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Russo Greek Catholic Orthodox Parish of St. Mary at Shandro

Willingdon, Near

Other Names:
Holy Dormition Church, Shandro
Shandro Church
St. Mary's Church, Shandro
St. Mary's Russo Orthodox Church, Shandro
The Dormition (Assumption) of the Theotokos Russo Greek Orthodox Church

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
St. Mary’s Russo Greek Orthodox Church at Shandro, completed in 1904, is a traditional wooden Bukovynian “tripartite”, or three-sectioned design plan with angular roofs and gables, topped by three small onion-shaped domes. The exterior walls are wood sided and the roof is cedar shingled. The bell tower is located above the second level of the church and is accessed by a wooden staircase via the vestibule. The cemetery is located on the same property, south of the church and is accessed by a gate separate from the main church gate entry.

St. Mary’s Russo Greek Orthodox Church at Shandro is located in the Shandro District in Two Hills County, approximately 14 kilometers northwest of the Village of Willingdon. The physical address of St. Mary’s Russo Greek Orthodox Church at Shandro is 574017A, Range Road 153. Travelling north of Willingdon, along Secondary Highway 857, the Church can be accessed by turning west on Township Road 574 for 1.6 kilometers, and then north on range Road 153 for .25 kilometer.

Heritage Value
St. Mary’s Russo Greek Orthodox Church at Shandro is principally significant for its foundation by pioneers from Bukovyna, its association with Bishop Tikhon, and its unique design and construction.

St. Mary’s Russo Greek Orthodox Church at Shandro is valued for its founding pioneer families who arrived from the Bukovyna region of what is now Ukraine, around the turn of the 20th century. The original families consisting of twenty-eight people arrived in May of 1899. More settlers arrived in the fall of the same year. All were of the same Greek Orthodox faith, and all felt the need for a church. During the Easter holidays of 1900 these settlers met and approved a church and cemetery. A main carpenter was hired; the rest of the work was done by devout Christian community volunteers. By 1904 the main body of the Church was completed.

St. Mary’s Russo Greek Orthodox Church at Shandro is valued for its association with the great Russian missionary, Bishop Tikhon (Bellavin), who was Bishop of Alaska and the Aleutians, and later recognized as a saint by the Orthodox Church. Bishop Tikhon consecrated St. Mary’s Church on August 28 (Assumption Day), 1904. Bishop Tikhon was the first clergyman to conduct a service at St. Mary’s. This is highly noteworthy, as Bishop Tikhon would go on to be elected as the Patriarch of Moscow in 1917, during the upheaval of the Russian Revolution. Due to Bishop Tikhon’s intense missionary activity, both in North America and Europe, and his calm but steadfast leadership of the church during some of its darkest hours of persecution, and his untimely death while under arrest by the Soviets, Bishop Tikhon was canonized a Saint of the Orthodox Church in 1989. St. Mary’s Russo Greek Orthodox Church at Shandro stands as a historic place because it contains some important artifacts directly associated with Bishop Tikhon. These include: a signed Church Founding Certificate (also known as a Gramota), a 1904 Slavonic Gospel Book, and a Holy Relic of the remains of the Saint himself.

St. Mary’s Russo Greek Orthodox Church at Shandro is valued for its unique design and architecture. The Church structure was built with locally obtained hewn logs. It is a traditional Bukovynian “tripartite”, or three-sectioned design plan with angular roofs and gables, topped by small onion-shaped domes or “banyas”. The designer and head carpenter was Stephan Rosichuk who could neither read nor write; his amazingly accurate designs came from his memory of Ukraine. Rosichuk’s style of architecture is unmistakable, as it combined more than one element of different regions in Ukraine and Eastern Europe into one harmonious design. St. Mary’s Russo Greek Orthodox Church at Shandro is structurally special for this reason. In 1913 a bell tower was added within the Church building, which was rather unusual for this period; characteristic of Rosichuk’s distinctive architectural style. The bell tower is of Ukrainian Carpathian design; square, topped with an octagonal drum featuring flared overhangs. What is most unique is that on top of this structure is an incredible sixteen-sided drum, capped with a modified Greek-Byzantine (rather than Slavic) dome. This gives the unusual appearance of a lighthouse. The addition of the tower gives the whole building the look of a more Lemko-Carpathian style church, yet its original Bukovynian design still stands out, and the two styles work together for an Orthodox pioneer church which is completely unique in all of Canada. St. Mary’s Church is truly a landmark for the surrounding region! Due to the scarcity of original Rosichuk churches, its completely unique design, unusually blended elements, and long history, St. Mary’s Russo Greek Orthodox Church at Shandro is a prominent, rare jewel in Two Hills County, and indeed in Canada! With its rich history, continued use, unusual artifacts, and its outstanding Ukrainian-Canadian vernacular architectural features, it is a precious legacy for Two Hills County.

Character-Defining Elements
Character- defining elements of the St. Mary’s Russo Orthodox Church at Shandro that define the Church as being rooted in Bukovynian tradition include the architectural features and decorative detailing such as:

Church Exterior
- Cedar shingled roof
- Constructed with wooden, hewn logs
- Tripartite design with angular roofs and gables
- Onion-shaped domes with metal Orthodox crosses

Church Interior
- The spatial configuration includes nave, transepts, and sanctuary, separated from the nave by an iconostasis
- Vaulted ceiling
- Vestibule (narthex) with stairs that lead to bell tower
- Half-peal (4) finely tuned bell tower bronze bells made in early 1900s in foundries, both in Winnipeg and Michigan
- Original period hand-painted, framed icons on iconostasis
- Original period hand-painted, framed icons throughout Church
- Symbolic Burial Shroud for Holy Friday services, circa 1905
- Late Victorian crystal chandelier
- Church Founding Certificate (Gramota) signed and presented in 1904 by St. Tikhon
- 1904 Slavonic Gospel Book
- Holy Relic of the remains of St. Tikhon
- Original liturgical items: chalice, sensor, crucifixes, antimens
- Processional banners (4)
- Processional crosses (2)
- Stationary banners (2)
- Framed icon paintings by the late Archpriest John Wasil (2)

Landscape Elements
- Monument located south of Church with inscribed names of members
- Church yard bordered by trees on the north, west , and south sides
- Cemetery south of church
- Arched rod iron and brick memorial portal (gateway) entrance to Church grounds


Street Address:
Community: Willingdon, Near
Boundaries: Portion of Legal Subdivision 4 in 27-57-15-W4
Contributing Resources:

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD


PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Local Governments (AB)
Designation Status: Municipal Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2012/09/13

Historical Information

Built: 1904-1913
Significant Date(s) 1904-present
Historic Function(s): Religion, Ritual and Funeral : Religious Facility or Place of Worship
Current Function(s): Religion, Ritual and Funeral : Religious Facility or Place of Worship
Builder: Stephan Rosichuk

Additional Information

Object Number: 4664-0298
Designation File:
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File:
Website Link: http://oca.org/parishes/oca-ca-shahac
Data Source: County of Two Hills No. 21, P.O. Box 490, Two Hills, Alberta, T0B 4K0 Office of the County Administrator
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