This prie dieu, or prayer kneeler, was used by French settlers in the Illinois territory during the late 18th century. During prayer, individuals would kneel on the bottom platform and rest their elbows or place books on the upper shelf. The Roman Catholic Church played a dominant role in the lives of these settlers, who celebrated 27 religious holidays throughout the year.
Illinois was a French colonial territory from 1673, when it was first claimed by France, until 1763, when it was ceded to Great Britain in the Treaty of Paris after the French and Indian Wars. Governed first by Canada and then by the French province of Louisiana, the “Illinois country” was home to farmers and fur traders and included major settlements at Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Chartres, and Prairie du Rocher, all along the Mississippi River near St. Louis.