Blog for May 29, 2017
(written on the 29th but I couldn't get online. Today is the 30th and I'll try more later.
Sitka was sunny with a high of 64 F and the tulips and flowering trees were in full bloom, coloiurful in the clear, cool spring air. My roommate, June, and I took a small shuttle over a steep ramp to the shuttle bus taking us about 7 miles into town. Most of the shops welcomed us even on a Sunday morning because tourism is the biggest industry in town, We had to wait about half an hour, though, for the church service to be over in St. Michael’s Cathedral before we could go inside, where fewer than 20 chairs and a bench accommodated the tiny congregation. But what a revelation!
The exterior of the Russian Orthodox cathedral was all wood, an exact replica of the original building including the handsome tower and clock, which had been destroyed by fire in 1966. Inside, liturgical icons glowed and the fragrant incense reminded us of the faith that cannot be extinguished. At the time of the fire the townspeople had formed a human chain, passing out the precious artifacts from hand to hand. We happened to be exiting at exactly twelve noon and listened to the bells, cast from the original bells that had melted in the blaze. Indigenous Alaskan people comprise a large percentage of the congregation, the legacy of Saint Bishop Innocent.
We went to see his house, too, the oldest intact Russian building in Sitka, also a survivor, thanks to the restoration of the decrepit building by the National Parks (Register of Historic Places). He lived on the second floor in 19th century elegance: China from England, furniture made by local artisans, other luxuries imported from Russia. Father Veniaminov was a true missionary, translating the gospel and prayers and essential information into the natives’ language. The first floor of the building provided schooling for the children and the Tlingit people loved him.
When the United States bought Alaska in 1867 (for 7.5 million dollars) American missionaries made the same mistakes our Canadian counterparts did, trying to convert with force rather than with love. By the time National Parks Service stepped in to restore the crumbling building it had become the Russian orphanage (for Tlingit).
I find this history interesting. One forgets that Russians and Spaniards were among the very first European people to colonize the west side of North America. I have a wonderful diary by a Southern, Confederate woman who married a Yankee who couldn’t get a job in the South after the Civil War. They moved to Alaska where the husband was second in command of a sealing station. That would be about the same time as that War. I won’t tell you more because I’m going ashore to see the misty fjords of Ketchikan.