Marquette established a
mission with the Kaskaskia Indians in 1675 near Starved Rock, Illinois. By
1700 crowded conditions and tribal unrest pushed the Kaskaskia tribe and
its mission down the Mississippi. After stops at Peoria and near River des
Peres, the tribe with its missionary, Fr. Marest, settled on a five mile
wide peninsula about six miles north of the confluence of the Mississippi
and Kaskaskia. On April 13, 1703, Marest gave a Mass giving thanks. The
peninsula had been in use by trappers since 1686 and with the arrival of
the mission in 1703 the village of Kaskaskia was established. By 1718 the
Village of Kaskaskia was laid out with definite boundaries, adjoining
Commons and Common Fields and was incorporated in 1725. The village
prospered as both an agricultural and trading community exporting their
products down river to New Orleans.
Mission of the Immaculate Conception also prospered and built its first
stone church in 1714 and in 1720 became an established parish. In 1741
King Louis XV of France sent a bronze bell with the inscription: POUR
LEGLISE DES ILLINOIS P ARLES SOINS DUROI DOUTRE LEA (For the Church of the
Illinois, by gift of the King across the water.) The bell was rung on July
4, 1778, when George Rogers Clark captured Kaskaskia for the American
colonies and the bell is now commonly known as "The
Liberty Bell of the West."
Mission built a series of new churches as the community grew. In 1843 a
brick church was completed in the squared-off French style with the bell
tower over the center entrance. The flood of 1881 created what is now
called Kaskaskia Island and almost obliterated most of the village of
Kaskaskia. The flood of 1893 convinced the parishioners to move the church
along with the village to Kaskaskia Island. In 1894 the church was moved
and rebuilt brick-by-brick in its present location with the bell spire was
built over the side entrance. In 1962 the church and many old relics were
restored - with the original beams and bricks still a part of the church.
The flood of 1973 destroyed the wood floor and severely damaged the church
- the floodwaters reaching almost to the Stations of the Cross hanging on
interior of the church (photo above) has many unique and historic features
and artifacts. The altar dates back to the early mission days of the
parish and was built around 1736. Hand carved out of native black walnut
and cottonwood, it was built with wooden pegs rather than the more
expensive nails. The crown over the altar is made of a single tree trunk.
The bottom section of the altar was restored after the 1881 flood with
material of the time and was reinforced in 1999. A brass sanctuary lamp
hangs by the altar and dates along with the altar to the mission times of
the church. The pulpit was built in 1860 out of walnut in 1860 and
restored after the flood of 1993. The altar stone is a stone specially
blessed and is imbedded with a relic of a martyr of early Christian times.
Local tradition says that Father Marquette himself brought this stone to
Kaskaskia. The stone was carried to the New World by sailing ship from
France and then to Kaskaskia by canoe.
the church walls are 14 lithographs of the Stations of the Cross. It is
believed they were painted in Germany and date back to the 1800s. They are
framed in butternut mahogany hand carved at Kaskaskia. In 1962 they were
restored with over 120 pieces being carved to match the original.
Additional restoration and cleaning was completed in 1999. The Immaculata
is an oil painting brought to the Mission Church in the early 1700's by
the Jesuits and hangs as a symbol of the name of the parish. In 1750 the
Jesuits, after a hasty retreat from the British, placed the painting in a
place of safety where it became almost forgotten until its return in 1980.
The Jackson Organ (photo right) was built in Chester, Illinois in the
1800s and is one of the three remaining Jackson Organs. Made of wood,
leather and copper tubing it was rebuilt after the flood of 1881.
church was again damaged in the flood of 1993, when floodwaters almost
reached the fifth windowpane. The church has made significant progress in
making restorations but is open only for Mass services on Saturdays at
3:30 pm, except for Easter Eve, and special events. Officially the church
building is designated as a “Chapel" and the congregation is the
same continuous group that has cared for the mission for over 300 years.
The Church holds a popular fund raising picnic
every August on the grounds and is open for tours.
Directions: The Immaculate Conception Church is located in Kaskaskia,
the only community in Illinois that is west of the Mississippi River. To
reach the Immaculate Conception Church, take MO-61 to St. Mary, Missouri, located south
of Sainte Genevieve to County Road U (near the grain elevator) and follow the signs
N 37° 55.303'
W 89° 54.867'
Learn more about the Kaskaskia area.