Posts tagged Alaska
On Facebook, my friend (and historian of Alaskan Orthodoxy) Eric Peterson posted a link to an article on the impending (June 26) auction of a rare Alaskan Orthodox “peg calendar,” dating to the late 19th century. In the article, Fr. Michael Oleksa explained, “I think the average lay person kept track of the feast days of the church. They celebrated Christmas, they celebrated other church holidays that are fixed on the calendar year. And they kept track of the holidays and then when it was their name day or the anniversary of the birth of a child, the name day of a relative, the death of a relative — they had that all marked on their own personal calendars and could keep track of those dates just by moving a small peg from day to day.”
The small wooden artifact was owned by the same family for more than a century, but now the family is putting it up for auction. The auctioneer thinks it could go for up to $10,000.
To read the article, click here.
The following article appeared in the New York Times on March 23, 1880, detailing an early communication between Nestor Zass, the Russian Bishop of Alaska and the Rutherford B. Hayes, the President of the United States.
WASHINGTON, March 22. — On Saturday last the President received a letter from Bishop Nestor, of the Greek Church, who was appointed a year ago to the Diocese of Alaska. The document contained a request to permit the bearer of the letter, Mr. Ivan Petroff, to say a few words in behalf of the Russian-speaking inhabitants of Alaska. The interview was granted, and Mr. Petroff, who is one of our citizens acquired by the purchase, explained briefly the reasons that had induced Bishop Nestor to take this step.
The membership of the Russian church in the Territory is between 8,000 and 9,000, by far the largest single element of population in Alaska, and as such ought not to be overlooked in the event of legislation for the Territory. The bulk of this population is in the west, far away from the mining region now attracting immigration, entirely secluded from the outside world. These people have remained very much in their former condition, and, being deprived of all school facilities since the purchase, have even, in many instances, descended in the scale of civilization, and are to-day less fitted to hold their own among their new countrymen than they were 13 years ago. Should a full Territorial Government be bestowed upon Alaska this element of population would be in danger of suffering neglect, because they are not fitted to take part in a representative Government until some educational facilities are extended to them, and the English language is introduced among them.
The President listened with interest to this demonstration of an important feature in the Alaska question, ascertaining the location of the parishes of the Russian Church on the map, and measuring the distance separating them from what may be called the American settlements. At the close of the interview he begged Mr. Petroff to assure Bishop Nestor that due attention should be paid to his representations, if Congress places it in the power of the President to do so, by making appointments with a view of guarding the interests of the people in whose behalf the Bishop makes his appeal.
Editor’s note: The following article appeared in the Los Angeles Times on May 13, 1923, and was entitled, “Tolls Story of Old California.”
An old and battered bell, hanging in an orange grove where Ramona played in the days of her childhood, rang a new note in the song of California’s mission history yesterday.
After a silence of 127 years the ancient bell has spoken, and the tale it has told may alter certain chapters of the story of El Camino Real and prove facts of California’s history which in the past have existed only as theory. Further, it may refute one or two other phases of the King’s Highway chronicles which have always been accepted as a historical fact. It has been declared by several historians as one of the most important historical discoveries of a human interest nature ever made on the Pacific Coast.
Alice Harriman, noted campanologist and author, is accredited with uncovering the veiled past of the aged bell. Three years ago Mrs. Harriman first saw the bell as it swung in an orange grove at “Camulos,” where Ramona spent her girlhood days, and now the Del Valle ranch. Since then, she has devoted her time to tracing back the almost obliterated story of the bell. She announced yesterday the completion of her research work, in which she has been assisted by noted American and Russian authorities.
The bell is not of Spanish origin. Nor did it come to California from Mexico, Peru, Chili, Massachusetts or Russia — where almost all the famous bells of the world were cast. The Camulos bell was made on the island of Kodiak, Alaska, and presents the first glimpse into a phase of the earliest settlement of Russian America, now known as Alaska, which hitherto has been unknown to modern historians. The inscription on the Camulos bell, written in a forgotten language, betrays the secret. It reveals that it was cast at Kodiak in 1796 and that it was traded for food by Count Nicolai Resenov, one of the earliest settlers of Alaska, and that until sixty years ago it hung in the famed San Fernando Mission.
“I have found bells from Mexico, Spain, Peru, Chili, Belgium, Massachusetts, Sitka, and Russia,” said Mrs. Harriman yesterday, “but not until three years ago did I realize that I was to discover one of the most historical bells ever found.”
She told of a visit to Camulos when she first saw the bell in the orange grove. But the inscription was in Russian script. The Del Valle family knew little concerning the bell other than that it had been removed from the old San Fernando Mission to save it from vandals sixty-two years ago, and that ever since then it had been exposed to the ravages of the weather on Del Valle ranch.
A crude cross and a stenciled inscription “De Sn Ferno,” hammered on the bronze surface by the Franciscan fathers, proved it had once hung in San Fernando Mission.
