The fleur-de-lis is a conventionalized lily that first originated in France during the seventeenth century, and has been used as a decorative design or symbol ever since. Considering that France is a Catholic nation, the symbol became widely used in many aspects of the French culture: politics, dynasties, family crests, art, and even religion. Even today, many of the saints are often depicted with a lily, most prominently St. Joseph. During the Middle Ages, the symbols of lily and the fleur-de-lis imbricated significantly in Christian religious art as they were found not only in images of Jesus back then, but in references to Virgin Mary and Holy Trinity now (Fitzgerald and Sebastian 2012). When the French trading company led by Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau founded the establishment of St. Louis in 1764, it grew into a city that became greatly influenced by Christianity and the symbol of the fleur-de-lis itself (Gaposchkin 2008). As a result, the symbol is found not only on the St. Louis flag but in different areas of the city today, especially in those where Christianity is notably practiced.
The origin of the oldest Protestant Christian tradition, the Lutheran Church, emerged during Martin Luther’s famous Protestant Reformation revolution of 1517 in Germany. In hopes of reforming the practices and traditions that he felt were erratic with scripture, Luther challenged the establishment of the Roman Catholic church, and thus the conflict later resulted in the distinct branching of the “Lutherans” (those who sided with Lutheran’s beliefs) from the Roman Catholic Church. What originally started as an incredibly influential movement in the German nation eventually spread to nations across the globe, including France by the beginning of the 17th century (Gaposchkin 2008). Furthermore, when the French had established the city of Saint Louis a century later, they eventually brought both Lutheranism as well as Roman Catholicism with them and thus the religion remained and grew in followers to present day.
The famous Soulard Holy Trinity Lutheran Church was actually founded in 1839 by a group of Saxon immigrants, who abandoned the oppressive state church of the Old World for the promising of the confessional Lutheran church and its community in the New World (Historic Trinity Lutheran Church). Before this establishment, the members that were to establish he Trinity first worshipped in the ground level of today’s Christ Church Cathedral that is located in present-day Downtown Saint Louis. Nevertheless, by 1842, the members of Trinity built their first church (the now Holy Trinity Lutheran Church) on 8th and Soulard street. It was later renovated to its today’s structure after it was destroyed by “The Great Cyclone” of 1864 (Historic Trinity Lutheran Church). Today, Holy Trinity continues to serve its mission of being “A Loving, Christ-Centered Community Actively Reaching Out to All People” (Historic Trinity Lutheran Church).
The famous Fleur-de-lis is found throughout all of the Soulard neighborhood, and indeed has appearances in Holy Trinity itself. In fact, it rests on the altar of the church, and is one of the first images able to be seen when walking in. This Fleur-de-Lis symbolizes both the French religious influence and history of St. Louis (and thus, of the church), and the purity of the worship that the Trinity practice within their community.
What began as a community with 77 families, has grown into one united parish family with more than 1,300 household members full of rich tradition and history today, but the journey to this wonderful, cultural establishment was all but smooth sailing.
As the population of the city of Saint Louis reached heights to 600,000 by 1907, residents began settling further away from the heart of their home. Realizing the necessity of having to oblige the needs of his fellow St. Louisans, Archbishop of the city, John J. Glennon, formed a new, extended parish, which would later be known as Our lady of Sorrows (Our Lady of Sorrows). Although this was a great idea, the boundaries that were originally set for the new parish were so vast, that eventually it would be separated into six other parishes, but OLS would remain as the center or this whole community in its location of the Kingshighway and Gravois area to this very day (Our Lady of Sorrows School).
Before the school and its church were completely finalized and built, masses were held in the chapel of St. Peter and Paul Cemetery from 1907 to 1911, located on the very same Gravois Avenue (Our Lady of Sorrows). By March of 1911, after nearly two years of construction, the Our Lady of Sorrows was finally fully developed in the heart of the Bevo Mill area, and by September of the same year, the first class was enrolled. Problems, however, began to appear by the late 1920s due to overcrowding (Our Lady of Sorrows School). As the school became more and more popular, more students began to enroll. Thus, from here on out until the year of 2002, both the school and its adjoining church underwent renovation after renovation in order to adapt to the growing populations of students and communities, often resulting in the school either having to close its programs or continue them with many interruptions and distractions from the new construction taking place at the time. Nevertheless, by 2002, the school was newly renovated just in time for the hundredth year celebration of its grand parish.
