Saturday, August 14, 2010

Courting Clio at old St. Alphonsus

Don't be jealous, I pray thee sweet Calliope, you've been so good to this unworthy blogger. I confess I've been thinking of starting a new blog called "Clio Street," to serve your sister muse and share my passion for the history of our beloved home. Speaking of passion, way, way down on the brainstem is another blog called "Erato Street" (for a preview, see the Guys & Dolls tag at right).  For now, better stick with history. Church history at that.

Famous churches historic New Orleans
I had the great good fortune recently to join the board of the Friends St. Alphonsus Arts & Cultural Center, housed in the de-sanctified  church (Blogger's note, May 17 2011: I have just learned that the church is neither de-sanctified nor de-conscecrated. My apologies, faithful readers) on Constance Street built by Irish immigrants in 1855. A one-time parishioner of St. Mary's Assumption, the symbol-rich German immigrant church right across the street, I've always loved this tightly packed complex of beautiful Baroque churches and attendant schools, nunneries and shrines. Sundays past were a pilgrimage back to the womb of Roman Catholicism in America's most Roman Catholic city.

We had a committee meeting today and I brought along my camera, and my son and trusty tripod-bearer, Lucien, to shoot a few pictures. Here's one of the pulpit and side altar:
Prisoner art
Canova frescoes New Orleans

And here's the apotheosis of Alphonsus himself, the center cameo in the ceiling frescoes by Canova -- not Antonio, the genius and sculptor, but his nephew, Domenico, the painter, who also adorned a lot of banks, hotels, and homes around New Orleans in the late 19th Century. We're trying to raise about $1 million to restore the frescoes. Your support of this worthy effort is much appreciated. But I have to say I do like the looks of St. Alphonsus as is, with all the peeling plaster, chipped gilt, and other signs of great age and benign neglect. That's history after all. Very New Orleans, too.

The small museum off the main altar has many curiosities. I admired this fine Celtic cross, fashioned by an Irish political prisoner from matchsticks and bits of phonograph records during "The Troubles."  Also this porcelain presentation cup from 1900 featuring the well-fed and contented looking Archbishop Blenk.   

The Center is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10 AM to 2 PM. It's free and well worth a visit.   



  1. Beautiful building and great photos! How does a church become de-sanctified? Is there some kind of reverse Mass announcing "God has left the building"?
    I added CS to the blog list on Kate on Clinton, not that I blog much these days.

  2. Fun question, Kate. But I'd say God is definitely still in the building!

  3. What a fantastic church! I ride by there *all the time* and haven't ever stopped in. I'm adding it to the list.

  4. Thanks Whatisaw,
    Look forward to seeing old Saint Al's on your delightful daily blog.