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Mormons in Idaho

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The Book Of Mormon

Weighing in with a whopping 23% of the state’s population, Latter-Day Saints make up the biggest religious denomination in Idaho, beating both Evangelicals (22%) and Catholics (18%). This statistic came as a surprise to us; during our journey through Idaho, we didn’t notice much Mormon influence at all… that is, at least, until we reached the southeastern corner of the state.

Mormon/Mormons

After Utah, Idaho has the country’s second-highest percentage of Mormons. Their predominance in the eastern part of the state isn’t too surprising; Utah is just below the border, and Mormon missionaries began arriving in Idaho as far back as 1860. Cities such as Idaho Falls and Rexburg are almost entirely Mormon, with temples that dominate both religious and political life.

There’s no denying that some friction exists between the LDS and non-LDS factions of Idaho, whether it’s anti-Mormonism, or discrimination against non-Mormons. There has been a history of laws in the state targeting the LDS, including now-antiquated ones which barred Mormons from voting and holding public office. But the tyranny of the majority is a two-way street. Without thinking, I ordered a coffee in Rexburg. It was the worst coffee I’ve ever had in my life; cold and watery, at least three days old with a pile of grinds in the bottom. Coffee in a Mormon town: not recommended.

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December 7, 2012 at 8:00 am Comments (8)

The Cataldo Mission – Idaho’s Oldest Building

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The oldest building in Idaho is also among its most impressive. The Jesuit mission at Cataldo, built between 1850 and 1853 for the Coeur d’Alene tribe, has survived the ages magnificently. After finishing the White Pine Scenic Byway, we toured both the church and its museum in the nearby visitor’s center.

Cataldo-Mission

The Jesuits were welcome guests in Idaho, invited by the Coeur d’Alene, who hoped to share in the white man’s powerful religion. Father Pierre-John De Smet headed up the delegation and had a church built on the banks of the Coeur d’Alene river, meant to evoke the grand cathedrals of Europe. With its wooden altars painted to look like marble and chandeliers made of tin cans, Europeans might have sneered at the makeshift quality, but the church was impressive enough to the Coeur d’Alene, who came to worship in droves.

The church was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1962. It’s been left mostly untouched since its inception, and its interior is creaky and beautiful. There are a couple small exhibits, demonstrating the methods used in the church’s construction, and an audio tape on loop which plays songs and prayers from the 1800s.

The accompanying museum is also worth visiting. With items on loan from the Smithsonian, it presents a fascinating tour through the shared history of the Catholics and the Coeur d’Alene. Pictures and anecdotes describe the historic meeting of the cultures. We learned, for example, that Father De Smet was wise enough to disregard the famous inflexibility of Catholic dogma, and incorporate the pagan beliefs of the Coeur d’Alene into his teachings.

The Cataldo Mission was an unexpected highlight during our tour through Idaho. Even for the most time-constrained tourist, the museum and church ought to be worth a couple hours.

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October 10, 2012 at 3:48 pm Comments (4)
Mormons in Idaho Weighing in with a whopping 23% of the state's population, Latter-Day Saints make up the biggest religious denomination in Idaho, beating both Evangelicals (22%) and Catholics (18%). This statistic came as a surprise to us; during our journey through Idaho, we didn't notice much Mormon influence at all... that is, at least, until we reached the southeastern corner of the state.
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