financed by Don Andrès Alomonester y Rojas, was laid in 1789, elevated to cathedral status in 1794 and completed in 1795. In 1819, Henry S. Boneval Latrobe added the clock and bell tower. Between 1845 and 1851, Jacques N. B. de Pouilly remodeled and enlarged the church.
On 25 April, 1909 a dynamite bomb was set off in the Cathedral, blowing out windows and damaging galleries. The Cathedral suffered further damage in the New Orleans Hurricane of 1915. The following year a portion of the foundation collapsed, closing the church for a year, from Easter 1916 to Easter 1917, while repairs were made.
In 1964, the cathedral was designated as a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI. Pope John Paul II visited the basilica, on the occassion of his second pastoral visit in the United States on September 12, 1987.
While Hurricane Katrina did not hit the French Quarter hard, the high winds managed to displace two large oak trees in St. Anthony's Garden behind the Cathedral. In the process, thirty feet of ornamental gate was dislodged, while the marble statue of Jesus Christ only lost a forefinger and a thumb. Because Katrina was suddenly downgraded from a Category 5 to a Category 4 and made a last second turn to the north just before impacting the coast, local folklore says that of Jesus sacrificed his two fingers while flicking the storm away from the city and saving it from its total destruction.
To St. Louis Cathedral's left is the Cabildo, built in 1795. It served as the capitol for the Spanish colonial government, then later as City Hall, and home of the State Supreme Court, and today houses the Louisiana State Museum. It was here that the finalization of the Louisiana Purchase was signed. To the cathedral's right is the Presbytère, built between 1794 and 1813. It originally housed the city's Roman Catholic priests and authorities, and then served as a courthouse until 1911. Today it is part of the Louisiana State Museum, housing a Mardi Gras Exhibit.
Vieux Carré Historic District National Register #66000377 (1966)