Roadtrippin’ 2023: St. Michael’s Cathedral is the heart of Sitka

Roadtrippin' 2023: Sitka's St. Michael's Cathedral
Published: May. 18, 2023 at 4:51 PM AKDT|Updated: May. 18, 2023 at 7:46 PM AKDT
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SITKA, Alaska (KTUU) - St. Michaels Russian Orthodox Cathedral is known to many as the heart of Sitka.

Standing in the middle of the historic downtown, it’s a landmark that represents the state’s religious history. It was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in 1962, but to many residents, it’s so much more.

Ana Dittmar is an archeologist and anthropologist as well as the resident church historian for St. Michael’s Cathedral. She has been working there for over 15 years, and believes its different than any other Russian Orthodox Cathedral she’s ever been in.

“First time I ever came in here, 15 years ago, I just felt like I was home,” Dittmar said. “It smells like home. Feels like home ... you might already be able to tell that there’s a special power in here.”

People travel from all over the world to visit the cathedral— the first Russian Orthodox Church in America — filled with icons and relics from Russia, many of them created in the 1700s.

“They feel it as soon as they come in they say ‘oh wow’,” Dittmar said.

Dittmar says it’s a different experience for every person who enters the cathedral.

“Its just very enriching on a personal basis, it touches their soul,” Dittmar said.

There’s a lot of figures that have influenced the way the cathedral is today. Bishop Innocent Veniaminov initially designed the cathedral and built the clock that’s on its front. Saint Yakov Netsvetov was the first Alaska Native to become an Orthodox priest, served Sitka community, and was eventually buried there.

Saint Herman of Alaska was one of the first missionaries that traveled from Siberia to North America. Of all the missionaries, his visit was the longest and a relic of his remains at the site: a sliver of his bone.

Although the original cathedral burned to the ground in 1966 — what we see today is just a replica — it remains a vital part of the Sitka community.

St. Michael’s Cathedral is located at 240 Lincoln Street in Sitka.