Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 26, 2005
A church of changing faiths
Camrose landmark houses beautiful icons
The Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary – October 1
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Few can visit Camrose without admiring the one-of-a-kind, pristine white church that is reflected so artistically in tranquil Mirror Lake in the city's core.
Most would not recognize the building, seemingly placed there for the pleasure of artists and photographers, as an Eastern Church.
The Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic church lacks elaborate domes, a free-standing bell tower or other Byzantine features. In fact, with its steepled bell tower and saddle-back roof, it resembles many of the area's Lutheran churches.
There is, however, a not-so-simple explanation for the appearance of this almost 100-year-old city landmark.
Roman Catholic beginnings
Our Lady's Camrose church has had a long and unusual history. The building was constructed in 1909 by St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Parish which for three years had been served from St. Thomas Church at Duhamel.
Growth of the congregation resulted in the building of a larger church on a different site in 1927, the old building being sold to the Grace Lutheran Church. In due course, the building was again outgrown and sold to the Bethel Lutheran congregation with the provision that it be moved off the site to allow for construction of a larger house of worship.
So, in 1953, the already historic structure was the subject of a newsworthy move two blocks south to its present attractive site on Mirror Lake where, for another 30 years it would be home to the Bethel Lutherans.
Then, in 1958, the city's first Ukrainian Catholic church was inaugurated in a small former schoolhouse moved in from Wetaskiwin and positioned some 12 blocks to the east. Conveniently, about the same time that Bethel Lutheran in turn was seeking larger quarters, a ready buyer was found in the cramped Ukrainian congregation which was thrilled in 1986 to acquire the old St. Francis building.
With a few modifications, an enlarged entry porch and ornamentation of the conventional steeple, the church looks much as it's shown in early photos and has come full-circle as a well-maintained Catholic landmark.
If visitors are fortunate enough to enjoy a tour of his church with Father Vasyl Nykyforuk, they will receive explanations of the many beautiful icons that adorn the interior. Several features immediately identify the otherwise Western house of worship as Byzantine.
The sanctuary is closed off by an elaborate iconostasis bearing significant icons and there is an ornate compound chandelier above the tetrapod in front of the altar. Other icons of saints are spaced elsewhere on the nave walls.
Through an opening in the iconostasis, a large icon of Our Lady dominates the back wall behind the altar. She is portrayed as the Protectress, clad in red and blue garments, holding her mantle in both hands, the object of veneration by two young people in traditional Ukrainian costume.
The Patronage of Our Lady has been celebrated in the Eastern Church since 1037 when Prince Yaroslav the Wise of Kievan Rus formally decreed Oct. 1 as the day to honour Our Lady, believed to have been instrumental in repelling armies besieging Constantinople in 860.
At that time, not only did Prince Askold agree to peace, but became instrumental in seeking Christian missionaries to visit his Ukrainian homeland.
Many Byzantine churches in Western Canada bear the Protectress name and almost all display her traditional image.
At Camrose, Father Vasyl is kept busy in an active, 22-family parish. In addition to his local ministry, including daily Mass at Protection church, Father Vasyl also celebrates the Divine Liturgy on a rotating basis in district mission churches at Daysland, Hay Lakes, Holden, Holden Farms, Kopernick and Round Hill.