Butte was home to a large population of Serbian immigrants who came from the area at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe in what was formerly eastern Yugoslavia. Thirty-five families attended the first Serbian Orthodox services, conducted by a visiting Orthodox priest in 1897. They built the first Holy Trinity Orthodox Church at Porphyry and Idaho streets in 1905. Archbishop Tikhon of Moscow, who headed the Orthodox Church in the United States, came to Butte form New York City to dedicate the church in 1906. According to Richard Gibson, author of Lost Butte, Montana, it was the second Serbian Orthodox church built in North America. By 1910, Butte’s Serbian population numbered more than four thousand and eventually grew to ten thousand.
By the 1950s, shallow underground operations of the nearby Emma Mine had begun to harm the church, and the Hebgen Lake earthquakes in 1959 caused further structural damage. The church was razed in 1964 and a new one built at 2100 Continental Drive. The new church was consecrated on July 25, 1965. The architecture is modern yet traditional. Its three graceful onion domes are readily visible from the interstate. The church today is Pan Orthodox and proudly counts among its members many whose backgrounds reflect Butte’s multi-cultural community.
Holy Trinity Church is especially remarkable for the fabulous frescoes depicting the major Feast Days of salvation history that grace the interior. Stunning art covers literally every inch of the sanctuary. Six iconographers from Belgrade, Serbia worked a total of fourteen months from 2003 to 2006 to complete the colorful and intricate project. Iconographers are holy persons in God’s service who are not allowed personal expression in their artwork, but rather are expert theologians who convey the connection between heaven and earth in their painting.
In centuries past, when most people were illiterate, iconography served educational purposes as the Bible of the poor. The magnificent frescoes at Holy Trinity preserve this visual tradition. They are breathtaking, inspiring, and well worth a visit next time you are in Butte.
To see more photographs, visit www.holytrinitybutte.org.