FR. Antonio Ravalli, with help of assistant Br. V. Magri, a Maltese joiner, supervised the efforts of the Native American labor in construction of this fine building. The architectural style includes elements of Gothic in the front entrance row of columns, but also more traditional Mission style in the facade. The unique sun ray on the facade and other features show the influence of the Coeur D' Alenes. The foundation is shale stone and mud, while the building is a post and beam structure made with locally cut timbers, posts more than 25 feet long, shaped with by broad axe, and then pegged together by Magri. The roof is made from hand split 3 foot long cedar shakes. The wall space between the posts is wattle and dab construction, which, in 1865, Fr. Joseph Caruana lined inside and out with locally crafted clap boards and pine panels. The flooring is made from broad and solid pine planking shape by broad axe. The building measures 90 feet high by 40 feet wide.
Beginning in 1842, black robed priests, Fr. Nicholis Point and Br. Huet, were invited into the land of the Coeur D' Alenes by the enterprising Native Americans themselves, and so the knoll above the landing on the Coeur D' Alene River, formerly known at the St. Joe River. The mountain vista to the south is beautiful throughout the year, but this image was in late fall when a fog enveloped the mountains. To the north is a wetland area, while the original path of the river has changed and only slightly resembles the landing where the priest arrive by canoe. On the grounds is a canoe of the type likely used to transport the priests upriver. Trees on the knoll were no doubt cleared for the church, gardens, and cemetaries. Capt. John Mullin and his crew camped at the Mission when building the first road through the Silver Valley in 1958.
The flooring is solid pine, but the walls are wattle and dab clad in pine paneling. The ceiling is also pine paneling, each a differenent design with applied pinewood ornamentation that completed by Br. Francis Huybrechts. Huybrechts also carved the frames for 14 lithographs brought from Europe that portray the Passion of Christ.
The carved ceiling is painted blue to satisfy the needs of the Coeur D' Alene Indians who had previously worshiped outside on this knoll. Inside, the entire altar and two wooden statues (Blessed Virgin and St. John the Evangelist) on either side, painted white to resemble marble, and the oil painting of St. Simon Stock receiving the Scapular, which hangs in the rear of the church over the organ, are all the handicraft of Fr. Ravalli.
Several parish residences burned down before the one nearby the Old Mission was built. This building dates back to 1888, and was constructed under the direction of veteran carpenter Br. Achilles Carfagno. Much of the lumber was brought from mills in Spokane Falls. During restoration of both the Old Mission and the Parish House in 1928-30, the Parish House was moved 50 feet to the east to prevent the possibility of a Parish House fire also engulfing the more valuable Old Mission building.
The parish residence upstairs is still used as management offices, but downstairs is given over to displays of furniture and trappings of 19th century parish daily life. Many items appear authentic heirlooms from the priests, while a few odd pieces of furniture appear to fill-in.
Naturally, the Parish priests had a place of their own for meditation and prayer--away from the heathen missionary flock. Many of the better paintings and artwork created by the priests are on display in this darkened room.
Several Coeur d'Alene chiefs and many tribe members, along with priests and others who came to the mission, are buried in this cemetary. Apparently, more than 300 bodies are estimated to be buried here although only a few are marked with a tombstone. I like the Autumn colors found here during my visit.
There's a new 3,000 sq. ft. visitors center due to open in Spring of 2009. This will be the new home for many fragile mission relics that are perhaps in need of a better climate controlled atmosphere. Outside nearby a display of the type of dug out canoe typical for the early mission period.
Idaho's oldest building, The Sacred Heart Mission is located minutes east of Couer d'Alene, Idaho, in the unincorporated village of Cataldo. In addition to the Sacred Heart Mission, the park includes the parish house and a historic cemetery. An impressive visitors' center is in the planning and construction phases.
Having learned of the great powers possessed by black-robed "medicine men" living amongst a neighboring tribe, the elders of the Couer d'Alene tribe traveled east to invite the "black robes" to come live with them. Jesuits arrived in the early 1840s, and their first mission church, built too close to the river, was swept away by flooding. The current site far above the valley was selected, and Father Antonio Ravalli led in the design and construction of the building, finished in 852. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
At the time of our visit, (early June) the lilac bushes and the flowering scarlet Hawthorne trees were in full bloom, adding an array of colors to an otherwise cloudy, dreary day.
Here are more images. It pays to attend closely to some tombstones as they may report in some detail about the remarkable life of the person buried there....