July 19, 2012
Today we toured through Sitka, Alaska, first visiting the Russian Orthodox St. Michael’s Cathedral located right smack in the middle of Lincoln Street. It was interesting to learn about Orthdox Christianity, such as its split with what became the Catholic church after the Orthodox rejected the idea of centralizing power with the Pope. Or, their belief that Christ’s cross had three horizontal boards: a short one on top bearing His name, the longer central board upon which His hands were nailed, and the lower member upon which His feet were nailed. This lower member is angled as a reminder of Christ’s agony on the cross as He is said to have loosened this lower board when squirming in pain. I found the painting above really touching.
Next was a performance by the Russian folk dance troupe New Archangel Dancers. This group of 40 local volunteer women, none of them Russian, performs Russian folk dances twice a week.
“New Archangel” refers to the name given to the city established by Russia in 1804 that eventually became Sitka and the most important trade settlement on the West Coast for half a century. The current name Sitka is derived from the original Tlingit name Sheet’ká.
Next, we noticed that all the cruise ship passengers were heading back to their vessel, so we took the opportunity to walk through the tourist shops along Lincoln Street. Sitka has the typical fare of cruise ship tourist stores pushing jewelry and high-priced Alaskan, Native American and Russian stuff. Lots of nesting dolls, furs, carved bone, native masks and art. We spent most of our time in a local independent bookstore.
Finally, we headed back to Sitka National Historical Park to view the indoor exhibits and the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center. The exhibits include traditional native clothing, tools, masks and ceremonial hardware. At the Cultural Center, we talked to young Tlingit students selected to work at the Center for the summer learning the traditional arts of wood carving and metal working.