Saint Anthony’s Garden is located just behind the landmark St. Louis Cathedral in the heart of the French Quarter. The space is easily identifiable by the large iron fence and the statue of Jesus with his arms outstretched that casts a remarkable shadow against the back wall of the Cathedral.
The history of St. Anthony’s Garden is complex. The garden did not begin to take own its present form till 1845. Originally, Orleans Street went all the way to the back of what became St. Louis Cathedral, meaning that the upriver and downriver sides of today’s garden have different developmental histories in the 18th century. The downriver side of the garden, for instance, was the location of a garden maintained by Capuchin monks in the early years of the city. Later, Spanish curate Antonio de Sedella, also known as Pere Antoine, is said to have maintained a residence in the area behind the church. Pere Antoine is also said to have allowed the church grounds to be used for temporary housing after the Good Friday fire of 1788. This practice was later institutionalized in a series of residences fronting on Royal Street, none of which remain today. During the early 19th century, the open square behind the church was a popular meeting place and an informal market for residents of the French Quarter.
St. Anthony’s Garden was badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina, and the Getty Foundation supported an effort to restore it afterward. Archaeological investigations were conducted in order to provide insight into how the space functioned historically and to inform plantings in the restored garden. The wealth of materials from well-defined proveniences and stratigraphic contexts will make the St. Anthony’s Garden excavations an invaluable source for future research in New Orleans. Among the noteworthy aspects of the excavations was an abundance of Native American wares in Colonial-era contexts, including materials associated by Dawdy and her team with trade and reciprocal relationships between French and Indians in the early years of the city. The dig produced a substantial assemblage of hand-formed wares, with some 225 sherds of hand-built earthenwares of likely Native manufacture, including many red-filmed shell-tempered varieties, one of the largest such samples from urban New Orleans. Dawdy interprets many of the Colonial-era features as indicative of an informal marketplace that would have contributed to the formation of creole or hybrid practices through trade and co-labor. Later deposits demonstrate the degree to which this formerly public space is closed to access and regulated in later periods, with the neighboring Cathedral coming to dominate the space’s use.