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St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Plaquemines

St. John the Evangelist Church in Plaquemine, Louisiana, was modeled on Early Christian and Romanesque churches of Italy.

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Plaquemines

This brick church in downtown Plaquemine, in Iberville Parish, is the third built on this site; the first was built in 1847. Designed by New Orleans architects Emile Weil and Albert Bendernagel, the church was modeled on Early Christian and Romanesque churches of Italy. A single­story portico with six Ionic columns and end piers extends across the façade in emulation of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura in Rome. Above it the wall is pierced by a rose window and outlined by a simple pediment, similar to that of San Giorgio in Velabro in Rome. This same source was used for the six-story campanile, a freestanding square structure articulated with blind arches on the second and third levels, an oculus on the fourth (filled with a clock in 1994), and triple-arched openings on the top two stages. A projecting cornice over a narrow blind arcade brings the tower to a firm conclusion. Statues of St.  John and St. Louis, King of France, were added to the niches on the upper facade in 1954.

The magnificent interior has the spatial qualities and atmosphere of an Early Christian basilica, such as Sant’Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna. A round-arched arcade with Ionic columns (twelve on each side) separates the nave from the aisles and rhythmically carries the eye to the triumphal arch marking the entrance to the semicircular apse. The architects added a curved arcade behind the altar, so that it appears to be wrapped by an ambulatory, but this is merely an illusion, as two side chapels block passage beyond the triumphal arch. Again the architects drew on San Giorgio in their design for the hemispherical triumphal arch that is carried on an entablature and Corinthian columns, and also for the baldachino within the apse. The stained glass clerestory windows (1954), located high above the arcade, allow little light to enter, thus giving the interior the mysterious, shadowy qualities characteristic of Early Christian churches. The open-truss ceiling also is Early Christian in inspiration.

St. John Church played an important role in Catholic education in the Plaquemine area, opening its first school in 1853. To the left of the church, the three-story brick structure began as a two-story building (1911) for the school (St. John School), acquiring its third floor in 1949. It is now used for church programs and administration. Behind it is the rectory, which dates to 1882.
Adapted from Karen Kingsley’s Buildings of Louisiana, part of the Buildings of the United States series commissioned by the Society of Architectural Historians (www.sah.org) and published by Oxford University Press.