Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 21, 2002
In Search of St. Josaphat
Evolving design, styles, creates baroque elegance
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
In a part of Alberta's capital noted for the number and variety of religious structures, the Cathedral of St. Josaphat stands out - a veritable jewel in Edmonton's old east end. Declared a provincial historic resource in 1983, this ornate Byzantine church and its two predecessors have served residents of Ukrainian descent for almost 100 years.
It's the city's pre-eminent Ukrainian Catholic Church, home to the bishop of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Edmonton since 1948. On Oct. 13, Ukrainian Catholics celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first Divine Liturgy in Edmonton in the cathedral.
A border of mature trees sets off St. Josaphat's as an impressive example of Ukrainian baroque masonry architecture. A traditional five-part cruciform plan with four added units makes it the ultimate in the evolution of Eastern Church design. Seven domes, each with its cupola, top the edifice.
Unusual features include an impressive broad staircase, west front portico supported by Tuscan columns, and attractive polychrome brick patterning. It's a product of the evolution of Canadian styles.
It is one of a number of "prairie cathedrals" designed by priest/architect Father Philip Ruh.
This remarkable Oblate arrived in Western Canada in 1913 to minister to settlers from Ukraine and almost immediately became involved in the construction and upgrading of several tiny Byzantine Catholic churches east of Edmonton.
He went on to design larger houses of worship and expanded his efforts as far as Ontario. Culmination of his efforts was the building of several, multi-domed Eastern churches. The last, begun in 1939, and the only one in Alberta, was St. Josaphat's Cathedral.
First-time visitors to St. Josaphat's might be excused their sense of awe and wonderment at the brilliance of the church decoration, and by the sheer size and magnificence of the interior. Most was painted in tempera by artists Julian and Bohdan Bucmaniuk between 1950 and 1955.
All ornamentation in the church has theological significance, depicting episodes in the lives of Christ and his mother. There are important saints, Old Testament prophets and the four evangelists.
Added in 1968, the elaborate iconostasis complements the baroque style of the building. It's a large screen, traditionally ornamented with four rows of icons, that separates the people in the nave from the sanctuary. Three doors that pierce the iconostasis provide access for the clergy.
And arching over all, the huge dome, with its mural of the Creator, depicts heaven.
The saint honoured by the magnificent cathedral was born in Vladimir in 1580. John Kunsevich adopted the name Josaphat when he entered the Basilian order. He quickly rose to become bishop of Vitebsk and then suceeded to the archbishopric of Polotsk. A noted preacher, much of his life was spent as an advocate for resolution of differences between the Roman and Orthodox churches.
All ornamentation in the church has theological significance, depicting episodes in the lives of Christ and his mother.
He was martyred on Nov. 12 (his feast day) in 1623. Canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1867, he is honoured throughout the Catholic world as an intercessor for re-unification.
Serenity prevails inside St. Josaphat's Cathedral where, isolated from the traffic noise on Edmonton's busy 97th Street, a place exists for quiet contemplation or for active participation in Sunday Divine Liturgies, celebrated in Ukrainian, English or bilingually.