A visit to the New Orleans Greek church in 1885

Editor’s note: The following excerpt appeared in the Historical Sketch Book and Guide to New Orleans and Environs, published by Will H. Coleman in 1885. It is a rare firsthand account of Holy Trinity church in New Orleans in the 19th century. The priest at the time was Fr. Misael Karydis, whose life has been the subject of several articles on this website.

A visit to the Greek Church of the Holy Trinity, on Dolhonde near Barracks, will be found interesting. It stands in a little church-yard – a, small brick structure, with a bit of a house for the priest, by its side. A Greek flag, at half-mast, hangs from a tall staff by the front door.

The church consists of a small square room, with vaulted ceiling; its furniture, two reading desks, a baptismal font, the ark, a large cross bearing the crucified Saviour, and two candle-stands. The ark resembles a bier supporting a miniature two-story Greek temple. On the upper part is the story of Christ’s condemnation, agony, last supper and crucifixion. Most notable is the first little picture, wherein Pontius Pilate is to be seen literally “washing his hands” of the whole affair.

The back of the church is separated by a partition on which hang four paintings, singular in their lack of perspective. Two doors, one on either end, holds each a picture, one of St. Michael the other of Gabriel. Both dance upon clouds, but Gabriel, deprived of his trumpet, waves a bunch of flowers.

Another picture represents Herodias dancing off the head of John the Baptist. It is a curious and very antique picture, and guilty of a strange anachronism, for Herod and the party are represented seated at table.

Midway of the partition is an opening veiled with a banner bearing a picture of Christ partaking of the sacrament; around it in Russian: “He who takes the sacrament never dies.”

The baptismal font for babies looks like a magnified hour glass. There is a large one for grown people. Baptism, both for the young and old, is by immersion.

Chairs are brought in by obliging neighbors for the women and the guests. The devout gather candle in hand, and with many genuflections, each piously kisses a sacred spot upon the paintings, the infant Jesus’ toe seeming the most popular.

Scarcely a Greek nose was to be seen. Bronzed faces, toil-hardened hands, relieved by shirts of blue and red, plaid and plain, are illuminated by the upheld torches.

The services opening, the men range themselves in single file along the wall, the females and visitors occupying chairs on the other side. The banner is drawn aside, revealing an altar before which stands a priest. His face is Hebraic, his robe, of dark blue and white, fitted on very much after the fashion of Dakota Indians, by a convenient hole in one end. A long scarf of pale blue and white satin hangs over his capacious front.

Concluding a short chant, he comes among the people, lifting the cross, and kissing the wounds upon the body.

After a few more chants and reading of Scriptures, the holy ark, preceded by the priest, is borne out by four strong men, all chanting the Kyrie Eleison, “Lord, have mercy upon us.”

A long reading of the Scriptures follows, interrupted by admonitions in modern Greek from his reverence to his delinquent clerks.

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