This Church Has Been Named Oldest Church in Illinois


Illinois has a rich tapestry of history and culture, including the oldest church in the United States, the Church of the Holy Family on Cahokia Heights. This extraordinary edifice is not only an architectural masterpiece, but it also serves as a tribute to the congregation’s unshakable faith. In this blog article, we’ll look at the historical path, distinguishing traits, and profound significance of this ancient church.

Church’s Historical Journey

The Church of the Holy Family, founded in 1699 by Canadian missionaries, began as a small timber building. Unfortunately, a fire engulfed it in 1783. The present church, built between 1786 and 1799, has French colonial architecture in the “poteaux-sur-solle” style. This approach entails installing heavy wooden beams on a stone foundation and filling gaps with debris and clay. It is a rare find in North America and the earliest specimen west of the Allegheny Mountains.

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The cathedral has witnessed key events such as the handover of the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803, the Civil War, and the Great Flood of 1993. It serves as a focal point for community life, hosting a variety of ceremonies and activities. Despite being renovated, the church has maintained its original character, garnering classification as a National Historic Landmark and listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

Distinctive Features of the Church

The Church of the Holy Family is roughly 32 by 74 feet and emanates modest beauty. The external walls are made of walnut timbers, while the inside is plastered and whitewashed, with wooden plank floors and oak beam ceiling supports. The church’s layout consists of a nave, sanctuary, and two wings, creating a basic yet deep place for worship.

Within the church, notable items include a painting of the Holy Family, the oldest in Illinois; a statue of Saint Anthony of Padua, the oldest in the state, carved by a Native American convert; and a relic of Saint Valentine, donated by Pope Pius IX in 1866 – the saint’s sole relic in the United States. The church’s cemetery, which has tombs going back to the 18th century, provides a peaceful element to its past.

Profound Significance

Beyond its architectural presence, the Church of the Holy Family represents the parishioners’ faith, legacy, and tenacity. As the oldest continuously functioning Catholic parish in the United States, it serves a varied population that includes ancestors of French settlers, Native Americans, African Americans, and immigrants. Its affiliation with the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest demonstrates a dedication to upholding Catholic values.

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The church serves as a cultural and historical nexus, demonstrating French colonial influence and contributing to the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. It is also located near the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, emphasizing its position as a living museum capturing the early history of Illinois and the United States.

Final Words

Finally, the Church of the Holy Family in Cahokia Heights, Illinois, exemplifies the state’s rich history and cultural variety. With roots going back to 1699, its French colonial architecture and historical significance make it a distinctive and treasured monument. The church’s long heritage illustrates the community’s resilience and dedication to preserving Catholic traditions.

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