Picture Gallery: Fort Ross — Russia’s first outpost on the California coast

Fort Ross was an important center in bringing Orthodoxy to America.

London Telegraph (click to see the gallery).

Fort Ross - Russian outpost on the California coast

Fort Ross - Russian outpost on the California coast


  1. Our OCA Western Diocese, as well as ROCOR (big in SF) make yearly use of the chapel there at Ft Ross. We’ve had so many memories from those July 4th Liturgies+picnics. But budget crunches in the parks dept.almost closed the Fort this last year. A fundraising effort saved it for the public and we can still celebrate there thanks to donors.
    It’s interesting th think how Russian the NW almost was.Many place names in Sonoma Co. are either Russian, like Russian River (orig. Slavyanka)or refer to the Orthodox worldview: St.Helena is named after St Emperor Constantine’s mother St Helen.
    The chapel at the Dormition (I know, it sounds Catholic) Monastery in Calistoga (Napa Co.) is a scale replica of the Ft Ross chapel, saved from a world’s fair. It’s finally an active community again after so many years and the nuns are slowly knitting together the frayed communities of Orthodox of various archdioceses. If we pray together, maybe we can spread the net of human connections in Orthodox confession of Christ, invisibly fine as it is, over this rural and idyllic landscape.

  2. George Michalopulos :

    Fr, excellent insights. I would love to see Ft Ross permanently restored and the site of active pilgrimages for all American Orthodox.

  3. I and my sons were blessed to go in ’08. It is a shame it is not so well known and publicized even less. The museum is quite decent, and the fort itself quite a site.

    St. Innnocent ministered at the Church and blessed the local well and creek. The last two commanders in Fort Ross moved on to SF, where they organized the Orthodox into what has become Holy Trinity Cathedral (OCA), from which, with St. Tikhon’s blessing, came Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, the mother Church of Annunciation Cathedral of SF.

  4. PeterandHelenEvans :
    • We didn’t. We visited Williamsburg last spring, where Ludwell had his home and his family Church (before and after conversion, per the economia of the Holy Governing Synod), and Jamestown, where his mother is buried in the churchyard.

      We also visited St. Augustine, the St. Photios center, and New Smyrna’s ruins.

  5. Yes, we often fail to notice the passing significance of the truly missionary adventure that was Fort Ross.

    The Fort Ross web site describes briefly the continuance of the missionary side of the Russian fur hunters as they traveled through Siberia, into Alaska, and on to coastal California. It is also a contrast from the missionary activities of the Spanish further south in California.

    The brief comment on the site, that is quoted below, illustrates the manner of missionary activity we should really pursue. It is a stark contrast to the supposed missionaries of the eighteenth century in Florida.

    “Not once was the settlement threatened by outside attack. The climate was mild yet invigorating, and the beauty of the surroundings imparted a sense of well-being recorded by many who were there. Manager Rotchev was to look back nostalgically at the time spent in this “enchanting land” as the “best years” of his life.

    Closely bound to the lives of the colonists was their religion. The Russians brought with them their Eastern Orthodox Christianity as they had to Siberia and Alaska. In the early 1820s, as reported by the Company’s chief manager, “The Russian, Creole, and Aleut employees at Ross settlement expressed their intention to build at their own expense a chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas.” The goal was helped along in 1823-24 when the officers and crews of three Russian Navy ships, on visit to San Francisco Bay, donated a “rather considerable sum” to the proposed chapel, and, soon thereafter, the Company’s home office ordered four icons to be sent from Russia for placement in the building.

    Presumably, Paul Shelikhov, the settlement manager at that time, deserves credit for supervising the chapel’s construction, for the first known reference to the “newly built” chapel, the first Orthodox structure established in the New World south of Alaska, came in 1828 from a French visitor, Duhaut-Cilly. The chapel, however, was never consecrated as a church because of the colony’s tenuous legality and the fact that no clergyman was ever permanently assigned. Nevertheless, the colonists conducted prayer meetings in the chapel and designated a sexton for its upkeep. In later years they hosted at least two priests who visited Ross and its chapel.

    In the summer of 1836, Father Ioann Veniaminov spent about five weeks at the settlement. While there he preached, instructed, and conducted weddings, confessions, communion services, baptisms, burials, and prayer services. He also held services for the Aleuts (in translation), consecrated the waters of Fort Ross Creek, and led a festive procession around the stockade exterior. According to Father Veniaminov’s detailed journal, about 15 per cent of the settlement’s population, then numbering two hundred and sixty, consisted of Indians baptized in the Eastern Orthodox faith; among the residents were also a few who were Lutheran and Catholic.

    The priest also described his visit to the missions of the San Francisco Bay area and the cordial relations he was able to establish with the Mexicans. In later years, Father Veniaminov became Bishop of Alaska and, subsequently, Metropolitan of Moscow, the senior bishop of the Russian Empire; in 1980, he was canonized as Saint Innokenty of Alaska.”

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