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Holy Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral - National Fund For Sacred Places
2017 Cohort

Holy Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral

(Russian Orthodox)

Unalaska, Alaska

Holy Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral in Unalaska, Alaska, serves as an outstanding example of Russian architectural heritage in the state and embodies the perseverance of Alaska Natives throughout history.

Holy Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral by National Park Service for ROSSIA

Holy Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral by National Park Service for ROSSIA

2017 Cohort

Holy Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral

(Russian Orthodox)

Unalaska, Alaska

Holy Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral in Unalaska, Alaska, serves as an outstanding example of Russian architectural heritage in the state and embodies the perseverance of Alaska Natives throughout history.

Russian Orthodox missionaries began preaching to European fur traders and Alaska Natives in the 1750s. The first Russian Orthodox church on the island of Unalaska was built in 1808, with the current wooden cathedral completed in 1896. During Russian colonization, Orthodox leaders used the native Aleut language in prayers and religious texts, but after the United States purchased Alaska in 1867, church leaders punished Alaska Natives for speaking Aleut. The U.S. government also forcibly removed Alaska Natives from Unalaska to internment camps following the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. While interned, Alaska Natives formed a makeshift church named after Holy Ascension. Holy Ascension remains a symbol of hope and still holds services in Aleut, Slavonic, and English.

According to the congregation, the church’s historical, cultural, and spiritual significance is “instrumental to the well-being of the people of Unalaska.” The congregation hosts traditional Aleutian food bake sales, runs an elder visitation program, and leads cultural events at the nearby schools and the senior center. Holy Ascension is also a popular destination for cruise ship tourists and visitors from the state ferry. In order to promote understanding between diverse peoples and bridge cultures, church members of all ages provide tours of the cathedral and its extensive collection of religious icons.

A National Fund grant of $125,000, with nearly $700,000 in matching funds, facilitated the installation of a high-fog mist fire suppression system that will protect the church’s congregants, visitors, building, artwork, and recently conserved icons. The successful project was a collaboration between the congregation and Russian Orthodox Sacred Sites in Alaska (ROSSIA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Alaska’s Russian Orthodox churches and iconography. The National Fund project enhanced the congregation’s fundraising capacity, relationships with individuals and community organizations, and ability to open the church’s door to additional visitors.

Holy Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral by National Park Service for ROSSIA

Holy Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral by National Park Service for ROSSIA

HI-FOG Mist Fire Suppression System Protects Remote Alaskan Cathedral

Fire poses one of the greatest risks to historic places. In the 1990s, a new solution was developed in Finland to mitigate the risk of fire, reduce subsequent water damage, and prevent major disruptions from installation: HI-FOG mist fire suppression systems. This innovative technology has protected historic places worldwide, including a historic cathedral in the remote community of Unalaska on the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.

Holy Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral by National Park Service for ROSSIA

Stories and Media Coverage

Read more about how the National Fund for Sacred Places is helping congregations around the country rehabilitate their sacred places.

Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church by Luis P. Gutierrez