Monday August 26th- Today we drove over to the Cataldo area to visit the Old Mission State park. In1847, after hearing about the teachings of the “black robes” the Coeur D’Alene tribe welcomed the Jesuit missionaries led by Fr. Pierre DeSmet. Together they built the Mission of the Sacred Heart, using few tools and no nails. It still stands above the Coeur D’Alene River, the oldest standing building in Idaho. It has undergone a restoration, and many of the original art works remain.
The Old Mission had been a special place for the Coeur D’ Alenes, a place where they would come for church as well as school and special ceremonies. Fr. DeSmet ministered to the Salish-speaking tribes of this area, helping to broker a peace during tense times.
The Mission is elegant in its simplicity……
It had been constructed of a ‘wattle and daub’ technique using wood lathe on the walls, and grass and mud to seal the gaps.
Lacking the funds to purchase religious art work, Fr.Antonio Ravalli painted the art work in the church, himself. He must have been a very talented and gifted artist…….
The metal decorative touches, and candle holders were also made by Ravalli….
Using flattened tin cans…….
The wall paper was hand painted newspaper that Ravalli had received in the mail…..…..
Several of the wood finishes around the alter were achieved using hot paint that dried to a marbleized finish.
Fr. Ravalli even carved the statues for the church using only a knife.
The ceiling had carved panels which the natives stained blue using huckleberry juice.
Each panel had its own unique design…….One could feel the real and personal investment that had been put into this place of worship.
It seems that on each trip, we find one church that really ‘speaks’ to us. This Old Mission literally ‘spoke’ as there were recordings of the Salish- speaking peoples and children playing in the background.
It also spoke to our hearts…….being just a bit bigger than our church in Farmerville, the Mission reminded us that it is great people and great love that make a church, not riches.
The story of the Old Mission has a somewhat sad ending…..as westward expansion continued, the Coeur D’Alene tribe was relocated to a reservation, whose boundaries did not include the Mission of the Sacred Heart. After much work and personal investment, their beloved church was taken from them. However, a new church was built on tribal land in what is now DeSmet, Idaho. The first church burned and was then rebuilt to look almost exactly like the Old Mission.
The Old Mission was used by the Catholic Church for special events, and, for a short while as a seminary for young men wishing to become priests. Later, it was abandoned and fell into disrepair……fortunately, a movement was started to preserve the Old Mission building and its very special history.