Byzantine Empire Comes to Life for Presbyterian School Students
Presbyterian School students recently got a firsthand look and taste of Byzantine culture.
Located in the heart of the Museum District, Presbyterian School counts among its neighbors the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, the Rothko Chapel and the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral, many of which bring to life elements of the Byzantine Empire’s Greek culture. Utilizing the close proximity of these neighboring institutions, history teacher, Kathy Webb, took the entire seventh grade students and faculty on a walking tour to see some Byzantine life in the 21st century.
The Byzantine Fresco Chapel and the Rothko Chapel are a part of the Houston Menil Collection near the University of St. Thomas. The Byzantine Fresco Chapel displays the only intact Byzantine frescoes of this size and importance in the entire western hemisphere. Students had the opportunity to view the work of Francois de Menil, the architect of the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, who executed his mother’s vision for a “chapel museum” as a repository for frescoes recovered from Cyprus in the 1980s. The frescoes will be permanently returned to Cyprus in 2012.
“There were many paintings and idols in the Byzantine Chapel. We even studied a lot about one of the idols, and it ended up being there,” Seventh grade student Connor Watson said. “That was very cool.”
Following the visit to the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, students walked to the Rothko Chapel, which is a non-denominational chapel founded by Francois de Menil’s parents, John and Dominique de Menil. The interior serves not only as a chapel, but also as a major work of modern art. Students learned that the Rothko Chapel was a chapel with many paintings which could be interpreted as anything you can imagine from it. The Rothko Chapel also has no lights and only uses the light from the sun. Rothko would consider this “Natural Light” which he used in everything he made or painted.
Topping off the walking tour was a visit to the Original Greek Festival, sponsored by the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Students were able to feast on Greek gyros and dolmades.
After tasting Greek fare, students took in much of the Byzantine culture through the festival displays of religious artifacts/icons, Greek music and folk dancing. Students also toured the Cathedral sanctuary to see up close the iconostasis, a wall of religious paintings, which divides the nave and the altar and holds many of the icons from the original 1917 church.
One of the more interesting history lessons the students learned from their walking tour of Byzantine culture is the combination of both global and local Greek history. Students were able to learn the history and tradition behind the Greek culture here in Houston, as well as international history.