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City of Pembina, ND

Oldest Settlement in the Dakota Territories
 

Historic Church Museum

Historic Church Museum after restoration in S. Pembina
Historic Church Museum after restoration in S. Pembina
An Historic Church

 

 

The historic, former Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran Church located in South Pembina, North Dakota is situated on property just south of the confluence Red and Pembina rivers. There are two distinct chapters of this building’s existence; the period when it was built and occupied by the Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran Church (1885-1937) where it served the Icelandic-American community in Pembina and the period as Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. John (1937-1987) when it served the Ukrainian-American community.

The property for the church was purchased by the Icelandic Evangelical Synod of America on May 17, 1885 and the church was erected that same year by Sigurur Myrdal and Olafur Thorsteineson. Pembina’s church the second oldest Icelandic church in the United States. The church was dedicated on July 29, 1889. The number of Icelandic families in Pembina diminished in the following years until it was a hardship to continue. The church and 11⁄2 lots of property were sold to the Ukrainian

Mr & Mrs Bordenick in front of altar, restored historic church interior
Mr & Mrs Bordenick in front of altar, restored historic church interior
Orthodox Church of St. John on June 4, 1937 and subsequently remodeled and repaired to make the space suitable for Ukrainian Orthodox services. In 1956 or 1957, the church was again remodeled with the addition of an onion dome (lukovitsa) topped with a wrought iron three-bar cross and the interior was redecorated. The church held regular monthly services until 1980s. By 1987, the church only had five members remaining. The building was then turned over to the Fort Pembina Historical Society. This church served the Icelandic population of Pembina for 52 years, subsequently served the Ukrainian population for another 50 years, and has since then been preserved and maintained for over 30 years by the Fort Pembina Historical Society.

The church represents two distinct ethnic church groups whose nativity is not commonly widespread in other regions of the United States and it correlates with the patterns of historical events associated these cultural groups in the region. It also stands as a solitary historic remnant of the community that once was referred to as South Pembina. Additionally, the property is significant for its architecture and construction as

historic church in Pembina before restoration
historic church in Pembina before restoration
it exhibits a unique combination of distinctive characteristics of architecture typical of both ethnic groups. Originally constructed by the Icelandic population of Pembina in a vernacular rendition of Late Gothic revival, it bears resemblance to the architecture of other early Icelandic Lutheran churches in the region. However, it is the 1956/57 addition of the onion dome found in Eastern Orthodox Church architecture when combined with the original late Gothic Revival structure that truly makes this property unique. The way that these two groups of people influenced and altered the vernacular architecture of this church embodies distinct characteristics of both cultures and ethnic heritages reflected in this single structure.

After the dissolution of the congregations, the church has continued to be used as a meeting place, a locally recognized historic site, and still holds occasional annual special services affiliated with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The historic building houses an impressive collection of historic religious articles from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and functions as a historic church museum associated with the Fort Pembina Historical Society.