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Friday, June 21, 2013

Old Mission State Park - Cataldo Mission

Recently we were asked to chaperone on a field trip for our daugher's class.  The field trip was to the Cataldo Mission, now called "Old Mission State Park".

I've forgotten a lot of the Idaho history that they taught in Boise grade school, and Northern Idaho always seemed such a long way from where I grew up...

Long story short, I learned a lot about the mission and the interesting story behind it. 

In the early 1800's, the Coeur d'Alene Indian Tribe had heard about certain powerful white medicine men who wore black robes and had great magic.  The "medicine men" were actually Catholic Jesuit Priests, a sect devoted to spreading the word of God through evangelism. 

The Indians sent several chiefs all the way to St. Louis to request their own priest.  In 1842 The Jesuits responded to the request and sent three priests to the area. Their first activity was to choose a location for a mission.  The first was along the St. Joe River, but the site was subject to flooding. In 1846 they chose the current location.

In 1850 the church was taken over by Father Antonio Ravalli, who began designing the new mission building.  He was Italian, had traveled Europe, and seen many of the great Cathedrals there.

He made sure that the building was constructed by the Indians themselves, so that they could feel part of the church. The frame of the building was built using only broad-axes and wood augers.  There were no lumber mills (or even roads) in the area at that time, so each board was made flat by hand from a log using only an axe.  The boards are held together by wooden pegs driven through holes.  Amazingly, even with this primitive construction, this is Idaho's oldest standing building! 

After framing, the walls were filled in with "wattle and daub", which is a blend of creek willows and mud.  The ceiling was initially white, but the indians wanted the ceiling color to more accurately represent the sky, so they created a stain from huckleberries and stained the center three ceiling panels blue.

Unfortunately in the 1920s, the indians were forced to move to a reservation, and the unique building of worship that they had created with their own hands was taken from them.  It was abandoned then, and fell into disrepair, until the Idaho Centennial commision decided to restore it in 1976.  Following the restoration, the mission building is still about 90% original.  On a happier note, the building has since been returned to the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.

Below are the two primitive tools used in the construction of this entire building.  Augur and broadaxe.

Beautiful handmade floor planks

Below is a statue carved by Father Antonio Ravalli.  It is not marble, but local pine.  Near the bottom is a photo of Father Ravalli.

 Father Ravalli made this elaborate candle holder from used cans.

A photo of the altar.  Everything is made from pine trees, and finished to look like marble and hardwoods.  The "wallpaper" is made from bits of fabric and old newspapers.

An overview from the back of the mission.  It's an awe-inspiring, hand-made frontier cathedral.

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