Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum in Houston: A New Venue

Updated on April 21, 2020
Peggy W profile image

I live in Houston, and I have worked as a nurse. My interests include art, traveling, reading, gardening, cooking, and our wonderful pets.

Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum in Houston
Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum in Houston | Source

Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum in Houston, Texas

This article takes a look back at an exceptional museum exhibit that once graced our city for a time. Those of us who got to see it were fortunate to have had that experience!

If you were not among its visitors, take a look at what you missed and learn about how it came to be. The story is a fascinating one, to be sure!

Looking at the modern exterior of the building gave no hint as to the treasure it held inside for a time. Concrete and stonework plus some splashing water sounds greeted visitors as they drew near the entry door into the Byzantine Fresco Chapel.

Upon entering the building, a distinctly different atmosphere was immediately encountered. From an ordinarily bright exterior, people passed into a softer lit interior. A quietude and feeling of reverence prevailed in the space, much like entering a hallowed church. This started even in the first passageway to the real masterpiece of the chapel, which was its central interior.

Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum Water Elements
Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum Water Elements | Source

Back Story

A dastardly deed took place at one time. There was a small chapel in Lysi, Cyprus. What it contained was a treasure beyond measure! 13th-century frescoes adorned its walls and ceiling. They were beautifully painted and had adorned that chapel for centuries.

At some point, that magnificent chapel came to the attention of some people with devious intent. Those art thieves knew that there would be a market for those ancient frescoes. So, probably in the dead of night, they started chopping out pieces of the walls containing those magnificent paintings.

The thieves did not care that they were ruining what had stood the test of time, and had historical significance. Obviously, they only sought to enrich themselves by selling what were now fragments of an entire masterpiece.

At some point, after the destruction had taken place, those fresco fragments entered the art market and were for sale.

Exterior of Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum
Exterior of Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum | Source

Dominique de Menil

When those fresco pieces came to the attention of Dominique de Menil, she recognized that they were something special. She also must have realized that some of the pieces fit together like pieces of a puzzle.

Dominique de Menil paid the price for the chopped up and stolen frescoes and secured them. She then started the search for the real owners. Had she not approached it that way, the fragments of art would probably have been sold off piecemeal and scattered throughout the world never again to be repatriated. As it was, some parts were still missing, but what was saved is magnificent!

With the consent of the Church of Cyprus and after two years of restoration, she had her architect son Francois de Menil erect this structure. It housed the most extensive intact Byzantine frescoes in all of the Western Hemisphere.

Exact dimensions of the original chapel in Cyprus had been replicated inside of the larger building. The materials, however, were completely different. They showcased the ancient frescoes in a new light. In a darkened space utilizing black steel, dark woods, and opaque glass, the frescoes appeared in an illuminated modern setting.

The backyard of Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum
The backyard of Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum | Source

Viewing the Art

Benches were provided so that patrons visiting this consecrated space could sit and comfortably look up at the dome. On the underside of the dome was represented "Christ, the Almighty." Smaller jewel-like frescoes of the Virgin Mary plus the archangels Gabriel and Michael were also there.

The frescoes had been preserved for posterity. It was a privilege to see them in person to realize their full magnificence.

Photos were not allowed to be taken, but the video below shows the frescoes.

The sidewalk leading to the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum
The sidewalk leading to the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum | Source

Frescoes on Loan

Dealing with the Cypriot government and the Church of Cyprus, Dominique de Menil attained the rights to restore and display the frescoes. They would be returned to Cyprus after 20 years.

March 4, 2012, was the last day for people in Houston, Texas, to view those magnificent frescoes in the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum. For quite some time, the building was empty after the removal of the frescoes. The structure is now being used to hold year-long art exhibit installations of different types.

You can see the very first exhibit titled "The Infinity Machine" since the return of the frescoes to Cyprus in the video below.

Did you get to visit this museum while the 13th-century frescoes were there?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Peggy Woods

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        3 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi FlourishAnyway,

        Yes, it is excellent that the frescoes were saved and that the building now has a new purpose.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        3 weeks ago from USA

        It’s sad that people have to take what is not theirs, but it was quite a gesture of that woman to buy them on the art market and reunite them as she did. I’m glad a new purpose was found for the building.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        6 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Liz,

        I have to agree with you. At least the frescoes were not only returned but restored and pretty much kept together.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        6 weeks ago from UK

        This is a fascinating story. It's good to hear about the restoration of the frescoes and their subsequent return, but what a shame they were taken in the first place.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        6 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Lorna,

        Yes, throughout history, many valuable pieces of art have been stolen and even destroyed. I am so glad that this was salvaged and restored and returned to its rightful place.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        6 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Bill,

        That was a fascinating series of events that led up to this chapel being built in Houston. We were so fortunate to be able to see those ancient frescoes before they were returned to Cyprus.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        6 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Rosina,

        It is wonderful that the fresco was saved and ultimately restored to its rightful place.

      • Lorna Lamon profile image

        Lorna Lamon 

        6 weeks ago

        A wonderful and yet tragic story which reminds me of all the priceless artworks stolen during the war. It's amazing that they were saved and for the most part are still intact. Incredibly beautiful and as you mentioned Peggy a privilege to view. I will have to plan a trip to Cyprus.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        6 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        Very nice! Love the history that each building has. Life is fascinating, and the world around us a never-ending series of stories just waiting to be read.

      • surovi99 profile image

        Rosina S Khan 

        6 weeks ago

        Thank you, Peggy, for introducing the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum in Houston along with its back story. I really enjoyed it. Interesting hub indeed!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, letterpile.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)