Russian authorities could not translate the inscription around the lower rim. With the assistance of Dr. Herbert E. Bolton, noted historian, Mrs. Harriman learned that it was in the old Slavonic church language, now virtually extinct. She appealed to Rev. A.P. Kasheveroff, curator of the Alaskan Historical Society, and she learned portions of the inscription:
“Island of Kodiak — Alexander Baranoff — Month of January”
Two big gaps in the inscription could not be read from the photographs by Dr. Kasheveroff. She then sought the aid of Dr. Alexis Kall, of this city, a student of the forgotten language. The complete inscription read:
“1796 — In the Month of January, 1796, this bell was cast on the Island of Kodiak through the generosity of Arch-Mandrite Joasaph and elected church warden Alexander Baranoff”
Now, how did it get down into California, into an orange grove?” Mrs. Harriman asked. “Cast on a barely settled island with the wild, wide waters of the North Pacific pounding on the shores of the bay near where it was cast, by a Greek Orthodox arch-abbot for sponsor — how does it come that it was for years the bell for the Roman Catholic Franciscan Mission of San Fernando, in the lovely valley of the same name?
“The answer, almost certain and indorsed by historians and campanologists in California, Washington and Alaska, is that when Baranoff changed his headquarters from Kodiak to Sitka in 1805 he brough the bell with him.
“When Count Resenov visited Sitka and found the little settlement in such sore straights for food, he took the ‘Juno’ and came to California for food for starving Sitka. Knowing as the Russians did that the Spanish settlements of California had missions and that wherever there are missions bells are needed, Resenov brought this bell with other things that he thought he could exchange for the Southland’s grain and meat. When it was traded, the San Fernando inscription was stenciled on it.
“It may have been that the bell was brought by the Russians who hunted for otter on the Channel Islands; but bells are ungainly things to handle and it is doubted if there is any other explanation to be found than the one indorsed by those highest in authority on Pacific Coast history.
“The material in the bell also has an interesting history as research in Russian archives show. Baranoff wrote to Shelikoff, his superior in Russia and at whose instance the bell was first cast, that the copper he sent — meaning Shelikoff — had been received and that ‘that Englishman, Vancouver,’ had sent him some tin.
“Baranoff most fortunately, even wrote to Shelikoff revealing the name of the founder of this wonderful bell. It was Sapoknikoff.”
Mrs. Harriman stated that most of her positive information concerning the bell was found in Tekmeneft’s History.
On February 4, I wrote an article on an 18th century Russian bell that currently hangs in an old Roman Catholic mission in California. Thanks to Mr. Clifford Argue, I have since learned a great deal more about the Kodiak Bell, and I am convinced that this bell needs to be returned to the Orthodox Church in Alaska.
As most American Orthodox Christians know, in 1794, nine Russian monks arrived on Kodiak Island in Alaska and initiated the first Orthodox mission in the New World. The missionaries included the wonderworker St. Herman and the future hieromartyr St. Juvenaly, and their leader was Archimandrite Joasaph Bolotov, who would go on to become the first Orthodox bishop consecrated for service in the Americas. (Tragically, the newly-consecrated Bishop Joasaph drowned when his ship sank en route to Kodiak, and it would be nearly a half-century longer before a bishop, St. Innocent Veniaminov, would set foot in Alaska.)
Anyway, in 1796, the Kodiak Bell was cast for the first Orthodox church in Alaska — the Church of the Resurrection. The bell bore an inscription, which, translated into English, reads something like this: “In the year 1796 in the month of January this bell was cast on the island of Kodiak by the blessing of Archimandrite Joaseph during the sojourn of Alexander Baranof.”
That bell now hangs at the historic Roman Catholic mission of San Fernando Rey de Espana, not far from Los Angeles. How it got there remains a mystery. One story — which I briefly related in my original article on the bell — is that the Russian nobleman Nikolay Rezanov exchanged the bell to the Spanish for food on an 1806 visit to California. The bell found its way to Mission San Fernando and was there as late as 1860. It was then removed and buried to protect it from vandals, was forgotten, and was finally rediscovered in 1920. It’s a colorful story, with a lot of romance, but it appears to be mostly speculation, with little hard evidence to back it up.
In the book The Mission Bells of California, by Marie T. Walsh (1934), there is a fascinating chapter entitled “Russian Bells in California.” The Kodiak Bell is featured prominently, and after relating the Rezanov story, Walsh offers this alternative theory:
Shortly after the transfer [of Alaska to United States control] two shipments of bells were made from Sitka to San Francisco. One of these shipments was consigned to Hutchinson & Hirsch on January 21, 1868, and the other to [Russian consul] Klinkofstrom on November 18, 1868. Also, in 1882, the three bells from the Kodiak church were sent down to be recast by a San Francisco company, but were substituted with other material. Reverend [Alexander] Kashevaroff says that he remembers ringing the 1796 bell as a boy for the church services and on big holidays, especially during Christmas and Easter, when the bells would be rung the whole day in honor of the feast. So taking this historian’s word for it, the Kodiak bell first saw California in 1882 and not in 1806 as has been so romantically suggested.
