Travel along the St. Landry Parish Spiritual Trail, Louisiana, for a truly unique and enlightening experience. Where else can you find a craft beer brewery with a statue of Mary, a floating eucharistic procession, and the site of the only documented and Vatican approved miracle in the United States? But in St. Landry Parish, many experiences are considered spiritual, such as shopping, outdoor activities, and of course, the food!
This area of Louisiana is famous for their food, and for good reason. Taking that first bite of a boudin ball or crawfish étouffée is definitely a religious experience! The French, Creole, and Cajun culinary traditions of making the most delectable fayre with the simplest of ingredients are still recreated today. Food is a “religion” in this part of the world and it’s the love and attention that goes into every dish—from the field to the table that is celebrated with every meal. The Holy Trinity, as it’s referred to, includes onions, bell peppers, and celery. It is present in many, if not most, of the main dishes, such as gumbo, étouffée, stew, and bisque. Local restaurants offer exclusive settings in historic landmarks, featuring great Cajun and Creole food. And of course, the many festivals celebrate culinary treats like cracklins and étouffée!
Begin your Spiritual Trail journey in Opelousas, the official capital of Zydeco music, a genre influenced by early Creole, Cajun, blues, jazz and gospel music. Learn more about the roots of zydeco at Le Vieux Village’s zydeco exhibit or at the St. Landry Parish Visitor Center. The center pays tribute to one of Louisiana’s most iconic Creole musicians through a carved steel statue of Amédé Ardoin (1898-1942). Afterwards, visit Rebecca Henry at the Creole Folklife Heritage Center. Rebecca, a French-speaking Creole who practices folk medicine and traditional healing, will teach you about the use of herbs and folk medicine, everyday tools, and folk art, to name a few.
This town’s religious history is just as diverse as its people, with several historic church congregations. Tour one of the oldest African American churches in Louisiana, Little Zion Baptist Church, and the oldest Methodist church congregation west of the Mississippi River, Louisiana Memorial United Methodist Church. The town also boasts a phenomenal gospel choir at the Holy Ghost Catholic Church, which performs the first, third, and fifth Sundays at 11am mass. This church also has the largest Catholic congregation of African Americans in the United States! And don’t miss their Creole Festival Bazaar the first weekend of November. Join them as they celebrate their Creole heritage with a three-day event featuring a special gospel concert Friday night, live music and dancing Saturday and Sunday, and mouth-watering Creole dishes all weekend long.
Next on your faith tour, be sure to include the Louisiana Orphan Train Museum. This must-see attraction is one of only two locations in the United States and is dedicated to the story of the “Orphan Train Riders.” In the early 19th century, the Sisters of Charity placed orphans from the New York Foundling Hospital with Catholic families in Louisiana and other rural areas in the Midwest United States.
This Orphan Train Movement was in place between 1853 and 1930 and during this time, over 200,000 orphaned children were transported to foster homes. At the museum, you will meet orphan train descendants and understand what life was like for the riders. The Louisiana Orphan Train Society has been dedicated to collecting and preserving those items that tell the history of the movement. Because of this, the museum now boosts a large collection of original documents, clothing, and images all on display, and many of the museum’s volunteers are descendants of orphan train riders.
Round out your day in Opelousas at the St. Landry Catholic Church, the second oldest church parish in the diocese. There you’ll find the Father Lafleur Monument, an original sculpture in honor of this WWII POW’s heroic last moments aboard a scuttled ship. During the second and third weekends in October, make sure to include a visit to the church grounds for the Cemetery Tours and Historical Re-enactments. Take a step back in time and see costumed re-enactors portray historical Opelousas figures.
Your Spiritual Trail continues west of Opelousas in the town of Eunice, the Prairie Cajun Capital of Louisiana. The region’s culture and history are on display at the Jean Lafitte National Park & Preserve Prairie Acadian Cultural Center. The center is devoted to telling the story of the prairie Acadians and their fascinating rituals such as the Courir de Mardi Gras & Chicken Run. Hear stories about faith healers or traiteurs and discover folk practices such as making a Couronne for All Saints Day.
The trial then enters the town of Grand Coteau. Here, travelers report an indescribable peacefulness. That sense may have a lot to do with the Shrine of St. John Berchmans located at The Academy of the Sacred Heart. The shrine is the location of a Vatican-recognized miracle, one of the only miracles in the U.S. in which an apparition appeared and where visitors can see the original site where the miracle was performed. While visiting Grand Coteau, don’t miss the opportunity to tour St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church and the old Jesuit cemeteries on the grounds.
Rounding out the Spiritual Trail is the small French-speaking community of Arnaudville. In recent years many artists have relocated to Arnaudville, contributing to the cultural economy and sparking a cultural renaissance. Experience life as a local at NUNU Arts & Culture Collective, a gallery, creative incubator, and event space. The collective is volunteer-run and has become a popular spot for both locals and tourists. Shop for original art or participate in a drum circle!
When you arrive at your next destination, you might want to stay a while! Bayou Teche Brewing is an innovative micro-brewery with original ales that complement the area’s cuisine and way-of-life. Ingredients native to the region are used for ales such as the Ragin’ Cajun, made with locally grown grain. Sample beer in the tap room and hear live music on the porch. The brewery also embraces sustainable living through a native plant landscape, perfect for birdwatching, and a retention pond that captures the byproduct and is used to farm crawfish. Take advantage of their tours, in French or English, to see the statue of Mary overlooking their brewing efforts.
Whether you are embarking on a spiritual journey or an admirer of religious architecture or mouth-watering food, the St. Landry Parish Spiritual Trail has something for everyone!