Congo Square, Saint Louis Cemetery Number One, Touro Synagogue
Tonight’s entry is more of a photo essay. I’ve been walking all day and I’ve just returned from a Kol Nidrei service at Touro Synagogue. It has been an exhausting, but most rewarding, day.
I joined a walking tour of Saint Louis Cemetery Number One, which took us through several places of interest. Here you see our tour guide, NU’Awlons Natescott. It’s a funny name, but he was very serious about his history and storytelling.
Congo Square, another highlight of our tour, is in the heart of what is now known as Louis Armstrong Park.
The area surrounding Congo Square was considered sacred ground by the Houmas Indians even before the arrival of the French. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the Square was well-known for the Sunday gatherings of enslaved Africans, with attendance ranging from 500 to 600. Some of the dances practiced here were the Bamboula, the Calinda and the Congo. And, according to our guide, these are significant dances in Voodoo religion. It is important to note that these dances are the genesis of Mardi Gras, jazz and rhythm and blues.
Opened in 1789, this is the oldest of the Saint Louis Cemeteries and among the notables buried here is Marie Laveau. However, there is controversy and confusion surrounding this fact. The tomb believed to house her remains bears a plaque stating that this is her reputed burial place. The tomb is a main attraction for tourists and devotees, and as such has suffered a great deal of vandalism. It is currently being restored.
Our tour guide is an excellent storyteller, he builds up intrigue and tells us he is going to show us where Marie Laveau is actually buried. We walk down the narrow street of this City of the Dead, as these cemeteries are known, and come upon this tomb.
Tonight I attended a Kol Nidrei service at Touro Synagogue. This beautiful liturgy of repentance, confession and atonement marks the beginning of fasting for Yom Kippur. Rabbi Alexis Berk delivered a wonderful sermon, of which I’ve requested a copy. I hope to have permission to post it here, either in its entirety or in fragments.
Touro Synagogue is one of the oldest synagogues in the country. It was founded in 1828 and it was the first synagogue outside of the original thirteen colonies. The present sanctuary was built in 1909, in the Byzantine style. It is an impressively beautiful space and it was full to capacity for tonight’s service.