Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 24, 2004
Shrine honours Spanish king
St. Ferdinand remembered for war against Moors
St. Ferdinand -- Feast day -- May 30
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
In the mid-18th century, glowing reports made their way up the Mississippi River of a rich, fertile area that lacked the severity of Canadian winters. Soon even ladies from Canada were prepared to undertake the long, hazardous journey to the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to settle on the rich, black soil along Coldwater Creek at a place called Fleurissant.
Although the settlers were mainly from Canada, the Spanish authorities there opted to honour a Spanish saint in naming the first log church and community.
Fair and just
King Ferdinand III of Castile ruled parts of present-day Spain during a series of wars against the Moorish occupants and is mainly known for his prowess in winning battles and unifying Spanish kingdoms. Often overlooked is the fact that he led a relatively austere life, noted for his sense of justice and fairness to all. He founded the University of Salamanca in 1243 and restored churches throughout his kingdom.
The present St. Ferdinand's Church was built in 1821, the year that Missouri was admitted to the Union. It fell within the jurisdiction of Bishop Duborg of the Louisiana Territory, from his seat in New Orleans until 1826 when the Diocese of St. Louis was established under Bishop Joseph Rosati. In 1803 the U.S. acquired the settlement as part of the Louisiana Purchase and in 1939 Florissant became its official name.
Today, Old St. Ferdinand Shrine and Historic Site is a popular destination for residents of Florissant as well as for visitors. Tours are offered of the brick Gothic Revival church and attached convent and rectory/museum. Not a large building, St. Ferdinand's is a simple nave with an arched, tongue-in-groove wood ceiling and similar flooring.
Sacred Heart co-patron
A prominent, large statue of the Sacred Heart, a co-patron of the church, centres the old reredos. A statue of an armoured St. Ferdinand is to the left of the altar. Dim light admitted by a few round-arched windows is supplemented by two modern electric chandeliers which help to illuminate some very old paintings.
The 1819 convent wing of the church is famed mainly because of its association with St. Rose Phillipine Duchesne, sister of the Society of the Sacred Heart. Although her shrine and tomb are in St. Charles, Mo., the Florissant convent is a pilgrimage destination for many.
A resident there from 1819 to 1834, she established the first school in Florissant and was canonized by Pope John Paul in 1988. All three floors of the historic building, preserved as they were in the 19th century, can be visited. The opposite, rectory wing of the church is now a museum also open to the public.
Florissant still displays much of the influence of Old St. Ferdinand's Shrine and the town's original Canadian culture. Old Town streets bear names reminiscent of northern towns - rue St. Denis, rue St. Louis, rue St. Charles.
An offspring of the old church is to be found a few blocks down rue St. Francois, in the form of massive Sacred Heart Church, main Florissant parish, which took its name from the co-patron of the shrine.
Also nearby, another progeny of Old St. Ferdinand's is an ultra-modern, super-active parish church which retains the saint's name. There, visitors are greeted in the porch by a large statue of St. Ferdinand when they arrive to attend one of the two weekday or five weekend Masses or to visit the Perpetual Adoration Duchesne Chapel.
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