Sunday, September 9, 2012

Get Thee To the Church: Immaculate Conception, Fairbanks Alaska

We started our vacation by going to Mass.

After checking into our hotel in the middle of the night and catching a few hours' sleep, we walked across the flag-adorned bridge that spans the Chena River to the little church on the other side (which, as you can see, seemed to be in the process of having having the siding replaced). 

(I said a prayer for this little guy...)

I was excited to learn that Immaculate Conception Church was the very first Catholic church in the interior of Alaska.  When it was built in the early 1900s, it was on the opposite side of the river.  In 1911 they rolled it across the frozen river on logs.  (Have you ever read The Shipping News?  I couldn't help but think about the house that was dragged across the ice in that story.)  

I was also surprised to learn that this is the only church in the entire state of Alaska with lovely stained-glass windows like these. 

(Surely not, I reasoned; that must be a mistake.  But it says so right on their website. I've browsed photos of many, if not most, of the Catholic churches in Alaska, and it just might be true.  Perhaps there are some Protestant ones...)

(I just loved the pressed-tin designs on the ceiling and walls!)

The little church--about the size of Our Lady of the Valley, I would say--was surprisingly full on this particular Sunday, and a fair number of the worshippers were tourists like us.  I know this because the priest asked everyone who was visiting from out of town to stand up and introduce themselves.  (I took these photos after Mass, by the way, when everyone had already gone outside.)

We were only in Fairbanks for a couple of days, but it was clear that the people here take great pride in their city, their state, and their heritage.  We encountered some homelessness and drunkenness (in one restaurant, a man had to be escorted from the establishment for wandering in and bothering customers), but everyone we crossed paths with was warm and friendly and welcoming.

We ended our vacation with Mass, too.  I'll show you that church in another post!

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