New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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March 21, 1788 The Good Friday Fire



The first Church of St. Louis, dedicated in 1727, was the most impressive building in the city. Over the door was a clock which struck the hours only. A
small belfry housed not one but two bells.

The permanent church was the pride of the community and the Capuchins. The first problem to surface once the church began services was not caused by faulty construction or the weather, but by the stormy faithful. As was customary at the time, armchairs were made available near the altar for the Governor and the Intendant. Two L-shaped pews were provided for members of the Superior Council and staff officers. All pews in the church were auctioned off to the highest bidders. This led to considerable rivalry amongst the parishioners, each wishing to obtain the most desirable seat. Just as the structure survived the damp, humid climate, the squabbling over pew space also passed.

In 1763, the harsh elements finally took their toll on the building. The holy structure had to be abandoned while necessary repairs were made. Once again, the people went to services in a temporary structure. This one was in the king’s warehouse on Dumaine Street. After many months the building was finally repaired and reopened.

On March 21, 1788, the first permanent Church of St. Louis was delivered a devastating blow. The catastrophe has gone down in New Orleans history books labeled "the Good Friday fire." The church survived the ravages of time, the elements and squabbling over pew space, but not the flames of 1788. The entire French Quarter was literally levelled to the ground. In all, 856 out of 880 structures lay in ashes including the Church of St. Louis. This was the city’s greatest catastrophe.

During the six decades that the church stood, there worshipped within its walls French Governors Perier, Bienville, Kerlerec, and Spanish Governors Unzaga, Galvez, Miro and Manuel Gayoso. Gayoso died in New Orleans, and is the only colonial governor buried in Louisiana. His mortal remains were buried in the church.

For 61 years, the first structure housing the Church of St. Louis was the center of community life in south Louisiana. Babies, be they lowly or highborn, free, or slave, were baptized in the church. Couples were joined in holy matrimony. Through its doors, the mortal remains of the faithful were brought for the burial rites of Holy Mother Church.

From the beginning of life to preparation for eternal life, and all times in between, the Church of St. Louis served the faithful then as it does today.

Sources: Buddy Stall at