Abstract: A Cretan in Korea and a Korean in Crete: Restoring a Late Byzantine Chapel of the Cretan School


In the summer of 2010, research officially commenced for the Pyrgiotissa Cultural Heritage Project (PCHP), an attempt to document and preserve the unusually rich cultural heritage of the western Mesara through the millennia. Co-directed by Christoforos Vallianos, (director, Museum of Cretan Ethnology) and Despoina Hatzi-Vallianou (Honorary Curator of Antiquities and President, Cultural Association of the Mesara), its initial ethnoarchaeological focus was a natural extension of questions raised earlier by the author’s archaeochemistry research at archaeological sites across Crete.

In the process of exploring the Pyrgiotissa landscape, attention was brought to the small chapel of Agios Georgios at Mesiskle, which appears to have been built at the same time as the southern nave of the nearby Agios Phanourios church at Valsamoneriou Monastery. El Greco’s family reputedly owned a country estate to the immediate south and he is said to have honed his craft in the Cretan Style at the monastery before leaving for Venice in 1567. More recently, a Cretan shepherd has been single-handedly restoring the Agios Georgios chapel for six decades due to an oath he swore while fighting on the bloody battlefields of Korea. Antonis Zacharioudakis was raised in the shadow of Mt. Ida and distinctly remembers the daring capture of General Heinrich Kreipe, the German military governor of Crete smuggled through Pyrgiotissa by British SOE operatives during World War II. With the support of the Korean embassy in Athens and the Korean Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs, PCHP is coordinating the completion of the chapel’s restoration, focusing on revealing its whitewashed wall paintings with the ultimate goal of transforming the site into Crete’s memorial for Korean War veterans.


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