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Chapels and Churches, Did You Know?, Museums

Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum becomes a New Venue

Posted: July 4, 2016 at 3:38 pm   /   by   /   comments (1)

Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum in Houston, Texas

This is a look back at a very special museum exhibit which 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.

Concrete and stonework plus some splashing water sounds greeted visitors as they drew near the entry door into the Byzantine Fresco Chapel.

Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum water elements

Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum water elements

Upon entering a distinctly different atmosphere was encountered.  From a normally 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.

Had it had not been for Dominique de Menil paying a ransom for those broken apart 13th century frescoes which had been stolen from a small chapel in Lysi, Cypress, they might have been swallowed up by collectors of those fragments never again to be seen as a whole.

Exterior of Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum

Exterior of Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum

With the consent of the Church of Cypress and after 2 years of restoration she had her architect son Francois de Menil erect this structure.  It housed the largest intact Byzantine frescoes in all of the Western Hemisphere.

Exact dimensions of the original chapel in Cypress 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.

Backyard of Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum

Backyard of Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum

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 in order to realize their full magnificence. Much like the Rothko Chapel, the exterior of this building gave little hint as to what was displayed inside of it.

Interior photos were not allowed to be taken but the video below shows the frescoes.

Sidewalk leading to the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum

Sidewalk leading to the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum

Frescoes on Loan

Dominique de Menil paid the ransom 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 they would probably have been sold off piece meal and scattered throughout the world never again to be repatriated.  As it was…some parts were still missing but what was saved is magnificent!

Dealing with the Cypriat government and the Church of Cyprus, she attained the rights to restore and display the frescoes.  They would be returned to Cyprus after a time period of 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.

It will be interesting to visit this museum in the years ahead to view and experience the different exhibits which will be installed. You can find this charming museum space here: 1515 Sul Ross Street, Houston,  Texas 77006.