At STM on February 4, a roundtable – Documenting the Prairie Churches of the Eastern Rite: Where Are We Now and What Is Next? – was held to discuss the state and fate of rural churches of the Eastern Rite on the Canadian prairies. Presentations were made by a team from the University of Alberta, Professors Natalie Kononenko and Frances Swyripa and researcher Eva Himka, who talked about their findings from a multi-year research initiative – ‘Sanctuary: The Spiritual Documentation Project.’
The ‘Sanctuary Project’ is conducting fieldwork across the Canadian prairies, documenting, through photography and other methods, Byzantine rite churches of Ukrainian origin. This work comes at a crucial time. Ukrainian religious faith and sacral culture is manifested in hundreds of distinctive, onion-domed buildings across the prairie landscape. This is the most significant post-Byzantine cultural expression anywhere in the New World. Yet it is under threat as demographic changes lead to the closing and destruction of churches. The research team has been recording structures and artefacts that hold tremendous emotional importance to various rural communities as well as documenting the sacred rituals that bring life to these buildings. The goal is to produce a digital database of unprecedented size and detail that will allow scholars and the wider community to better understand this rich tradition in Canada.
The PCUH has been instrumental in funding the research work being undertaken in the province of Saskatchewan, which will continue for the next two years.
Documenting both tangible and intangible cultural heritage the team hopes to make the data as useful as possible to all. To this end, the roundtable sought to bring together the Sanctuary research team, church representatives, museum workers and interested community members to discuss the findings and how the research will be made available. An important of the exchange is to learn from Saskatchewan professionals so that the formatting and presentation of the project data can be made more relevant and useful to potential users.
Organized by PCUH Associate Prof. Natalia Khanenko-Friesen, the roundtable was sponsored by the PCUH in cooperation with STM’s Department of Religious Studies and Culture, the Ukrainian Museum of Canada, Musée Ukraina Museum, and other community partners.