St. Herman's Cross to help guide mariners

Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2007

KODIAK - St. Herman's Cross, the giant white Orthodox cross that stands about 25 feet tall at the summit of Mount Herman on Spruce Island, will receive a flashing light this summer. The addition of a sequenced light could make the cross a useful nighttime aid to navigation for sailors passing Spruce Island or traveling through Ouzinkie Narrows.

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The cross's vertical beam is made of steel salvaged from a remodel of a hangar at the Kodiak Coast Guard Base. Other materials include steel salvaged from crab pots and donated cables and anchor bolts. It is the third cross to be installed on the 1,623-foot summit.

"This one, over time, can become an aid to navigation because it's going to stay," said Reed Oswalt, who organized volunteers to build and install the cross.

The first cross was installed after St. Herman's canonization in 1970 and was much smaller. It was installed to honor the Orthodox monk who lived on Spruce Island in the early 1800s and became the first North American Orthodox saint.

The second cross was made of log and installed in 1974. It was tall enough to be visible for miles, but high winds at the summit knocked it down in less than a year.

Oswalt said money for the solar-powered light came from local Alaska Native corporations and several private donors around Kodiak. The installation was completed last October with the help of about 25 or 30 volunteers who hiked the mountain, and a Coast Guard helicopter crew that used training-mission time to deliver the cross.

"This is the kind of project I really enjoy because it didn't cost anybody anything but time," Oswalt said.

St. Herman was an Orthodox monk who came to Alaska in 1794 and lived here until his death on Spruce Island in 1836. Father Herman came to Kodiak with a group of 10 monks from the Valaam Monastery in western Russian.

The monks became famous throughout the Kodiak Archipelago, and are noted for rapidly converting local villagers to Orthodox Christianity. Some historical sources report that the Valaam monastery monks baptized thousands of people and converted all Kodiak area villages to orthodoxy within five years of their arrival.

Father Herman was also known for defending Alaska Natives when Natives had conflicts with leaders of the Russian-America Company based in Kodiak.

Oswalt, who is not Orthodox himself, said the project was a community effort on the part of Kodiak. He said the cross and its flashing light will not be officially listed as an aid to navigation by the Coast Guard, but he hopes with time it will become established as a landmark.

When he was asked who would maintain the flashing light, Oswalt smiled and chuckled.

"God!" he said.

"It's solar powered, and it has a 10-year warranty."

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