“home to the spirit houses”
The old St. Nicholas church was constructed in Knik around 1870 although it may have been done as early as 1830. It was moved in around 1900 to Eklutna where it was actively used until it was replaced by the new church. The old St. Nicholas church is the oldest standing building in the greater Anchorage area. It is kept up for historical purposes and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. NEW SAINT NICHOLAS CHURCH The new St. Nicholas church was built in 1962 by the people of Eklutna. The project was headed by the Athabaskan Chief Mike Maxim Alex. It is still a fully functioning church. THE DOMES A peculiar feature of Russian Orthodox churches is the presence of onion-shaped domes on top of the cupolas. Historians are not in agreement as to the origin of this particular style, but some point to the possible influence of Persia on this peculiar feature of Russian church architecture, while others argue that since this style was more popular in the far North of Russia, it had a practical application, in that the shape was particularly suited to shed the large amounts of snow common in the region.* PIRIT HOUSES The interior of Alaska is home to the Athabaskan Native Peoples. Specific to the Eklutna area are the Danaina or Tanaina, Athabaskans. These colorful spirit houses are a uniquely Athabaskan tradition; according to cultural beliefs. Spirit houses were built by the family after the person’s death. A wonderful and unique mix of this native tradition with the practices and beliefs of Orthodox Christianity can be seen in the cemetery. The graves of the Athabaskan people are marked not only with their traditional spirit houses, but also with an Orthodox Christian Cross. There are also graves marked only with crosses, honoring the resting places of the Orthodox non- native members of the church. THE CROSS The Three-Barred Cross existed very early in Byzantium, but was adopted by the Russian Orthodox Church and was especially popularized in the Slavic countries. The upper arm represents the inscription over Christ's head, and the lower slanting bar represents His footrest. The origin of this slanted footboard is not known, but in the symbolism of the Russian Orthodox Church, the most common explanation is that it is the pointing upward to Paradise for the Good Thief on Jesus' right who acknowledged Him and downward to Hell for the Thief on His left (Luke 23). *
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Eklutna Historical Park
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