Sacred Architecture of Montana

Montana represents the untamed, the wild, and the natural. Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks are starting points. Between the parks lie some mountains that don’t even have names yet, in ranges you’ve never heard of. Scattered in their valleys, you’ll find small towns full of friendly locals sharing the unexpected and even perhaps their huckleberry pie. In addition to the exploration of legendary parks, mountains, and all the places in between, Montana’s vastness is dotted with historic missions and religious sites. From St Xavier’s in Missoula to the Bitterroots splendid St. Mary’s – referred to as the birthplace of Montana – the Treasure State’s sacred architecture is uniquely beautiful and singularly intriguing.

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Missoula, Montana

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Missoula

The stained-glass windows at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church unassumingly brighten the brick building’s striking, 119-year-old core. On sun-packed days, the windows produce golden sparkles inside the downtown Pine Street church. Ordinary glass windows were in place when Mass was first held in the A.J. Gibson designed church back on October 9, 1892. The clear panes were substituted for stained-glass decades ago (pre-1910), in an attempt to guard from sunlight the church’s magnificent frescos, painted by Brother Joseph Carignano, an untrained artist who worked as a cook at a nearby mission.

St. Ignatius Mission, St. Ignatius

Carignano’s paintings may also be viewed inside St. Ignatius Mission, a landmark Roman Catholic mission founded at its present in 1854 by Father Pierre-Jean De Smet and Father Adrian Hoecken. That  mission was built between 1891 and 1893, a simplified, vernacular example of Gothic revival architecture constructed of bricks made from native clay. While the backdrop is splendid, the most exceptional features of the interior are the 58 murals painted by Brother Joseph Carignano. Regarded today as an accomplished artist, his art still summons for a more comprehensive evaluation.

Helena Cathedral
 Helena Cathedral, Helena, Montana, By Brian D'Ambrosio

Helena Cathedral, Helena, Montana

Columbia Construction Company of New York began construction of the Cathedral in 1908, with the cornerstone laid on October 4th that year. On November 8, 1914 the Catholic community of Helena gathered to celebrate the Eucharist for the first time in the new church. The first funeral held in the Cathedral was that of Mr. Thomas Cruse, loyal friend and Cathedral benefactor on  December 26, 1914. The Cathedral was not completed for another 10 years. In June of 1924 the Cathedral was consecrated and set aside for the exclusive worship of God.

St. Mary’s Mission, Stevensville

Wherever you look in Historic St. Mary’s Mission chapel you see the ingenious artistry of Jesuit priest Antonio Ravalli. Completed in 1879, the Stevensville, Mont., chapel stands amid a complex of restored buildings representing the state’s oldest permanently settled community, founded in the Bitterroot Valley in 1841 to bring Christianity to the region’s Native American people.

Mother Bottego House, Butte

Mother Bottego (1895-1980) was born Celestine Healy Bottego to an Italian father and Irish mother. She lived in Butte at 505 South Montana Street from 1896 to 1910 in the Travona District of town. At age 15, Celestine moved with her family to Parma, Italy, where she later founded the Xaverian Missionary Society of Mary. Although Mother Bottego never returned to Butte, she carried a picture of St. Patrick’s Church with her until she died in 1980 and attributed her initial call to religion to her formative years in town.

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