A Trini at the Church at the Bottom of the World

The Russians are a hardy, tough people … and they obviously love their god and religion. When I think about the Russians building churches in the frozen ridiculousness of Siberia, I give them total ‘props” on being able on their history of building its churches and monasteries in inhospitable places. However, only the best of the best can rival Trinity Church on King George Island. The southernmost Orthodox church in the world, Trinity was built near Bellingshausen Station, Russia’s permanent outpost in Antarctica. It literally is the church at the bottom of the world.

Just a bit of background on the church … copied wholesale from a Slate article.

In the mid-1990s Patriarch Alexius II of Moscow gave his blessing for this audacious project. The church was constructed in Russia and transported by a supply ship to its present location. One or two monks from Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra — considered the most important Russian monastery as it is the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church — volunteer to man the church year-round.
While most of buildings on this continent are built to hug the ground in order to reduce their exposure to the polar wind, this church proudly stands 50 feet tall. It is a wooden structure built from Siberian pine and carved in the traditional Russian style by master carpenters of Altay.
The priests manning the church take care of the spiritual needs of the staff of nearby Russian, Chilean, Polish, and Korean research stations. Their obligations include praying for the souls of 64 Russians who lost their lives in various expeditions, and the very occasional, very chilly, baptism.
While the church is large enough to accommodate 30 visitors, it is rarely filled to capacity. In 2007, however, the church performed its first wedding — the first wedding ever celebrated in a church in Antarctica — between Chilean and Russian researchers.

As a Trinidadian, getting to the church was a mission in International Relations. I had to talk to my Russian contact, who then had to liaise with the other Russians, who then liaised with the expedition leader. If you’re wondering how the place looked … then wonder no more …

After we got permission from the Russians to visit, then it was on the RIDICULOUS task for climbing through 4 ft of snow without snowshoes or knee high water proof boots. The actual snow trek was painful to say the least, especially since I had to jump a small stream with a 6lb camera in one hand. I had a little incident where I fell and partially tore my right Anterior Delt … BTWit still hurts 3 weeks later, since I have not seen a doctor about it.

If you’re wondering, each footstep was went in about 2 ft … at least
As part of my trek to the Church, I had to jump this river to ensure that I could continue. I was not so successful, since I’m still held to the laws of gravity. I feel and all my weight fell on my shoulder … the searing pain made me feel like I saw God … if that helps.
Trudging through that snow was painful… the darkness on the edge of the camera was because of my fall into the river.
Every step was painful and I was worried about my feet freezing with water in my boots. I can’t even imagine how the real explorers did this.

What amazes me here is that the church is an actual functioning church. Among the priests’ tasks are praying for the souls of the 64 Russian people who have died in Antarctic expeditions and serving the spiritual needs of the staff of Bellingshausen Station and other nearby stations. Besides Russian polar researchers, the church is often visited by their colleagues from the nearby Chilean, Polish, Korean, and other research stations, as well as by tourists. For the benefit of Latin American visitors, some church services are conducted in Spanish.
You can also get baptized as a new Christian in the Southern Ocean. If you’re wondering how cold that could be  … see no further than my polar plunge greatness.

I had to take a pause to catch my breath. Notice that no one is around me, since those Russians are already in the church and praying. I was praying not to get a heart attack!

I would like to challenge the faith of my Trinidadian Christian friends … to see if the power of Pastor Cuffie would make them climb this god awful hill to have a prayer or two. After what seemed like an eternity with a broken shoulder, wet shoes and frozen toes, I made it …

The view from the top is quite lovely … for a cloudy, cold, barren day
IF you’re wondering about the distance of the church from other places … then you can learn Russian to know what this said.
The church itself is quite cute.

I’m still in awe of the fact that the Russians built a church, sailed it and posted it here through all the snow. They’re kinda bad ass like that. Out of respect for those that we’re praying … I didn’t do a video walk through.
If you’re interested in reading the official descriptions … here you go.

A better description of distance in Cyrillic


Here are my first Penguino friends … They were laughing at my pain!

If you’re looking to visit a replica of the church, but you’re not looking to travel to Antarctica … then you can visit the church in Valday, Novgorod Oblast.

About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at rishi@rishiray.com

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