Built in the Baroque style, construction of the Cataldo Mission of the Sacred Heart began in 1850 and was completed in 1853. It was built by Catholic missionaries and members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and is the oldest standing building in Idaho, as well as the oldest surviving mission church in the Pacific Northwest.
The architect Father Anthony Ravalli was a Jesuit priest from Ferrara, Italy, who had been stationed at the St. Mary’s Mission in Montana when he was directed to design the Coeur d’Alene Mission of the Sacred Heart. He was accompanied by one other Jesuit, Brother Huybrechts.
The chapel was constructed using only a broad-axe, auger, rope & pulleys, a pen-knife, and an improvised whipsaw. The building’s interior boosts of hand-carved details and natural materials supplied by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. The setting of the Cataldo Mission is inspiring in itself as it sits on a hill overlooking the Coeur d’Alene River and valley with the mountains serving as a backdrop.
Regarding the architectural and stylistic details, the National Register reads, “The rectangular, gable-roofed church is undistinguished by any particular style on the east, south, and west facades, except for the deep-set windows in the thick wattle and daub filled walls. However, the front portico is Green Revival, in modified Tuscan order, and the cornice has triglyphs above each of the six columns. The pediment is modified Baroque in style, with four wooden urns on the steps, surmounted by a cross. The sunburst in the center, around a bulls-eye window, is Italinate, probably derived from the symbol for San Bernardino, often seen on Italian churches were he preached.
Overall, the church is 91′ – 10″ long, including the porch, 40′ – 8″ wide, with a height of 52′ – 2″ above grade. The rock foundation, approximately four feet thick, was originally set with mud, but masonry mortar has been added in subsequent repairs.
In the frame, huge wood uprights support the large rafters, with timbers of about 18 to 22 inches square in size, and 24 feet in length. Horizontal beams are mortised into the uprights. Holes were drilled in the uprights and will saplings were interlaced between them. Around the saplings, wild grass was closely woven and mud was spread over the entire surface. Wooden pegs were used exclusively throughout. In one of the rear rooms off the main altar, the original adobe wall construction is visible. In 1865, Father Caruana lined the exterior walls with clapboard, now painted yellow with white trim. Rafters ten to twelve inches square, resting on the upright timbers form the roof structure. The joints are all mortised, tenoned and pinned. The original roof was probably of hand-split wood shakes. ”
The entrance to the chapel leads to the rectangular nave on the north end and the main alter is located in the apse at the south, flanked by two smaller side altars. Each of these side altars have small rooms behind them. The floor is made of large hand-hewn planks and was likely installed later, approximately the 1860s, due to the fact that the attending Tribal members preferred to sit on the floor and pews were unnecessary (these were eventually added during the missionary period).
The Cataldo Mission has undergone restoration multiple times to ensure its long-term stability. In 1974, and archeologist from the Universtiy of Idaho, David Rice, undertook a project to identify all major buildings on site of the mission complex. His teams located the walls of the early parsonage, the foundation of a parsonage barn and a circular wooden structure, use undocumented. They also recovered Native American manufacturing artifacts as well as some artifacts from a late 19th-early 20th century Euroamerican manufacture. In 1975, Dr. Roderick Sprague of the University of Idaho led a 15-day archeological investigation to provide architectural historians with details on how to appropriately make the foundation more stable. And in more recent years, Budd Landon did some wonderful historically accurate mason work on the stone exterior to ensure the longevity of the structure.
You can visit the original Historic Inventory Nomination Form for the National Register of Historic Places to read more on the vast history of the Catalso Mission: https://history.idaho.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Cataldo_Mission_66000312.pdf
Photo Credits: Dan Everhart