By 1718, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur d' Bienville was governor of the colony of Louisiana and had established his home, called Le Nouvelle Orleans, 100 miles up the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico. His plans for the layout of New Orleans used, as a model, the layout of the resettlement of Mobile, which was the capital of French Louisiana. This model established the place for Jackson Square as the central square in the plans for the new city.
In 1721, Audrien de Pauger laid out the location for the original square then called the Place d' Armes. This original square was the very center of the French Quarter which was then called the Vieux Carre or "old square" or the "cite" by it's earliest inhabitants.. The borders of the Quarter overlooked the Mississippi River, in the front, and in the back by what is now Rampart Street, on the south by Esplanade Avenue, and on the north by what was once an actual canal, but is now Canal Street.
The square was intended as a spot to hold military drills and public executions. One of the most infamous executions ever held in the square was in 1811 and followed the German Coast Uprising when 3 slaves were publicly hung, dismembered, and their body parts used to decorate the gates.
In 1840, in a ceremony, Andrew Jackson returned to the spot where he had defeated the British during the Battle of New Orleans. It was then that he laid the cornerstone for the monument which would eventually hold the statue of him astride his horse that stands in Jackson Square today. The statue, designed by Clark Mills, one of only three by this artist in the U.S., was not in place until 1856.
Before the statue was put into place, in 1844, Baroness Pontalba, daughter of Don Andres Almonaster y Roxas of Andalucia, who had donated the money to build the second St Louis Cathedral, proposed plans to build two storied arcaded facades in front of two old buildings that bordered the Place d' Armes. She had inherited both buildings from her father, Don Andres. The facades were designed to match the Cabildo and Presbytere which bordered each side of the cathedral on the eastern side of the square. During this period, in 1850, the plaza was renamed Jackson Square to honor Jackson's triumph in battle. Baroness Pontalba's plans were finally carried out in 1852 and transformed Jackson Square into a beautiful public space and meeting ground and built the Pontalba apartments bordering the square today. She had the plaza laid out in a sun pattern with walkways as rays. Iron fences were also erected, creating the square seen today.
The St. Louis Cathedral or Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, that stands next to Jackson Square today is actually the third structure that has stood in that location since 1718, when plans for the city designated the spot as a place of worship.
In 1721, when Audrien de Pauger laid out the original placement for the square, a crude church structure was put into place, but this structure was destroyed in a huge hurricane in 1722. The second was begun in 1725 and was donated by Don Andres Almonaster y Roxas of Andalucia. This second church was finished in 1727 and was dedicated to King Louis IX, sainted king of France who had led the fight in two of the Crusades and was known as the "Crusader King".
Worship in this spot was open to everyone from the high born governors, clergy, colonists, to low born slaves. Many were married there, had their babies baptized there, and were carried through the doors for burial rites before being buried in the oldest known cemetery in the city, at the corner of Burgundy and St. Peters street. This burial site was eventually limited to the wealthy, filled to capacity, and then finally built over in 1800. Today, during rebuilds and renovations artifacts and remains from this time are still found.
In 1788 the Great New Orleans Fire destroyed this second cathedral and 850 other buildings in New Orleans. The fire began when a candle lit draperies at the home of Vincent Jose Nunez, the military treasurer, who lived on Chartes Street. The fire happened on Good Friday so the alarm bells weren't rung because of religious reasons. The pastor at the time, Pere Antoine (Father Antonio de Sedella) tried to save the records held at the church by sending them to the home of the tobacco director "2 rifle shots away" but they eventually burned in the fire, too. Further destruction was wrought when a few months later, a hurricane wiped out more of the city. Many lost their lives during this treacherous time.
Pere Antoine was a much beloved pastor who served the church for a total of 40 years from 1785-1790 and then again in 1795 to his death at 81. His death was viewed as a great tragedy to most but some remembered the fact that he had tried to get set in Louisiana the Holy Office of the Spanish Inquisition and thought of him as a bigot. Most, however, thought of him as a living saint. He made his rounds daily to visit the sick no matter what their religion. He worked to improve conditions for slaves, the poor, and the people in prison. He was said to have stayed awake for weeks during the yellow fever epidemic and was rumored to have baptized Marie Laveau and her children. All of New Orleans went into mourning when he passed away.
The cornerstone for the third church was laid in 1789 and was rebuilt using bricks from the original cemetery. It was elevated to the rank of cathedral in 1793 making it one of the oldest (if not the oldest) continuously operating Roman Catholic cathedral in the U.S. It was completed in 1794. In 1819, a central tower, to hold a clock and bell, was added. New Orleans clockmaker, Jean Delachaux, was commissioned to get the clock and bell for the tower to house. The city council paid for Delachaux's trip to Paris to get the clock and bell which was cast by the same people who cast the bells for Notre Dame. After a high mass, the bell was carried through the doors and baptized with the name of Victoire which was then embossed on it's side by Delachaux.
In 1834, the church was getting too small for it's growing congregation. Trustees consulted French architect J.N.B. Pouilly to design plans for the expansion. Pouilly planned to lengthen the church and add more galleries. Irish builder, John Patrick Kirwan, was hired to carry out the plans in 1849 which called for everything but the lateral walls and lower parts of the tower to be demolished but during the demolitions, these walls had to be demolished, as well. In 1850, as the reconstruction moved forward, the central tower completely collapsed and Kirwan and Pouilly were replaced. As a result, very little of the original Spanish Colonial structure still exists, but the original bell survived to be used again in the new tower that stands today.
The new central tower was built by Latrobe who was famous for his work on the White House and Capital building, for introducing Greek Revival as the style of American national architecture, and for building the first vaulted church in Baltimore, which was the first Roman Catholic church in America.
Multiple image photograph created using film, printed on durable canvas (no framing needed), or as signed limited editions on archival museum weight paper. Limited editions include minimum one inch white border for framing. Canvases available in all color options and in custom sizes on request.
12" x 30"
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I call my works “Crossings”. They represent the images left in our mind’s eye that form after we visit or travel through a place.
Our inner.... giant....mental..... canvas.
How it all began:
My mother always told me I was an observer. She said I would sit still for hours, just watching the world go by. I got my first camera at age 12 but I did not realize the power of photography until I got a chance to participate in a photographic research project on killer whales. There, I began learning the power that photographs held.
I ended up in California. I met a master photographer and printer named Robert Cavalli. I begged him for a job for over a year. Finally, he hired me and taught me everything I know about the possibilities of developing and printing all kinds of black and white film. He was an amazing teacher and I could not have paid for a better education in any school. He was a painter with light and his passion for the medium transferred to me.
Developing my own personal style began when I had to ride a train each day for over 120 miles. It was a unique view of the world. The landscape moving while I sat still, suspended in a metal box. Images scrolled by, some just a flash, some slowly disappearing from view. It became a challenge to capture these visions.
When I reached the end of my trip, my mind always created a single giant mental canvas on which the journey was etched. All that I had experienced was reflected on my mind's eye including what I had seen and feelings about the journey. I realized that this happens when we travel through or visit a place and I began to wonder how I could convey this in an image. I began to collaborate with Robert and it was from our collaborations and years of practice that I was able to develop the image style I use today.
Rebecca McNeill Meyers is a New Orleans artist living and working in the Northshore.
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