Ironwork: Gate Detail 623 Ursuline

623 Ursuline

Oldest building, newest activity for this Quarterite

On a bright and lively Friday, I headed down to Nine Roses for lunch in Exchange Alley  to catch up with my MidCity pal and meet her visiting NY friends. After a delicious Vietnamese lunch (I recommend the Cheagan = Cheating Vegan Pho and the coffee Bubble Tea),  we then took a mosey around the Quarter.  We ended up doing an activity that I have never done over my 35 + years here: going into the Old Ursuline Convent Museum which, as anyone knows who spends more than a day here, is the oldest existing building in the city and actually predates any in the entire Mississippi Valley. According to the National Parks Service, “This is the finest surviving example of French Colonial public architecture in the country, Louis XV in style, formal and symmetrical, with restrained ornament. It was constructed between 1748 and 1752 for nuns whose mission was to nurse the poor and teach young girls.” The Ursuline Nuns staffed the first hospital in the vast Louisiana Territory that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, and from the Appalachians to the Rocky Mountains.  In this same facility were established the first convent in what is now the territory of the United States, the first day nursery, the first orphanage, and the first institution of Catholic charities.


The docents are dedicated, full of fascinating details and should be commended for their  pleasant natures, considering how many times a day they say the same thing.

You enter into the tiny gift shop where you buy tickets and hear about Our Lady of Prompt Succor, patroness of New Orleans, who every good New Orleanian knows, protects us from bad winds of hurricanes and more.

After purchasing tickets (thanks to our generous visitors) you are free to head into the courtyard, then into the main building. The docent there directs you to the tour of the church to your left, which was built in the 1840s on the site of the original Ursuline chapel as the Archbishops Chapel.  That turn of events was possible because of the 1820s move of  the Ursulines up to what is now known as Jefferson Avenue where they remain today (whenever I hear someone talking about that, I hear The Jefferson’s television show theme “Movin On Up”). A lovely church, only open for special events and musical concerts such as during the French Quarter Fest. Of course, we all notice the statue of the saint with a skull in her hand and ask the docent about it who is used to the question: it is Saint Rosalia of Palermo, made for St. Mary’s during the time when it served as the Italian community’s church. The story below taken from Wikipedia was  told to us in almost exactly the same words by the docent, EXCEPT for the last sentence:

Rosalia was born of a Norman noble family that claimed descent from Charlemagne. Devoutly religious, she retired to live as a hermit in a cave on Mount Pellegrino, where she died alone in 1166. Tradition says that she was led to the cave by two angels. On the cave wall she wrote “I, Rosalia, daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Roses, and Quisquina, have taken the resolution to live in this cave for the love of my Lord, Jesus Christ.” The feast of Saint Rosalia is on September 4th. [1]In 1624, a plague beset Palermo. During this hardship Saint Rosalia appeared first to a sick woman, then to a hunter, to whom she indicated where her remains were to be found. She ordered him to bring her bones to Palermo and have them carried in procession through the city.

The hunter climbed the mountain and found her bones in the cave as described. He did what she had asked in the apparition. After her remains were carried around the city three times, the plague ceased. After this Saint Rosalia was venerated as the patron saint of Palermo, and a sanctuary was built in the cave where her remains were discovered.[2] 

Upon examination by a renowned geologist and palaeontologist, William Buckland, the bones of St Rosalia were thought to be those of a goat.[3]

We see the National St. Lazarus order shrine in the hallway and the docent tells us a great “only in New Orleans” story: the building had termites and needed money to treat. The society of St. Lazarus was given this hallway in 1980 to build a permanent shrine in return for their financial assistance and in regard for their respected order which is over a thousand years old; you may know it as the Knights Templar, or as the Knights of the Crusades. The docent tells us that the order gathers at  the shrine every October.

The next area of the museum takes you through the history of the order in New Orleans, which is worth spending some time reading, including Thomas Jefferson’s agreement as to the order’s rights to be held separate from civil authority. His letter was written as a response to their request for autonomy at the time of the American takeover of New Orleans during the Louisiana Purchase:

To the Soeur Therese de St. Xavier farjon Superior, and the Nuns of the order of St. Ursula at New Orleans

I have recieved, holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institution by the former governments of Louisiana. the principles of the constitution and government of the United states are a sure guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to it’s own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority. whatever diversity of shade may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable objects of your institution cannot be indifferent to any; and it’s furtherance of the wholesome purposes of society, by training up it’s younger members in the way they should go, cannot fail to ensure it the patronage of the government it is under. be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it.

I salute you, holy sisters, with friendship & respect.

Th: Jefferson

After that room, take a minute to view the graceful clock in the hall, still with its the original clock face  that was brought with the nuns when they first arrived in New Orleans in the 1720s. That clock later survived the Galveston hurricane which killed those nuns who had left the New Orleans area to set up an order there. The clock was returned to New Orleans and still strikes every 15 minutes (or so).

Then, check out some history of Catholic New Orleans in the other rooms, and finally take some time in the orderly back garden. The temporary exhibit there now is of six people who spent time here who are either saints or on their way to sainthood (“Ordinary People, Extraordinary Gifts: The Road To Sainthood”). The statues are very pleasing  and are set at human height to allow for close inspection. (After reading a bit online  about Cornelia Peacock Connelly, I can see why she deserved to be venerated by the church!)