Then in 2005, another problem had risen. The city of Saint Louis had experienced a gradual loss in population, resulting in an even greater decline of the Catholic population. This caused a major problem for the parishes and schools, as many staff members began to settle elsewhere as well. As a result, many of the parishes had to close down, but fortunately, the Our Lady of Sorrows Parish was one of the few that still remained open, although not for long as it would close in 2009. When it reopened in 2011, as now a parish-based school owned and operated by the OLS Parish, the Our Lady of Sorrows School official established its name with the connection to the Our Lady of Sorrows (a name given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in relation to the seven major sorrows she experienced in her lifetime) to represent the very sorrows that the parish and its community too went through in the past (Steffler 2002).
Already being located in the neighborhood of Bevo Mill, a Saint Louis neighborhood with a high influence of French culture and religion despite its German roots, the OLS School indeed has quite a connection to the religious culture of the French, including its famous fleur-de-lis symbol. Alone, the school is filled with statues and portraits of the Lady of Sorrows herself, depicted as the sad and tearful version of Virgin Mary, often with seven swords striking her in the heart to represent her seven sorrows: “the escape and flight into Egypt, the loss of the child of Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem, the meeting of [Mary] and Jesus on the via Dolorosa, the crucifixion of Jesus on Mount Calvary, the piercing of the side of Jesus, and his descent from the cross, and the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea” (Steffler 2002). Now, the fleur-de-lis comes into play to represent the Iris and Madonna Lilly that portrays the purity that Mary witnessed throughout her life; the “good” if you must say. Symbolizing life, light, and perfection, the fleur-de-lis serves as the symbol of the Holy Trinity and Blessed Mother, all representations that the great Virgin Mary stands for. This one of a kind symbol can be found both around the OLS school’s neighborhood and inside the school itself to portray that although its past was full of sorrow just like Mary’s was, it still stands tall, and depicts the purity and greatness that it serves to its followers, just like the Virgin Mary does for all her children of the Catholic faith.
The New Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis is a cathedral of the Roman Catholic Church located in the Central West End neighborhood area on Lindell Boulevard. The Cathedral was completely constructed by 1914, and initially served as a replacement of the old, original Cathedral of St. Louis, King of France located in Downtown St. Louis, which was established in 1834 as the first and only parish church of the city at the time (Wood 2011). The Old Cathedral was named after King Louis IX of France (in relation to the French establishment of the city of St. Louis), but as the city increased in population, the New Cathedral was built to adapt to the growing population (just like the OLS Parish had branched out originally to accommodate its population growth) (Wood 2011). Today, although the old Cathedral serves as a reminder of the French influence and recognizes the original cathedral’s significance, the New Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis still serves as the seat of the archbishop of the city of Saint Louis (Conard 1901).
Given the church’s historical background, and the fact that it derives from one of the earliest establishments of the Roman Catholic Church brought by the French in the 18th century, the New Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis indeed represents this French influence both on the exterior and interior of the building, predominantly using the fleur-de-lis symbol. The symbol is seen on the main door of the Basilica, as well as displayed on two flags that stand parallel to one another before entering the building. Once inside the Basilica, the fleur-de-lis is embedded into the beautiful interior walls of the building, and although these embellishments might be hard to notice at first. The fact that they are so discrete, rather than being extremely obvious to spot, shows that hidden within the walls of the Old Cathedral replacement is the very same historical French influence that actually made the establishments of both the Old and New Basilicas possible.
In the end, it is very obvious that the Fleur-de-lis symbol significantly contributed to practice of Christianity within the different areas of the city of Saint Louis (both directly or indirectly depending on the case), and the three areas mentioned above were only just a few selected examples of this. In general, Saint Louis is just one of various cities in the world that is continuously overlooked by many on the map, despite being full of culture, diversity, and rich history. Nevertheless, just like any decent treasure out there, the only way to discover it, is to become aware of the little clues and hints that lead you right to it.
Researched and written by Ena Kovac, Brian McManus, and Ashley Wittmann.
Conard, Louis Howard. Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri, Southern History, New York, ……..NY, 1901.
Fitzgerald, Christina Maria, and John T. Sebastian. The Broadview Anthology of Medieval ……..Drama, Broadview Press, Peterborough, Ont., 2013, pp. 324–326.
Gaposchkin, M. Cecilia. The Making of Saint Louis: Kingship, Sanctity, and Crusade in the ……..Later Middle Ages. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 2010.
Steffler, Alva William. Symbols of the Christian Faith, W.B. Eerdmans Pub., Grand Rapids, MI, ……..2002, pp. 22.
Woods, M. James. A History of the Catholic Church in the American South, 1513-1900, ……..University Press of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 2011.