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Choir, orchestra join forces to help St. Ignatius church

April 3, 2019 GMT

For the past couple of months, dedicated vocalists and musicians have been traveling regularly to St. Ignatius for rehearsals in all kinds of weather with a common cause. They’re doing their part to help raise money to restore the historic murals at the St. Ignatius Mission Church.

The first concert is tonight, with five other performances planned in the weeks leading up to Easter.

“Lamb of God” is an 80-minute oratorio written by Rob Gardner that tells the New Testament account of the last days of the life of Jesus Christ. With soloists and narrators, it recounts the final days of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection.

“This year’s 53-member choir and 24-member orchestra are all volunteers from 11 different communities and many different denominations who have made great sacrifices to bring this message to our area,” said Nancy Eastham, one of the producers. “Some have traveled over 100 miles round trip to practices each week - for the last 2 1/2 months - through adverse weather conditions and in spite of personal trials. Our group consists of individuals with all levels of musical backgrounds, from seasoned symphony members to some ‘home-spun’ musicians with no training.”

Janis Cates of St. Ignatius took the lead in organizing the musical performances last year. Last year’s free performances - which brought standing-room-only crowds and standing ovations - brought in 100,000, according to the Rev. C. Hightower of the Mission Church.

The choir and orchestra chose to support the mural preservation again this year.

The fundraising effort has been ongoing for the preservation of the 58 murals, also called frescoes, in the interior of the 1891 church.

Travelers on U.S. 93 know it as the landmark red brick church that appears after their breath is taken away by the stunning view of the Mission Mountains as they’re heading north and top Ravalli Hill before dropping down into the Mission Valley.

The murals are an extraordinary collection, painted by Brother Joseph Carignano, an Italian Jesuit who spent many years as the cook and handyman at the mission. In between his regular jobs he completed the artwork in 1904 and 1905 that adorns the walls and ceiling, depicting scenes from the Bible’s Old and New Testaments and some of the saints.

The Roman Catholic church is the centerpiece of what remains of the St. Ignatius Mission that was founded in 1854 by Jesuit missionaries and named for their founder, St. Ignatius Loyola.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Mission Church is open for self-guided tours and is a popular stop for tourists.

The campaign aims to raise 1 million to restore the frescoes, which have started to crack and deteriorate from age and earthquake damage. Cheesecloth has been applied to several of the cracked paintings to prevent further damage.

Last summer the church contracted with Custom Plaster of Boise, Idaho, to begin the restoration work. Frescoes around the bell tower and above the old choir loft were restored, Hightower said, along with smaller medallions on the south side of the church depicting Roman Catholic saints, St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother.

The restoration crew will return to the church in late May or early June.

“We hope to complete the triptych behind the alter and the northside medallions,” Hightower said, adding that the restorers used metal bracing that has made the church walls sturdier. “They did a tremendous amount of work.”

Fundraising for the historic church’s preservation fund will be ongoing.

“The reason we can do all this is the community support,” Hightower stressed. “We’ve been very humbled by what we’ve received.”

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.