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Alaska’s Cathedral

A windswept Russian Orthodox Church stands tall in Unalaska on the Aleutian Islands.

Russian Orthodox Church in Unalaska, image
Photo caption
The onion-domed roof harks back to a time when the Aleutian Islands were once home to nine Russian Othrodox churches.

It’s a surreal place for a cathedral: the windswept, grassy steppe by the Bering Sea in Unalaska, Alaska. But the Holy Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral is as grand as its name.

The old Russian Orthodox church boasts the continent’s westernmost onion-domed roof. The interior is thick with the aroma of incense, filling even the three separate tiny chapels. Hundreds of gilded and gesso icons adorn the walls—and also evoke a dark history.

The Aleutian Islands were once home to nine Russian Orthodox churches, all serving the indigenous Aleuts, but in 1942 U.S. troops burned or vandalized the buildings as they forced the Aleuts into internment camps.

Luckily, the paintings were saved, and today the mainly native parishioners celebrate Mass each weekend, again surrounded by sacred art, though now the services are in a mix of Aleut, English, and Russian. "That’s a tradition here," says archpriest Jonah Andrew, "and it always will be."

Photography courtesy of Wanetta Ayers/Wikipedia 




This article was first published in March 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.