Saint Nicholas, a devout religious figure from the early days of Christianity, and to many today, the face of everyone’s most favourite holiday ever, Christmas. Said to be a miracle worker, benevolent, a helper of the poor, advocate of the hopeless, the destitute, the damned, his life’s work was in charitable service to those in need. His penchant for the giving of “secret gifts” is from which the legend of the red-suited always jovial St Nick, or Santa Claus originates.
No matter how you look at him, he was one fine fellow.
He’s lent his name to a lot of houses of worship around the world too, including the one we’ll be documenting in this here post, Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church of Saint Michael. Or simply St Nicholas for short. The location is rural Lamont County Alberta, on the plains east of Edmonton, the land a mix of farms and wooded groves.
Many rural churches have been forced to close account of dwindling congregations. This one has bucked the trend and still sees active use.
The building seen today dates from 1923 and replaced an earlier, much smaller and simpler church on the same property (circa 1904). The cost for this “new” structure came in at about $11k, most of the labour being provided by volunteers. It’s sits on a good sized plot of land, set back from the nearest road, much of the property rimmed by trees and then further on surrounded by farmer’s fields.
Done in a traditional Byzantine style used by Eastern and Orthodox religions, in a crucifix form (cross- shaped footprint when viewed from the “heavens”); and with iconic “Onion Domes” it’s one of many churches of this style in the general region. While the others are constructed of wood, this one differs with main structure being made of brick. To us and I’m sure many of the people who worship here, this makes it something a wee bit more special. By a smidgen.
Domes are of wood and metal clad and were no doubt very complex to build. There’s three here, and they have significance, representing the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Three domes is common, but other churches like it can have anywhere from one to thirty three (not all numbers used). Each specific count has its own special meaning.
Some of the interior stuff here came from the original church. The layout has the altar facing west, parishioners east, a fairly typical setup. The aliment has many meanings – for example, it’s said Christ will return from the east.
The bell for these style churches is always contained in a separate building. This tower holding them is a bit newer and dates from the 1930s. It’s of wood construction, and contains three bells. Three very loud bells. Our gracious host, the church caretaker, demonstrated their use. It was near deafening – I’m sure they heard it all the way back to Edmonton, maybe even beyond. Our ears are still “ringing” to this very day. Still, what a magic experience it was, even if our it hurt a little bit. Gong, gong, gong…for the love of…make it stop!
The bell tower is also used for storage. Lots of interesting church artifacts inside. The explosives box seemed a bit strange (see photos). In times past, the main lower floor was was also used as a classroom of sorts.
There’s a good sized cemetery on the property, with some two hundred people interned here. The first burial at St Nicholas goes back to the very early 1900s – there might even be a couple unmarked/unrecorded graves from earlier, the late 1890s – the most recent, from not all that long ago. Many common family names are seen and reflect the Eastern European heritage of the area. Many of their descendent still live nearby. The fellow who showed us around, had roots going back many, many generations.
The church is used regularly for Sunday Services and for special events, funerals, weddings (one in the same for some), and the like, and is well kept up and I’d say even well loved. Nice and clean and tidy, and inviting. A new addition is the wheelchair ramp seen. Many of the parishioners are elderly and not terribly mobile. Still, they come. Good on them.
The region around St Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church was settled in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Many came here from what is present day Hungary. Ukrainian Catholic Churches and ones similar looking belonging to Russo-Greek congregations, and others of Eastern Orthodox religions, are very common to Lamont County. There’s a pamphlet you can get for a self-guided tour. We’ve seen a couple in the area, but have only scratched the surface. Love them – those domes – and so want to see many more. A good reason to return!
The Saint Michael in the full title of the church is in reference to the nearest town, a few clicks to the northwest.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: November, 2016.
Location: Lamont County, AB.
Article references (and thanks): St Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, Mr Caretaker who’s name we lost, HistoricPlaces.ca, Robert Pohl.
If you visit the church grounds, please show respect. BIGDoer.com visited with permission.