On Saturday, November 24, 2012, the 609-pound bell rang out at Juneau, Alaska’s historic Saint Nicholas Church for the first time in quite a while.
According a feature than ran in the Juneau Empire on Sunday, November 25, the bell that now graces the church’s recently reconstructed belfry had been cast in Saint Petersburg, Russia in the 1850s.
“It takes time to get all of these old structures rebuilt, and it’s moving along now,” Father Eugene Wozniak said. “This is a visible sign now about where we are going.”
The article notes that the original belfry had been removed from the unique octagon-shaped church in 2007 due to the deteriorated roof’s inability to support the bell’s weight. Since that time, the bell tower sat on blocks in the church yard.
The deterioration was discovered at that time as the main building was being re-roofed. The bell tower has since remained on blocks in the chapel yard directly behind the church on Fifth Street. Richard Dauenhauer, a parishioner involved in the restoration, told reporters that prior to the belfry’s removal, ringing the bell was “a little bit nerve-racking… a very real danger.
“When they took it out it was just rotted, especially where the wall comes up to the ceiling, because that was where the rain had been just coming in for years,” he added.
Alaska Commercial Contractors, Inc. fabricated the new tower from stainless steel and painted white, to match the church’s exterior. Weatherproofing and insulation were added, together with a new cross.
The article continues by noting that the parish obtained local, state and federal funding for the project. A non-profit organization that specializes in restoring Orthodox churches in Alaska—Russian Orthodox Sacred Sites in Alaska [ROSSIA]—obtained a $50,000.00 grant for the project from the Alaskan State Legislature in 2010.
“The bell is so heavy… and the roof was rotting out from under the bell that the church really was in danger of collapse,” Rebecca Shaffer, a ROSSIA board member, told reporters. “It’s such an important historic building. I mean really, really important. I came from the East Coast, and there were buildings newer than this that people would climb over each other to help save there. But here in Alaska, the Russian colonial history is really fading fast, and the efforts to save it are just starting.”
Additional donations were received from the community through the Friends of Saint Nicholas, which raised funds to re-roof the main building in 2007.
The parish traces its origins to the 1880s Gold Rush. As a result of its missionary efforts, many Tlingit people embraced Orthodox Christianity. In July 1892, Bishop Nicholas [Ziorov] of Alaska gave his blessing to the parish’s 700 faithful to build the church, which was completed in November of the following year and consecrated in June 1894. The bell was donated to the church in 1905 by the faithful of Saint Paul Island, a major Orthodox community situated in the Bering Sea between Russia and Alaska.