Attracting attention through an onion dome

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By Mandy Marksteiner

Do you ever give directions by saying, “Take a right at the Orthodox Church?” Probably not, because nobody seems to know where it is!

By the end of the year it will be easy to find because the members of St. Dimitri’s Orthodox Church are planning to add an onion dome that can be clearly seen from Diamond Drive.

The church is tucked in a cul-de-sac on 39th Street and people have to drive through road construction to get to it. The outside looks like a brown house, but the inside looks and feels like a church.

When St. Dimitri’s was located on 15th Street and Trinity Drive students, visiting scientists and people on their lunch break would drop by all the time.

Everyone could find it. That changed when the church was moved to the 39th Street location.

The land along Diamond Drive is the property of Los Alamos County so the church wasn’t allowed to put a sign there. People have suggested erecting a steeple, which is a good idea, but not very Orthodox. A dome is more fitting.

The dome will have a traditional Slavic look instead of Byzantine. Byzantine domes are flat, placed over the center of the worship space and are found in countries with a warm climate. When Christianity spread north, to countries like Russia, they modified the shape to handle the snow load.

Many art historians say that the onion dome symbolizes a burning candle. Some of the largest onion domes were built in the 17th century near Yaraslavl, Russia, a city famous for its large onions.

The architectural style could be seen in the U.S. In 1792, eight Russian monks constructed a Russian style Eastern Orthodox Church on Kodiak Island, Ala. By 1900, one out of every six Alaskans was Orthodox.

Lisa Jo Dunham, from Real Designs, is the architect. The dome will be prefabricated and it just needs to be in the right proportions, she said.

Architectural Fiberglass, Inc., an industry leader in dome and cupola replacements based out of Cleveland, Ohio, will manufacture and install the dome.

The company was created 20 years ago when the founder needed to replace a deteriorating aluminum dome in his own church but there weren’t many companies that made domes that big.

Being in a house instead of a church has given Saint Dimitri’s the financial freedom to give most of their money away to help people, regardless of religious affiliation.

Attracting people to the church isn’t the only reason for the addition. The members of Saint Dimitri’s also want their church to reflect the glory of God.

“It helps to solidify in our minds that it’s not just a house, but a place of worship,” Elizabeth Bezzerides of St. Dimitri Orthodox Church said.