St. Anthony’s Garden
Behind the St. Louis Cathedral is a small, patch of land. Unassumingly nestled between the corner of Orleans and Royal street, St. Anthony’s Garden, a small complacent garden for many years, grew to be one of many gruesome tales. The garden was developed along with the plans for the French Quarter in 1721, by French engineer Adrian De Pauger. Designed for the Capuchin Monks, it was a small garden behind the Presbytere on St. Ann street. Here, the monks would grow vegetables to eat and sell for money. The site where it stands today operated as an early burial ground for many of the first settlers in the area. Later on, this plot of land became a home for Antoine De Sedella, or “Pére Antoine,” the most beloved priest in New Orleans history. Many say his spirit still resides in the garden that holds his namesake today. Pirates Alley, to the left of the garden, is haunted by pirates that used to frequent the area. Many even hear swords clashing late at night from duels long gone. A plethora of spirits exists in the Garden. To learn about these spirits read on, or perhaps take a ghost tour with US Ghost Adventures.
The Garden: Then and Now
After the death of Pere Antoine in 1829, the shape of the Garden changed and it officially became a public space. Orleans street used to run directly through where the garden is today, with homes on either side. It wasn’t until the 1830s when the famous alleys on either side were added to the Cathedral did we get the modern garden we know today. In 1849 as the St. Louis Cathedral got its final facelift and the shape of the garden has remained the same since. It became known as “Place Antoine” or “Place St. Antoine” and was a common place for the citizens of New Orleans to gather. Lemonade and Ice cream were often sold here in the mid-1800s. Later on, it became a common place for Creoles to duel, many died here in this garden. A more sinister meeting place, in contrast, to simply a nice place to get a snack.
In the 1920s the State of the Sacred Heart or “Touchdown Jesus” as its lovingly known locally was added. It is illuminated by light every night and hauntingly towers over the garden. Truly a wondrous sight and spooky sight to see. After Katrina, the Garden was destroyed but the Archdiocese, owners of the garden, held a fundraiser to restore the garden to its original brilliance. Many archeological digs have taken place in the garden. Uncovering keys to the city’s past. Artifacts from the French Colonial period, the pre-European Native American period, and even caskets from the original cemetery have been discovered. Giving us clues to how life may have been in these times. Today, although it is closed to the public, it is a common stop for many ghost tours and a great photo opportunity for many visitors to the area. Within a matter of one block lies the tales of numerous ghost stories and the remnants of a time past.
The Spirit Of Pére Antoine
Father Antoine De Sedella or “Pére Antoine” has odd origins in New Orleans. He came to the city not only as a priest but as a secret member of the Spanish Inquisition. In December of 1788, not long after the great fire that destroyed 2/3rds of the city including the St. Louis Cathedral, Governor Don Estevan de Miro´ received a letter from Père Antoine. He declared that he received the signal from Miro´ to begin the Inquisition in Louisiana. He now required soldiers to punish the heretics in the colony. In order to continue population growth in the new colony Miro´ was forced to exile the priest, sending troops to seize him the very same day he received the letter. Père Antoine would return to New Orleans only a few years later, his hands clean and a new man. He would then would go on to govern the St. Louis Cathedral for the next forty years and became the city’s most beloved priest in New Orleans history. Did you know he married Marie Laveau to her first husband Jacques Paris on August 4th, 1819? He mysteriously disappeared some years later and the exact reason is unknown to this day. Maybe suspect foul play and that she made him disappear. To learn more about her and Voodoo consider taking a Voodoo and Vampire Tour. On the day of his death, all businesses were closed and flags were flown at half mast in his honor. They say his spirit still haunts St. Anthony’s Garden. He is seen tending to his former homestead and can often be seen through the stained glass windows during mass. Sometimes tour guides and tourists alike hear him praying in both French and Spanish. The alley to the right of the Cathedral and Garden is named after him and is a frequent place to catch a glimpse of his spirit.
When many think of duels the idea of two lone gun man, counting ten paces, turning to shoot, and testing their marksman skills to the death comes to mind. However with Creoles, New Orleanians of French or Spanish descent, it was a much more elegant matter. Duels were fought with swords and it was considered a matter of honor. Death was not the final intent although it very much ended in a fatality often. Guns were sometimes used but that was seen as brutish and too American for the European Creoles. From the 1740s to the 1830s duels were often fought in St. Anthony’s Garden. Generally fought over the beautiful women these gentlemen were looking to woo in the nearby Orleans Ballroom. But often it was as simple as looking at someone the wrong way or merely stepping on their foot as one passed by. After these fandangos were outlawed they moved to the Dueling Oaks in City Park. They took place there until 1890 when dueling was outlawed altogether n New Orleans. “These events became so frequent that there were often three or four a day in New Orleans,” writes Lyle Saxton in Gumbo Ya-Ya: Folk Tales of Louisiana. It is said that on one Sunday in City Park ten duels took place!
Many can still hear the spirits of these forlorn duelers duking it out in St. Anthony’s Garden today. Beware to not get involved! But perhaps simply take a ghost tour to be a curious spectator of this ancient ritual.
Featured Image: Flickr
Asbury, Herbert, The French Quarter: An informal History of the New Orleans Underworld. 3rd edition, Basic Books, 2008
Long, Carolyn Morrow. A New Orleans Voudou Priestess: The Legend and Reality of Marie Laveau, 1st edition, University Press of Florida, 2006
Saxon, Lyle et al. Gumbo Ya Ya: Folk Tales of Louisiana. 3rd edition. Pelican Publishing Company 1987