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A Pillar of Faith in Downtown Lafayette
The Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in downtown Lafayette, LA stands as a sentinel to the faith of generations of followers. It is the third church built on the site donated by Jean Mouton in 1821, when Lafayette was the town of Vermilionville. The present Dutch Romanesque landmark, completed in 1916, is on the National Registry of Historic Properties. Massive brick walls contrast with graceful arches and delicate red and white brickwork. Turrets flank the octagonal steeple above, from which the bells toll.
The Italian marble main altar displays mosaic representations of wheat and grapes, symbolizing the bread and wine of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The center mosaic, a mother pelican feeding her young, is also a Eucharistic symbol. Additionally, four stone medallions, as revealed in Ezekiel 10:14, depict the four Evangelists: Matthew by a human head; Mark by the head of a lion; Luke by the head of an ox and John by the head of an eagle. Two similar side altars hold the Tabernacle for the Blessed Sacrament (left side altar) and the repository for the Holy Oils (right side altar).
Blessed Sacrament Altar
Located to the left of the sanctuary, the Blessed Sacrament altar is one of the most sacred places in the Cathedral. The tabernacle has the Ciborium inside and has two gilt-wood angels as its guards. Above this altar, a wooden crucifix hangs between the alpha and the omega. A hand-carved candle stand supports the vigil light, a reminder of the Eucharistic presence. In the underground crypts before this altar are interred Bishop Jules Benjamin Jeanmard and Bishop Maurice Schexnayder, first and second bishops of Lafayette.
Blessed Mother Shrine
‘O, my most sweet Mother, you call me and say to me: ‘If anyone is a little one, let him come to me.’ Children always have their mother’s name on their lips, and they call her whenever they are in danger, fright, or difficulty. O sweet Mother, O Loving Mother, you want me, like a little child, to call upon you always and to have unceasing recourse to you. . . Permit me then to invoke you constantly and say: ‘O Mother, loving Mother!’ Your name consoles me, moves me tenderly and reminds me of my obligation to love you. ‘My Mother’, thus I call you, thus I want to call you always. After God, you are my home, my refuge, and my love in this vale of tears. O my Sweet Lady and Mother! Since you love me: make me like you. You have the power to change hearts; then take my lowly heart dear Mother Mary and transform it into an image of your Immaculate Heart! Show all the world how great is your power in favor of those you love! Sanctify me and make me worthy of being your child.”
The magnificent music, that has always been part of the rich and colorful history of St. John Parish, glorifies the art and architecture of the Cathedral. This music resounds from the balcony, which houses the Casavant Frères, Limitée organ installed in the l985 renovation.
St. John Cemetery
St. John Cemetery is the oldest in the city of Lafayette. The high water table in South Louisiana makes aboveground burial almost a necessity. The tomb of Jean Mouton, who donated the property for the church, is in this cemetery. Along with his son, Alexandre Mouton, governor of Louisiana from l843 to l846, and his grandson, J. Alfred Mouton, a West Point graduate and general in the Civil War. Ambassador Jefferson Caffery's and his wife's tombs are in the cemetery, alongside each other. Ambassador Jefferson Caffery, a native of Lafayette, served many years in the U. S. Diplomatic Corps.
The interior nave consists of a series of arches supported by columns, a blind story, and a clerestory. Oil paintings of Christ the King and Apostles decorate the groin-vaulted ceiling. Beautiful flambeau stained glass, made in Munich, Germany, portray the life of Saint John the Evangelist, the patron of the Cathedral. His red cloak usually identifies him. Fourteen mosaic Stations of the Cross line the walls of the two side aisles. Statues of favorite saints are in shrines throughout the Cathedral.
Behind the altar, a marble chair is fashioned with columns, Corinthian capitals, and a miter motif. A multi-colored mosaic of the first bishop of the Diocese's coat of arms decorates the upper portion of the chair. The Latin name of this chair is cathedra, which is the origin of the English word Cathedral. Only the local Ordinary (Bishop) uses the chair when he celebrates or presides at Mass or a special liturgical event.
Baptismal Font and Sacred Oil Repositories
Priests, during the Sacrament of Baptism (rebirth through the waters), use the glorious marble baptismal font. Above the altar, the Holy Spirit is symbolized by a gilt metal sculpture of a dove and sun rays. Upon the altar are three special repositories for holy oils used in the Cathedral during the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Ordinations, and Anointing of the Sick.
Sacred Heart of Jesus Shrine
O most holy heart of Jesus, fountain of every blessing, I adore you, I love you, and with lively sorrow for my sins I offer you this poor heart of mine. Make me humble, patient, pure and wholly obedient to your will. Grant, Good Jesus, that I may live in you and for you. Protect me in the midst of danger. Comfort me in my afflictions, Give me health of body, assistance in my temporal needs, your blessing on all that I do, and the grace of a holy death. Amen.
A flagstone plaza adorned with flowers and a fountain, joins the Cathedral, the Cathedral Center, and Saint JohnCemetery. Ornamental wrought iron gates topped with a cross and sunburst frame the entrance to the ancient cemetery. Inscribed in the arch above the gate is a scriptural text in French: 'Il essuiera toute l'arme' translates to 'He will wipe away every tear', Apoc. III.Make me humble, patient, pure and wholly obedient to your will. Grant, Good Jesus, that I may live in you and for you. Protect me in the midst of danger. Comfort me in my afflictions, Give me health of body, assistance in my temporal needs, your blessing on all that I do, and the grace of a holy death. Amen.
St. John Oak Tree
The ancient, majestic St. John Oak Tree is the perfect sentinel to our magnificent Cathedral. Many speculate that our first pastor (Michel Bernard Barriere) selected the specific plot of land for the church parish due to the grand oak tree, which would have been 275 years old at that time (1821). This mammoth oak, located to the right of the church, is the third oldest member of the Live Oak Society, an organization dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of mature live oak trees in the United States. The near five-century-old tree measures 9 feet in diameter, with a circumference of 28 feet 8 inches; it stands approximately 126 high with a spread of 210 feet across. This last measure was taken on May 30, 2008 by Jim Foret.