ANGELS CAMP -- The church looks startling with its white walls and turquoise accents in front of dark, threatening storm clouds. Like a woman with exquisite makeup and stylish clothes, it's hard to guess the church's exact age.
St. Vasilije of Ostrog Serbian Orthodox Church, more commonly known as St. Basil of Ostrog Church, is 100 years old. It was founded by Serbian gold miners who came to the area in the late 1800s during the "second gold rush" -- when surface gold was exhausted and mines went 1,000 to 5,000 feet or more below ground.
Before the church was built, the miners, who were earning $2.50 to $3 per day, set up the First Serb Brotherhood Benevolent Society in 1893, to help families who lost husbands and fathers in the dangerous deep mining trade. Miners paid $1 a month to the organization.
The group also bought land for the church and a Serbian cemetery in 1909, said Andjelka Raicevic, who was born in Bosnia and came to this country at the age of 4. The church opened in 1910.
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But the mines began closing in the 1920s and '30s, and many Serbs moved out of the area seeking other work. Melan Jaich, a 57-year-old Santa Clara resident, was born and raised in Angels Camp. His Serbian father switched from mining to lumber and "stayed there a lot longer than most."
The church, once home to 40 families or more, is no longer open for regular services, but does open for two events a year, Jaich said. Folks also use it for special occasions -- baptisms, weddings, funerals.
"I baptized my son and daughter in the church," he said. "It's part of my history, culturally and personally. My uncle died about six years ago; we had his funeral there. He was one of the last from the days when that parish was really going."
That was before the 1950s and '60s, when Jaich was growing up. In those days, he said, the family traveled to Jackson to go to its Serbian Orthodox church, the oldest in the country.
But those with ties to the Angels Camp church still maintain the modest building.
"There are no bathrooms, no hall," he said. "We just got heat and air conditioning put in a couple of years ago. Our intent is to keep it going as long as we can."
The small church will be vibrant next weekend as an estimated 200 people return to pay their respects. The Serbian Orthodox bishop for the western United States will arrive from Los Angeles to conduct the special bilingual liturgy in English and Church Slavonic (old Russian). Guest clergy from Sacramento and Walnut Creek also will attend the service, which begins at 10 a.m.
After the service, the group will move to the old Serbian cemetery in nearby Altaville to bless a large stone monument that for the first time will identify the area, in English and Cyrillic. Although the old stone crosses are there, there was no sign saying it was a Serbian graveyard.
Following that is a luncheon at Black Bart Restaurant in San Andreas. A traditional Serbian band, Braca, will provide folk music. Cost for the food and music is $20, paid at the restaurant.
The service, monument blessing and luncheon are open to anyone. For more information, call 736-2944.
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or email@example.com.