Perched atop a small knoll in view of the towering Rockies, St Henry’s Catholic Church at Twin Butte Alberta is well over a century old. No longer used for regular services, but still well maintained, the fine looking building is opened up from time to time for special occasions and the like. Also located on the grounds is a cemetery, grotto and a “stations of the cross” prayer circuit.
Settlers started coming to the region in the late 1890s. Prior, this was the domain of the Piikani (formerly Peigan) Nation, part of the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Blood or Kainai Tribe, both who lived in the general area. A couple First Nation’s Reserves are located nearby.
Twin Butte was/is more a crossroads on the rolling prairies, than an actual town.
Settlers have spiritual needs and with that this church was built. Constructed in fits and starts over a period of several years it finally opened in 1908 and was funded mainly by donation. Various additions and changes were made to St Henry’s over time – for a example cement was added to the original rock foundation – winds in the area can be extreme and this improvement better stabilized the building from slipping off its base. A new roof was added just this year.
The house located in back was once the rectory (home for the priest), but is now a private residence. If you visit the church, please respect their privacy.
Regular services were held here until the early 2000s. At first the priest lived on site but starting in the 1960s he would commute in from other towns. Today St Henry’s is used for special occasions, weddings and sadly funerals too and other events of a religious nature. The Historical Society of St. Henry’s is the group responsible for its upkeep. If you call ahead, and we didn’t, they’ll open up the building for you. I’ve seen the photos and it’s nice inside.
As we explored about the light
The cemetery is located just to the northwest of the church. The first person buried here was in 1907, the latest 2015. It’s still in use.
While we explored, a fellow showed up, as I guess he does regularly, to pay respects to his deceased wife. He talked briefly and pointed out the abandoned school, seen just down the hill, that she once attended (we visited it later – report soon) and how she herself later went on to teach school. One of our group – (Mini-GTC tour: a yearly meeting of junkies that explore old and abandoned places – grew up the area and was in fact one of her students at one time.
He spoke of her with a giant smile and sparkle in his eye, showing great strength and dignity, when it was clear his heart was breaking from the loss. Hold back the tears.
A rather unusual grotto (meditation spot) is nearby, made in the shape of a farm quonset hut and complete with some old school bus seats to sit upon. A bared wire Jesus, his hands nailed to a rough cross with railway spikes, watches over.
A stations of the cross is located among some hedges. One walks about stopping at each display to read of Jesus’ last days.
The haze prevented us from seeing the mountains directly west. They’re not that far away and are quite stunning – they couldn’t have picked a more lovely spot for a church. A nice view is good for the spiritual soul.
Saint Henry is the patron saint of the childless, handicapped and those rejected by the church (so outcasts I guess). The St Henry’s Church website list him as being the “Protector of Churches”.
The Roman Catholic Church in Canada goes back hundreds of years. In sheer numbers, it’s the largest religion in the country.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: July, 2015.
Location: Twin Butter, AB.
Article sources: Book: The Shadow of the Cross, St. Henry’s 1907-1982, A Brief History of St. Henry’s Parish and its Pioneers and Parishioners.
The church and grounds are publicly accessible (there is a private residence in back). Tours of the interior can be arranged.