Designed in 1791 to match the Cabildo, alongside St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square, the Presbytere stands today as a beautiful reminder of both Louisiana’s singular past and its vibrant present.
The Presbytere, originally called Casa Curial or “Ecclesiastical House,” was built on the site of the residence, or presbytère, of the Capuchin monks. The building was used for commercial purposes until 1834 when it became a courthouse. In 1911, it became part of the Louisiana State Museum.
Today, the Presbytere is one of five museums owned and operated by the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans. The museum features two permanent exhibits—one on Hurricane Katrina and one Carnival and Mardi Gras.
The Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond exhibit tells of rescue, rebuilding and renewal. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans’ badly engineered levee system, it resulted in one of the worst disasters in American history, leaving 80 percent of the city flooded and hundreds dead. With interactive exhibits and artifacts that showcase the spirit of the city’s residents, the exhibit documents the event, the aftermath and southeast Louisiana’s ongoing recovery.
Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana offers a window into the annual celebration and riotous rituals of Mardi Gras, a festival that is inextricably woven into Louisiana’s way of life and whose roots extend deep into the Middle Ages. There are parade floats to climb, costumes to see and historical throws on display as well as rare glimpses into the secretive social club society from which modern-day Mardi Gras krewes evolved. And it’s not a party without music: Mardi Gras albums, records, sheet music and more are also part of the collection.
Currently, the Carnival exhibit is featuring a temporary exhibit on the history of Gay Carnival. Grand Illusions: The History and Artistry of Gay Carnival in New Orleans brings together more than two hundred artifacts including posters and poster artwork, ball invitations and favors, costume designs and a dozen amazing costumes. In addition, the exhibit features newly digitized films of gay balls from the 1960s and 1970s. This exhibit was made possible by a grant from the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana. Grand Illusions will run through December 2020.