What do the flags hanging above the benches of Saint-Louis Cathedral represent? I recognize a few, but not all.
First, let’s give a brief history of Saint Louis Cathedral itself. The current building – named in honor of Saint Louis IX, King of France – is the third to stand on the site. However, New Orleanians have worshiped in churches since 1727.
Most of the buildings we see now were constructed between 1849 and 1851. The cathedral, a National Historic Landmark, is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continuous use in the United States.
According to a story published by the cathedral, the two rows of flags hanging from each balcony represent various governments and dioceses in Louisiana. The papal flag (adopted in 1929 to represent Vatican City and the Pope) and the American flag are also depicted.
Among the flags is the one bearing the coat of arms of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Six other flags represent the dioceses of Louisiana which, along with New Orleans, form what the Catholic Church calls the ecclesiastical province of New Orleans: Alexandria, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Houma-Thibodaux, Lake Charles and Shreveport.
On the right side of the cathedral (facing the altar) are 10 flags that flew over Louisiana. This includes the French fleur-de-lis (1682), the Spanish flag (1769) and the English flag, representing areas east of the Mississippi (excluding New Orleans) acquired by the British in 1763. D Other flags represent Napoleonic France and the first United States (both from 1803) as well as the flag of the West Florida Rebellion (1810).
At the time, only one other historic preservation district existed in the country, in Charleston, South Carolina.