St. Augustine: The Cultural Center for Cane River’s Historic Creole Community

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AUGUSTINE CATHOLIC CHURCH & CEMETERY
The Cultural Center for Cane River’s Historic Creole Community

A Love Your Parks Tour Story by Lisa D. Smith and Nancy J. Reid

Natchitoches became Louisiana’s original French colony and first settlement when it was founded by Louis Juchereau de St. Denis back in 1714. To date, the region continues to celebrate its vibrant blend of French, Spanish, African, Native American, and Creole cultures. 

The Cane River National Heritage Area encompasses the charming downtown Natchitoches National Historic Landmark District, Cane River Creole National Historical Park, as well as the Cane River National Heritage Trail

The Cane River Heritage Trail is a Louisiana Scenic Byway that runs along Cane River Lake and links to the Isle Brevelle Trail and El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail, with Kisatchie National Forest on the outskirts.

 

Melrose Plantation is a National Historic Landmark that was built in 1796, and shares the story of slave Marie Thérèse Coincoin, her ten Franco-African children with Thomas Pierre Metoyer, as well as the Isle Brevelle Creole community, the Civil War, plantation history, and Louisiana folk art. Nearby, St. Augustine Catholic Church stands prominent as the heart and cultural center of the Creole community. 

St. Augustine is recognized for being America’s first Roman Catholic Church, and the second oldest,  created by and for the people of color in Louisiana. It was also the first traditional cultural property to be added to the National Register of Historic Places in Louisiana.

Local tradition shares that the church was originally established in 1803 by Nicolas Augustin Metoyer and that services have been held continuously since then. However, some parish records document the founding of the Chapel of St. Augustine “as a mission of the church of St. François of Natchitoches” in July 1829, shortly after the church was constructed. In 1856, the mission was recognized as a parish, and a resident priest was authorized. 

When Father Jean Baptiste Blanc consecrated the chapel for religious use he reported that it had been “erected on Isle Brevelle on the plantation of Sieur Augustin Metoyer through the care and generosity of the above-named Augustin Metoyer, aided by Louis Metoyer, his brother. The said chapel, having been dedicated to St. Augustine, shall be considered as under the protection of this great doctor.” Local tradition also shares that the role of Augustin’s brother Louis, founder of Melrose Plantation, was the chapel’s designer and builder.


The original structure is said to have been torched by Union forces during the Red River Campaign of May 1864. The second church burned in the early 1900s and was replaced by the church building we today, which was completed in 1917. 

The historic cemetery is the final resting place of famous folk artist Clementine Hunter who originally worked as a field hand at Melrose Plantation, then as a housekeeper, and finally as a cook. She was a self-taught artist who began painting using paints and brushes that were discarded by an artist in residence. Many of her paintings are on display in the “big house” at Melrose Plantation.

You may have seen St. Augustine in the popular 1989 film “Steel Magnolias.” It was the film location for Shelby’s wedding and is now part of the Natchitoches Film Trail. The “Steel Magnolias” story comes from Robert Harling, who grew up in Natchitoches and lost his sister to diabetes in 1985. He turned that experience into the iconic stage play, which was adapted into the famous film directed by Herbert Ross, starring A-list actors Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis, and Daryl Hannah. 

For more about St. Augustine Catholic Church and Natchitoches Parish, visit www.Natchitoches.com

Natchitoches, LA
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