The last welcome sight was of the rubber tree that I had grown to enjoy for many years as a passerby, and used to hang heavily over the convent wall. After a hard freeze a few years back (an unlikely occurrence in the city but it does happen) the rubber tree had disappeared from view. I had hoped that it had not been taken out entirely and had kept my eye out for its return on top of that wall for some years- how cheery to note  from an inside vantage point that it is just about ready to be seen by the outside world again.



Community Architect: The Future of Public Markets and the Case of the Lexington Market in Baltimore

A very good description and some simple rules for revitalizing public shed markets written by a Baltimore architect. He focuses his attention on the Lexington Market (which I have visited when in the area for farmers market business) that he seems to work near enough to observe regularly. I remember on my visits being impressed by the vitality of this market even though the quality and quantity of healthy goods seemed low. I actually still think about this market regularly, because it was a particular kind of anachronism that reminded me of visiting the old West Side Market in Cleveland in the 1960s/1970s; in other words, it still seems exactly like those dark and chaotic largely forgotten shed markets that were sprinkled throughout many American cities back in the mid 20th century. He points out that Lexington already has regular shoppers and acts as a food hub in what is largely a food desert, which is a significant point. It’s interesting that he seems to think that finding ways to attract tourists is one key to making this market really work, which may or may not be true in my estimation. I’ll leave that discussion for another time and post.

In any case, as pointed out by the author, the attention paid recently to many of these markets has often led to one of two outcomes: either successfully engineered spaces full of event activities and local color/products, filled regularly with proud residents on the weekends and eager tourists during the week, OR badly re-designed ones with ridiculous lighting and signage telling us of their authenticity with wide empty aisles and too much of one thing. Unfortunately, the French Market (especially after its hot mess of recent equally overdone and underdone renovations) is more of the second with chunks of the Lexington Market’s structural and place-based issues to solve, but I do believe that it is due for its renaissance. However, it has always seemed to me that the job of French Market director may require someone with the letter “S” on his or her undershirt. Last time I checked, I believe that the job included: maintaining a significant number of historical buildings for the city,  being landlord to the uptown side of the Pontalba building/apartments, overseeing the anarchistic artist and reader colony space in Jackson Square, recruiting and serving the permanent storefront tenants from Jackson Square to Ursuline, and creating and managing events constantly. Ad oh yeah- somehow revitalize the 2 open shed markets at the Barracks end so that locals will come too. Honestly, having watched the last few eras of FM leadership closely, it seems that these open sheds take up 75% of the time and goodwill in that job, while supplying little of the income. What must be understood by the FM board and city officials is that these sheds are now difficult to access for most downtown residents, especially with no quality public transportation. And now with the management of the linear Crescent Park also on their to-do list, I’d say that the sheds and the park are one big problem all on their own, but also the most likely path to winning the hearts and minds of locals and savvy tourists too.

In addition, the massive size and varied uses of the French Market district presents a very different set of spatial problems and possible solutions than what was possible for the small D.C. Eastern or even its slightly more appropriate D.C. sister, the newly fabulous Union Market or any number of others that I or others have visited in the last two decades. The bad history of the last 40 years at the French Market has also meant that people actually have a negative perception, not just a neutral perception of this space and working on those sheds a little at a time is too little to change that to positive. The very serious lack of nearby farm production also needs to be acknowledged and means that simply signaling that local goods are welcome to be sold will not be enough to have enough on hand. And lastly, what to do with the dozens and dozens of vendors who exist there presently? Incentivize a product change or focus on encouraging them to move on to storefronts to make way for new ideas?

One can compare the French Market to the St. Roch Market to see how different their outcomes and the work to make it so. And yet, even with the small footprint and limited uses needed for St. Roch, look how many millions the city had to spend and how much time it has taken to just get to someone leasing it, much less actually successfully filling it with dynamic retail operator, and still, no grocery or low-income component.

from the original post:

Consultants, of course, also aim at the currently totally un-yuppified food selections, in which each baker (there are seven) has the same yellow cakes smothered in colorful oily frostings, and where there is more fried food than exotic fruit. But here, too, lingers the danger of eliminating the authentic Baltimore grit, with specialties like pigs’ feet, freshly cut veal liver (“baby beef”) that can only be had here or in some of the Asian supermarkets out in the County. Most famously and maybe most Baltimore, of course, is Faidley’s, with its seafood, oysters and crabs and, most importantly, the Baltimore crab-cakes, which are shipped on demand nationwide.

Discussions about the Lexington Market quickly touch nerves, depending on with whom one speaks, because the market serves various needs and maybe evokes even more aspirations. There are those who love its gruff authenticity and old fashioned food choices, there are those who use the market for their daily shopping because adjacent neighborhoods to the west have scarcely any stores, and then there is a growing number of people who think that the market surely doesn’t live up to its potential and needs a major re-set. Community Architect: The Future of Public Markets and the Case of the Lexington Market in Baltimore.