Catholic Ladders collection, 1840-1896

Overview of the Collection

Blanchet, Francis Norbert, 1795-1883
Catholic Ladders collection
1840-1896 (inclusive)
1.44 cubic feet, (1 telescoping box (30 x 4.5 x 4.5); 2 oversize folders (20 x 24); 2 oversize folders (30 x 42); 1 framed object (60 x 9))
Collection Number
Coll 51
Collection consists of hand-drawn and commercially printed Catholic ladders designed by Father Francis Norbert Blanchet between 1840 and 1859. Also included is one Pictorial Catechism printed in 1896 that was designed by Father Albert Lacombe based off Blanchet's ladders.
Oregon Historical Society Research Library
1200 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR
Telephone: 503-306-5240
Fax: 503-219-2040
Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.


Historical NoteReturn to Top

Father Francis Norbert Blanchet was a French-Canadian Catholic priest who arrived in Oregon Country as a missionary in 1838. Blanchet designed the first Catholic ladder in 1839 as a tool for Christian evangelization. The ladders are visual teaching aids that use symbols and illustrations to represent concepts and important events in Catholic theology and history. The ladder design originated with the Sahale stick, a carved wooden catechism, which Blanchet designed in 1838 while working at the Cowlitz Mission (in present-day Lewis County, Washington). Sahale stick is a Chinook Jargon term which translates to "stick from heaven." Later, an update into a long, paper design allowed the ladders to be rolled or folded into panels for easier portability. Blanchet and other missionaries used the ladders as an instructional tool for Christian evangelization to Native American and French métis communities. The ladders were a popular tool among missionaries globally during the later half of the nineteenth century as an aid for teaching about religion across language barriers.

In 1872, Father Albert Lacombe expanded upon Blanchet's design. Lacombe was a French-Canadian Catholic priest and missionary who evangelized among Cree and Blackfoot First Nations in Northwest Canada. He developed a more elaborate version of the Catholic ladder, which he called the Pictorial Catechism. Lacombe produced further editions of Pictorial Catechisms, which were distributed globally throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Collection consists of hand-drawn and commercially printed Catholic ladders designed by Francis Norbert Blanchet between 1840 and 1859. The hand-drawn 1840 ladder is believed to have been drawn by Blanchet. The ladder matches extant examples of Blanchet's handwriting and is addressed to his brother, A. M. A. Blanchet, at Cedars parish in Canada. Also included in the collection are three printed lithograph ladders with instructions written in French (1846-47 ladder), Spanish (1856 ladder), and English (1859 ladder). There are also photostatic copies of two additional early examples of Blanchet ladders. The collection also includes one Pictorial Catechism printed in 1896 that was designed by Albert Lacombe based off Blanchet's ladders.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Alternative Forms Available

The five originals in the collection, and a companion document to the 1846-47 ladder, are viewable online in OHS Digital Collections.

Preferred Citation

Catholic Ladders collection, Coll 51, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.

Restrictions on Use

Materials in this collection are in the public domain.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


Collection is arranged chronologically.

Acquisition Information

1859 ladder acquired in 1901 (RL2021-052-RETRO). 1846/1847 ladder most likely acquired 1903 (RL2021-059-RETRO). 1856 ladder possibly gift of St. Mary's Academy and College in 1902 or later (RL2021-060-RETRO). 1898 ladder acquired prior to 1990, most likely in the early or mid-20th century (RL2021-061-RETRO).

Custodial History

The 1840 ladder was originally held by the Dukes County Historical Society in Edgartown, Massachusetts. It was transferred to the Oregon Historical Society by Ann Allen in 1990.

Processing Note

Prior to 2021, the 1859 ladder was part of Mss 322. Prior to 2012, the other ladders in this collection were designated as Mss 218.

Processing Note

English translations of titles in French and Spanish were added by the archivist and appear in square brackets.

Related Materials

A booklet copyrighted by Blanchet that may be a companion to the 1859 Catholic ladder is also available at the Oregon Historical Research Library (call number VAULT 282 B595K) and online in OHS Digital Collections. The booklet is titled "The key to the Catholic ladder: containing a sketch of the Christian religion and universal history, useful to all," and was published in New York by T. W. Strong, printer, in 1859.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Oversize 1 Echelle Catholique [Catholic Ladder] 1840
Oversize 2 Catholic Ladder (photostatic copy) 1842
Oversize 2 Échelle Chronologique et Historique de la Religion [Chronological and Historical Ladder of the Religion] (photostatic copy) 1843
Oversize 3 Echelle Catholique, Historique et Chronologique [Catholic Ladder, History and Chronology] 1846-1847
Oversize 3 Explication de L'échelle Catholique [Explanation of the Catholic Ladder] (photostatic copy) 1846-1847
Oversize 4 Escala Católica Y Misteriosa de Jacob [The Catholic and Mysterious Ladder of Jacob] 1856
1 Catholic Ladder or a Chronological and Historical Chart of the Christian Religion and Doctrine 1859
Oversize 5 Tableau-catéchisme [Pictorial Catechism] 1896

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Bible--Study and teaching
  • Catholic Church--Missions--Northwest, Pacific
  • Indians of North America--Missions--Northwest, Pacific

Form or Genre Terms

  • catechisms
  • visual aids (education tools)

Other Creators

  • Personal Names
    • Lacombe, Albert, 1827-1916