When the Coeur d’Alene Indians heard that a neighboring tribe had black robe wearing spiritual leaders from the east living with them, they wanted some powerful medicine men for themselves. So in the early part of the 19th century they made the long and arduous journey to St. Louis, and invited Jesuit priests to live among them; several missionaries accepted the invitation.
Originally, a mission was built next to the St. Joe River in 1842. However, the river’s flooding became too problematic, and a new mission was to be built atop a grass-covered knoll along the Coeur d’Alene River.
Father Antonio Ravalli oversaw the construction of the new location. He wanted the tribe to feel at home within the church, so the Jesuits and the tribe members worked side by side at bringing Ravalli’s vision to life. While he lacked the appropriate building materials, Ravalli made up for it with ingenuity. He mirrored the church’s design after cathedrals found in his native Italy.
Fabric purchased from the Hudson Bay Company, and newspapers were used to decorate the walls. Instead of paint, Huckleberry juice was used to stain the walls blue. Tin cans became chandeliers, and wooden sculptures were rendered with only knife work. The Mission of the Sacred Heart was completed after three years, in 1853, and it is Idaho’s oldest standing building.
The Mission, and by extension the surrounding landscape point to a bygone era; Idaho before it was Idaho. The beauty of its early days is only magnified by the wealth of history that it now carries with it.
Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park is approximately 25 miles east of Coeur d’Alene. Along with the church, it features the restored Parish house, a historic cemetery, and a visitor’s center that boasts an award-winning exhibition called "Sacred Encounters: Father De Smet & the Indians of the Rocky Mountain West", which covers the history of the mission.♦
Summer hours are 9 am to 5 pm – April through September
Winter hours are 10 am to 3 pm – October through March
Closed major holidays in the winter
Park entrance fee
$5 per vehicle
Sacred Encounters Exhibit
$5 per person
$10 per family