Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 1, 2003
In search of the Holy Cross
Norwegian homesteader funded original Holy Cross Parish
The Holy Cross -- Feast Day -- September 14
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
When, in 1894, Norwegian Knut Skaro settled in the empty lands of the Northwest Territories in what would later become the province of Alberta, he had no way of knowing that his name would be perpetuated to define an area rich in colourful rural churches.
In fact, the proliferation of mainly Byzantine houses of worship, partly because of religious differences, would encourage the County of Lamont, years later, to declare itself the "Church Capital of North America," boasting more than 47 historic religious structures within its boundaries.
One of the most impressive and attractive of these, a prominent landmark in its grove of planted trees, whether viewed from long distances across golden fields of canola in the summer, or admired for its design, is Exaltation of the Holy Cross Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Lord have mercy
The traditional story of the church's name is told in a large work of art that hangs behind the altar. Empress St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, who had journeyed to Jerusalem in 326 in search of the true cross, watches as the bishop of Jerusalem, St. Macarius, raises the cross while bystanders shout "Lord have mercy."
At the suggestion of the bishop, the true cross had been identified by touching the three crosses at the site to an invalid woman. Cured, she is shown kneeling in the foreground, her litter beside her. The crosses of the two criminals killed with Christ now lie abandoned on the ground while the empress holds sacred nails from the crucifixion.
The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross or the Triumph of the Cross is celebrated in both Eastern and Western rites on Sept. 14. Scriptural readings for the day stress the elevation of Christ, by way of the cross, above the world, sin and mortality and the foundation of Christianity.
It's not possible to travel east of Edmonton without constant reminders of the religious history of the area. The Skaro district provides a microcosm of the faith differences in east-central Alberta. For example, Holy Cross is one of five churches along a five-mile stretch of road that include affiliations with Ukrainian Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox as well as the Polish Catholic Our Lady of Good Counsel church and grotto, noted for its major annual pilgrimage.
Although founded in 1900, it was another 17 years before Holy Cross Parish, with support from Skaro, was able to occupy a small church under the title Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church of Czesnoho Kresta at Skaro.
Tragically, it burned down in 1942 but was quickly replaced with the present church. The free-standing bell tower survived the fire and is now 77 years old.
Four towers capped with silver domes fill the corners of a grand cruciform ground plan and complement a central dome at Holy Cross. The interior presents a series of smooth, barrel vault ceilings with the traditional crystal chandelier beneath the dome. Decoration relies on large, round-headed clear and tinted glass windows.
Statues of the Sacred Heart and of Our Lady flank the sanctuary and the four evangelists are portrayed in their traditional places at the dome "corners." There is no iconostasis here so that the focus of the sanctuary is an attractive white altar surmounted by the image of the Exaltation of the Cross.
A joy to visit, the church and grounds are well maintained, the interior exuberantly decorated with floral creations prior to parish observances. Unfortunately, migration to the city and a shortage of clergy means that the Divine Liturgy is only celebrated here monthly, on a rotating basis with other area churches. At other times, entry to Holy Cross and other district churches can be arranged through contacts published in the Lamont County church guide.