Nicolas Benachi, founder of the New Orleans Greek church

Nicolas Marino Benachi

Nicolas Marino Benachi

In the early years of the New Orleans parish, resident parish priests were few and far between. Fr. Agapius Honcharenko visited for a short while in 1865. Fr. Stephen Andreades served the parish in the late 1860s, and Fr. Gregory Yayas was the pastor from 1872-74. But the real leader of the community in those first decades was Nicolas Marino Benachi, a wealthy cotton merchant and the Greek government’s Consul in New Orleans.
President Abraham Lincoln's official recognition of Benachi's appointment as Greek Consul at New Orleans

President Abraham Lincoln's official recognition of Benachi's appointment as Greek Consul at New Orleans

Benachi was born in 1812 on the Greek island of Chios, and he was living in New Orleans at least as early as 1852, when he purchased a large piece of choice real estate in the city. (He went on to build a mansion, known as the “Benachi House,” on some of the highest ground in New Orleans. It still stands, and is now an upscale bed and breakfast.) Benachi himself was a formidable figure. Here’s one description:

Benachi was a Greek businessman who worked in the New Orleans cotton trade for the Greek firm of Ralli Bros. They were international cotton brokers with offices in London, Cairo, Athens and India. […] He was Consul of Greece in New Orleans, a speculator in real estate and slaves, a hunter, horseman and founder of the first Greek Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere[1]

Being the most prominent figure in the Greek (and Orthodox) community in New Orleans, as well as being a slaveowner, Benachi was probably involved in the organization of the Greek militia regiment during the Civil War. His daughter went on to marry Demetrius Botassi, the Greek Consul in New York City, and Botassi became a major figure in New York’s Orthodox community.

According to the Holy Trinity Cathedral website, Benachi had been trying to start an Orthodox church in New Orleans beginning in 1860. It was he who appears to have brought Fr. Agapius Honcharenko to New Orleans in 1865, and soon thereafter, he sold a piece of his own property to the parish for $1,200. Through his efforts, a church was erected at 1222 North Dorgenois Street in New Orleans. It was the first Greek Orthodox temple in the New World.

Benachi lived for another two decades. He died in New Orleans in 1886, at the age of 74.

[1]History & Restoration,” Benachi House & Gardens.

2 Replies to “Nicolas Benachi, founder of the New Orleans Greek church”

  1. Hello, my name is Minie Taylor and I am a History student at the University of New Orleans. I am doing a digital reserach project on Greek History in New Orleans. I wanted to know if I have premission to you the documents you have in this section for my research project. They would greatly help my exhibit. Thank You. Oh yes, I appreciate what you all are doing with Greek History 🙂

    1. Certainly, feel free to use what I’ve posted. I’d only ask that you cite my work as the source. Thanks very much for your interest.

      Incidentally, if you haven’t done so already, you may want to get in touch with the folks at Holy Trinity Cathedral in New Orleans. They’re in the process of restoring hundreds of valuable documents from the early days of the parish.

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