Final Days To View Ancient Byzantine Frescoes

Byzantine Fresco Chapel interior. J. Griffis Smith/TxDOT
One of Houston's hidden treasures is about to disappear. The Byzantine Fresco Chapel — part of the Menil Museum Collection — will close on Sunday. Laurie johnson spoke with some of the people who were visiting the chapel for the last time.

The Byzantine Fresco Chapel is nestled on a tiny street behind the University of St. Thomas,  just a short walk from the main
collection of the Menil.

The chapel houses 13th Century Byzantine frescoes, the largest and most significant such pieces in the Western Hemisphere.

But only until Sunday at 6pm. After the chapel closes, art preservationists will remove the delicate frescoes, pack them up and send them back to their home country of Cyprus.

With such a short time left to see them, Houstonians have been showing up in droves to visit the chapel and view the rare art.

"I thought they were just stunning, they're beautiful. I'm Greek Orthodox and so it was really meaningful to come and be able to see this before it goes back."

"The first impression you get is first of all for Mrs. de Menil, how generous and caring and loving she was for something to be highly respected. And secondly I would say that the peace and the beauty of it is just breathtaking. And the chapel itself, the way it was designed, is just lovely. We'll miss it."

"The frescoes were beautiful. And it's hard to believe that these people so long ago spent all their time and energy devoting themselves to this beauty. I don't feel we do that in today's world."

The 700-year-old frescoes were ransomed from art thieves by the de Menil family and gifted back to the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, the rightful owner, in 1984. The Church decided not to renew its long-term loan of the pieces to the museum and they will return to their ancient homeland.

The Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in America will hold a final divine liturgy at the chapel tomorrow at 9am.

The Menil hasn't yet decided what to do with the chapel once the frescoes are gone.

 

 

Homepage image credits:

Thumbnail: Byzantine Fresco Chapel courtyard. Photo © Paul Warchol
Slide: Christ Pantokrator, dome fresco Photo: © Paul Warchol

 

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...