History of St. Peter's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church
The first Episcopal church service was held in Sitka at the Presbyterian Chapel on Thanksgiving Day in 1896. The ground was broken for St. Peter's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in 1899 and the first service held on Thanksgiving Day of that year. The See House was built in 1905 and the Annex c1956. The pipe organ was ordered, built and installed in 1969. (Chronology from A Brief History of St. Peter's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church to the Year 2000 by Nancy J. Ricketts.)
One of the unusual features about St. Peter's is often pointed out to visitors and tourists. When they look up at the beautiful stained glass window near the ceiling, alert folks notice that at its center is a Star of David. We like to tell the tale like this:
At the time the church was built, acquiring building materials was a great logistical feat. Bishop Rowe and the congregation wished to include a rose window in the construction of St. Peter's sanctuary. They placed an order for a window with Christian symbols from a supplier of church windows, somewhere in the Eastern portion of the United States. The window was to fit in a certain diameter opening. After the order was sent, construction continued on the church.
A round opening was provided for the rose window, and everyone waited. After many months of anticipation, the window arrived and was uncrated, probably with great fanfare and excitement. Once the center of the rose was revealed, it was discovered that instead of the Christian symbol that was ordered for the focal point of the design, there appeared the six pointed Star of David. Much debate followed and we can only guess at how that discussion took place. One consideration must have been that the window was the right diameter and it would take a long time to replace it. The final result was that the Star of David rose window was installed and graces our sanctuary today. For close to 100 years, this Star has reminded the worshippers of St. Peter's of the beginnings of our Christian faith.
Another unusual thing about our historic church is that the first Bishop of Alaska--Bishop Rowe--is buried here, in the front lawn. His first wife, Dora, and one of their sons is also here. Having built the stone wall around the church, much of the church itself, and the historic See House behind the church, his final resting place is only a few steps away from Crescent Harbor where he gazed from his office window for so many years.
To see some photos of Bishop Rowe, click on archival materials.
The home that Bishop Rowe built still stands today and houses the church offices, the parish hall and an apartment. The See House has been undergoing restoration for the past two years. Inside, there is a fully remodeled licensed commercial kitchen.
Outside the See House has been restored to its former beauty.
The See House "Before" (circa 1999)
The See House "After" (2005)
On the landing between floors in the See House is this beautiful window (right). As you walk up the creaky, slightly tilted stairway to view the crown window, you can feel the legacy of the many feet that have preceded you over the span of almost 100 years.
Nancy J. Ricketts' A Brief History of St. Peter's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church to the Year 2000 was written in 2006. Anyone interested in this history may contact members of St. Peter's ECW or click on the link to purchase the book at Amazon.com.
Nancy Ricketts needs a cup of tea after visiting with many Sitkans who came to her book signing Sunday, April 22, 2007.