I just returned from my first trip to the West in four years – two weeks of mountains, lakes, seeing friends and family, and experiencing a bit of local history. Today I’d like to share with you a bit of that history.
On one of the days of my trip, my nieces and I visited the oldest building in Idaho, the Mission of the Sacred Heart, also known as the Cataldo Mission, located in Old Mission State Park located 28 miles east of the city of Couer d’Alene. The mission, located on a picturesque hill overlooking the Couer d’Alene River, was built between 1850 and 1853 by Catholic missionaries and members of the Couer d’Alene tribe. Next door to the mission is the restored parish house where the Jesuit missionaries lived. Also located on the park property are a cemetery and a visitor center where you can visit an exhibit titled Sacred Encounters: Father De Smet and the Indians of the Rocky Mountain West. The exhibit details the history of the Jesuits’ interactions with the Couer d’Alene and Salish tribes of the area. The site’s historical significance led to it being designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
The establishment of the mission came about in a different way than many such structures. It was actually the Nez Perce and Flathead people, who had heard about the white man’s “Book of Heaven,” who sent representatives to St. Louis to find out more. Eleven years later, Father Pierre Jean De Smet responded by traveling to the area. Other brothers and friars picked an original location for the mission, but it was later moved due to the first’s tendency to flood. In 1850, the mission was taken over by Italian Jesuit missionary Antonio Ravalli, who oversaw the building of the current building. He had the local tribes build the structure so they would feel a part of the church. Not a single nail was used in the construction. Visitors today can see some of the exposed wattle and daub that was used instead.
Because of the mission’s remote location, decoration of the structure required some creativity. Newspapers were painted and put on the walls. Tin cans were fashioned into chandeliers. And local huckleberries were used to create the blue used to stain the interior wood.
It’s a lovely, peaceful place to just sit and admire the surrounding landscape as well. If you’re ever in Northern Idaho, it’s well worth a visit.