History of St. Anne Church
On August 10, 1856, a disastrous storm destroyed Last Island in which over three hundred people perished, among them being a large number from Assumption Parish. This is the event that led to the ultimate building of the Catholic Church in Napoleonville. According to legend, Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Foley of Napoleonville were at the hotel on Last Island at the time of the storm and were swept into the marshes and rescued eleven days later. Mrs. Foley, being a Catholic, prayed to her God, while Mr. Foley, not being Catholic, promised his wife that if her prayers were answered he would embrace her religion. Mr. Foley died later. Mrs. Foley remembered his promise and donated the land on which is not situated St. Anne Catholic Church. According to courthouse records, Mrs. Foley, née Marcelite M. Blanchard, widow of Arthur Morgan Foley, Assumption Parish, as recorded in Conveyance Book No. 30, page 274 dated the 15th day of June 1870, donated the property unto the society of the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Orleans.
The first Catholic Church, given the name St. Napoleon, was a wood building completed in 1874 and served the community until the present structure was completed in 1909. The first church was given the name St. Napoleon by the Archbishop, the Most Reverend Napoleon Joseph Perche of the New Orleans Diocese. The town was not incorporated until 1878, and the story is that the town was named for Napoleon Bonaparte by one of the townspeople who were thought to have been an admirer or soldier of Napoleon Bonaparte. So it was coincidental that the church and town had the same name.
As the congregation grew, the need for a larger church became evident. The present structure was completed in 1909. Area residents were a very devout community and had prayed to St. Anne to spare them during one of the yellow fever epidemics. Having been spared, the congregation kept their promise to her and named the church St. Anne in her honor. Since that time, a novena to St. Anne has been conducted each year prior to her feast day.
The present structure of St. Anne Church is located on the original property on St. Joseph Street in Napoleonville, Louisiana, and is situated on a two block area of land amidst beautifully moss draped oak trees. The contract to build the present structure was awarded to C.C. Stewart of Baton Rouge in August 1908. The cost was $30,000.00. The structure is a banner example of neoclassic architecture. The exterior elements include arched fenestration, stark ornamentation and symmetrical distribution of elements disrupted slightly by a predominant tower on the main facade. The classic Romanesque architecture of the church is very evident in the triple-arched entrance.
The arches are repeated in various areas of the church. For a church located in a small rural area as Napoleonville, it is very ornate. The entire red brick structure is 68 feet by 160 feet long; and it is known as a five-aisle basilica, which is very unusual. Most churches have three aisles. In the interior, the church’s style is suggested by the rich Corinthian capitals at the columns, the heavy unadorned entablature, and the vaulted ceiling decorated with simple designed coffer panels.
In 1996, interior restoration was begun on the church. The “Restore the Beauty Project” contract to paint the inside of the church at the cost of $407,000.00 was awarded to Conrad Schmidt Studios, Inc., of New Berlin, Wisconsin. During the seven-month restoration the crew, averaging five members most of the time, erected scaffolding that covered the entire church. They covered and protected all surfaces, washed every inch of the interior, scraped and patched every square foot of the interior, primed, painted, decorated, washed certain areas again and dismantled the scaffolding.
The last time the church had been painted was in 1956 by Conrad Schmidt Studios at which time lead based paints were used. Lead products were thought to have been safe; however, time and education have proven this was not the case. Therefore, it was necessary to lead abate and encapsulate the entire interior of the church. The new materials and techniques used at this time are the best available on the market.
A great deal of time was spent working on the 45 foot-high vaulted metal pan ceiling. Decking had to be constructed in order to reach these areas. The ceiling consists of 24’ square metal panels that are now finished in a combination of French vanilla and white. There are 1,058 center panels and an additional 215 ceiling panels on each side of the church. According to our artisans, this type of ceiling is very rare. The 23-karat gold leaf designs on the ceiling are duplicates of the original designs.
The church boasts classical Romanesque with the most classic fluted 24-foot columns and capitals with acanthus leaves. The crowning with acanthus leaves follows the order of Greek architecture where acanthus leaves were carved of marble on capitals of Corinthian columns. Terry Meyer, one of our artisans, spent four weeks applying the 24-karat gold leaf to the capitals. After preparation, a slow drying varnish was applied. After 24 hours the gold leaf was applied by hand then burnished using cotton.
The amount of detail, especially in the frieze, is incredible. There is a total of 464 feet of decorative frieze in the church, including the 2,224 dentils. They were finished with gold composition, which is a copper and tin alloy. The egg and dart motif featured is appropriate; the egg signifying life, the dart representing death. This motif is thought to be used here to symbolize faith, and the transcendence from life into physical death and immortality.
The bead and reel motif in the molding consists of a series of small, rounded ornaments, similar to a string of beads, interspersed with the decorative reels, which are open circles representing eternity. In this case, the open reels contain in their centers crosses in the cross-pâté design.
Other symbolic elements in the frieze works are cloves signifying God in three persons by the division of the three leaves on one stem. Eleven thousand three hundred ninety (11,390) linear feet of 23-karat gold leaf was applied throughout the interior. Assuming 15% waste, 9,691 linear feet of true gold now remains. Leaf ranging from 3/8” to 1” was applied at a cost of $14,000.00 for the materials. The artists estimate that 35% of their time here was spent applying gold leaf.
The decorative painting was based entirely on the architecture, the decorative elements, and most importantly the functioning worship space. Warm and cool tones were used to provide the most comfortable and inviting interior. The soft blush color of the walls compliments the jewel tones of the stain glass windows.
The choir loft features the Greek key design done in the gold leaf. The egg and dart design is repeated under the choir loft and is larger than that used in the frieze work.
The Italian marble main altar and two side altars replaced the first altars on the 50th anniversary of the church in 1959 along with the sanctuary marble floor and pulpit. The mosaic Last Supper scene by Leonardo Da Vinci depicted on the altar table is exceptionally beautiful. The pure white Carrara marble life-size figure of Christ on the cross forms the focal point on the altar. In the remainder of the church, new flooring was laid over the original termite damaged wood floor and is a vinyl tile selected to match the marble of the sanctuary. The off-white tile matches the floor of the sanctuary and the green matches the serpentine shading of marble found back of the altar rail. The beautiful stain glass windows depicting the mysteries of the rosary were donated by various families in the congregation during the early years of the church’s history.
Since the completion of the church in 1909, and during the subsequent ninety years, parishioners have maintained and enhanced the worship center at a cost of over one million dollars. Some of the projects that were achieved during this time were the following; removal of asbestos roof, replacement and maintenance of the roofs, installation of air conditioning and heating several times, beautification of the sanctuary with marble, restoration of the tower and electrical system, replacement of pews, installation and replacement of sound systems, and extension of the front plaza. Although the main building has been renovated to modernize its facilities, its grace and class proportions have been successfully retained.