I plan to reprint the whole chapter at some point, as Walsh provides a lot of details and theories.
Anyway, so much for the basic history. In 1987, on the eve of the millenium of Russian Orthodoxy, OCA priest Fr. Andrew Harrison, then of St. Innocent Church in Tarzana, California, wrote to Pope John Paul II to ask that the Kodiak Bell be loaned to the Orthodox in Alaska. Roman Catholic Archbishop Roger Mahony of Los Angeles responded, granting permission for a 3-month loan in 1988. Most of the details were worked out, but for reasons that remain unclear, the loan never happened and the bell has remained at Mission San Fernando to this day.
That was 23 years ago. And while the idea of a three-month loan is nice, honestly, that bell belongs in Alaska, permanently. It is one of the few surviving artifacts from the original Kodiak Mission — from the original Orthodox temple in the Western Hemisphere. It should be, not loaned, but returned. Because, however it got down to a Roman Catholic mission in California, it is of comparatively little value to its present owners, in light of its extraordinary significance for the Orthodox Church.
This calls to mind two recent “returns,” both of which are relevant for our purposes. First, there was the celebrated 2004 return of relics by Pope John Paul II to the Ecumenical Patriarchate — relics of the great Fathers St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom. Here, the late Pope should serve as a model for the current owners of the Kodiak Bell, willing to return a precious relic to the Orthodox in a spirit of Christian friendship.
Even more recently, there was Harvard University’s 2008 return of 18 historic bells to Danilov Monastery in Russia. These bells had been donated to Harvard in 1930 by a philanthropist who saved them from destruction by the Communists, and they were ultimately returned in exchange for a new set of bells (donated by a Russian foundation). Here, too, we see a model for the Kodiak Bell situation: we Orthodox should raise the (certainly small) sum of money necessary to create a replacement bell, to give to Mission San Fernando in exchange for the Kodiak Bell.
In my view, this plan — for the Roman Catholics to return the Kodiak Bell in exchange for a high-quality replacement — is exactly the sort of “ecumenical” activity that has positive benefits all around. It would foster goodwill between the two groups, attract positive attention from outsiders, give the Orthodox an important relic from their past, and give the Roman Catholics a new artifact demonstrating our Christian brotherhood. This can happen, and should happen.
This article was written by Matthew Namee. Many thanks to Mr. Clifford Argue for his invaluable assistance.
Yesterday, we posted the St. Peter the Aleut entry from Richard A. Pierce’s Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary. In that excerpt, Pierce offered this theory: “Since the extermination of Indians on ‘Il’mena Island’ by Aleut hunters led by the Russian Iakov Babin, there with the RAC brig Il’mena, occurred at about the same time as the alleged martyrdom of Petr the Aleut, discovery of additional facts on the one may help explain the other.” This, of course, raises the question, “Who was Iakov Babin, and what did he do?” Here is Babin’s brief entry in the same Pierce book (page 14):
Babin, Iakov (fl. 1815-1839?), fur hunter. A peasant from Tobol’sk, he entered service of the RAC [Russian-American Company] about 1805 and was assigned to the Ross settlement in California. About 1815, while hunting for sea otters off what the Russians called Il’mena Island, probably after their ship, the Il’mena, in Southern California, Babin apparently allowed his party of Aleut hunters to exterminate the local Indians. When the Aleuts involved in the affair returned to Sitka, Chief Manager A.A. Baranov took statements from them, and in 1818 his successor L.A. Hagemeister ordered Babin brought on the Kutuzov to Sitka for further questioning. From there he was to be sent to St. Petersburg, for inquiry by the Main Office, though whether this was done is unclear. In 1825, stating that he had received nothing from the company since 1805, he requested permission to leave the colonies, but remained, for on 30 January 1827 he married, at Sitka, Anisiia, “a baptized Indian of the people of Albion (i.e., of California).” On 23 January 1827 a daughter, Matrona, was baptised at Kad’iak. On 6 February 1838 he married Elisaveta Unali at Kad’iak, and there, in either 1839 or 1841, he died.
It’s just a theory, but it’s possible that St. Peter’s death was actually a revenge killing. The Il’mena was, after all, St. Peter’s ship — at least, it was the ship he was on at the time of his capture. Was St. Peter present at this alleged massacre (since, after all, the Il’mena was his ship)? Were the Indians who killed St. Peter related to the Indians killed by the Russians and Aleuts on Il’mena Island? Is it possible that the two events are unconnected?
It seems to me that, if we want to understand what happened with St. Peter in 1815, we must understand this purported Il’mena Island massacre as well.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.