Ephim Baktuit, left, Roger Meeks and Elmer Knudson pose in this 1972 photo with three old wooden Orthodox crosses found during installation of a foundation for St. Nicholas Chapel in Kenai.
Photo by Mae Knudson
Three wooden Orthodox crosses were found under the floor of St. Nicholas Chapel in Kenai back in 1972 when the Kenai Historical Society began a project to stabilize the aging building.
The crosses came to light when a crew including Ephim Baktuit, Roger Meeks, Elmer Knudson and Emil Carlson removed the floor before jacking up the building in order to install a foundation.
The crosses were treated with respect and wrapped in heavy plastic to help preserve them. Then they were replaced and the chapel was lowered onto the new foundation.
The Chapel of St. Nicholas was built in 1906 as a tribute to Igumen Nicholai (Father Nicholas), the priest who was assigned to take charge of the newly formed Kenai Parish in 1844. It covers his grave, as well as those of Makar Ivanoff, his assistant, and another church worker whose name is not known.
St. Nicholas Chapel in Kenai is shown in this 1982 photo.
Photo by Mary Ford
We would guess that the crosses stood over the burials for many years until the chapel was built, at which time they were laid on their sides.
The parish assigned to Father Nicholas was so large it took the priest two years to make the rounds of villages in his care. His assistant would vaccinate the people along the way.
The priest founded a small school in his residence and in addition to church duties, “settled the complaints of the people.” He died around the time of the Alaska purchase in 1867.
Over the years, additional measures have been taken to preserve the old building. The logs were treated and interior supports attached. The roof and cross were replaced. The chapel still stands across from the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai. The church itself was built and dedicated in 1886, predating the chapel by 10 years.
This column was written by Mary Ford, with the Kenai Historical Society.
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