Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bishops, Earthquakes, Diaspora

A devastating earthquake struck Corinth on April, 1928, causing the progressive depopulation of Old Corinth and the demographic upsurge of New Corinth. After all, New Corinth was the child of an earlier earthquake that had destroyed Old Corinth in 1858. The 1928 event had obvious consequences to both Corinthian natives and American archaeologists. For instance, a building designed by Richard Stillwell and recently completed (the Oakley House) was severely damaged.

The late 1920s was a transformative period for the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA), ushering, among other things, the discipline of medieval archaeology. The discovery of Byzantium forced a cultural confrontation with Orthodoxy. This was not necessary in the ASCSA's 19th-century identity since Classical Studies, by definition, blamed Byzantium and Christianization for the violent demise of its prized golden age. To my knowledge, no-one has studied the relationship between American archaeologists and the ecclesiastical elites. We know more about the ASCSA's contemporary relationship with Greek political elites (Venizelist circles, etc.) and economic elites (the Benakis, etc.) From the limited archival evidence that I have explored, I have not seen evidence that Corinth directors, such as Bert Hodge Hill, Rhys Carpenter, Richard Stillwell, or Charles Morgan considered the Bishop of Corinth as their peer. They didn't seem to form any kind of alliance beyond the formal niceties. Certainly the bishops visited the archaeological site to claim spatial links with the sacred topos of Saint Paul; but did they have a personal relationship with the Americans? After the 1928 earthquake, both New and Old Corinth had to be rebuilt. Interestingly enough, Byzantine archaeology played a significant role in the architectural reinvention of both the Bishop of Corinth and the American School in Corinth. Were the two parties aware of each other's appropriations?

In my study of a proposed Byzantine museum in Ancient Corinth, Rhys Carpenter employed Byzantine foundations and aesthetic prototypes for his design of a modern building (
Hesperia 76, 2007, pp. 391-442). Known as "Carpenter's Folly," the museum never actually opened. Another structure, the Corinth Museum that opened in 1930 similarly makes strong allusions to Byzantine architecture. Correspondence in the ASCSA's Administrative Records makes it clear that the design was modeled on monastic prototypes. At exactly the same year, a new Cathedral of Saint Paul was erected in New Corinth, designed by Aristotelis Zachos, the father of Greek modernism. Similarly, a Bishop's Residence was designed by Anastasios Orlandos based on direct Byzantine prototypes. Greek ecclesiastics and American archaeologists were playing exactly the same game. The 1928 earthquake provided both an opportunity to stylistically reinvent themselves. Did they ever discuss this? After all, they were neighbors. One would imagine at least some cross-fertilization. At this point, I have no direct evidence.

If anyone might have bridged the transatlantic (and mostly mental) divide, it would be Damaskinos, one of Greece's most fascinating church leaders. Damaskinos is best known as the Archbishop of Athens (and the Orthodox Church in Greece) between 1938 and 1947, who formally resisted Nazi atrocities, protested the persecution of Jews and organized an underground system of providing their safety. His heroism is celebrated by the statue erected in front of the Metropolis Cathedral in Athens (photo above). Before this heroic office, however, Damaskinos was Bishop of Corinth in 1922-1938 and would have, therefore, directly witnessed the ASCSA's new attention to Byzantium. Previously, Damaskinos was Abbot of Petraki Monastery (1918-1922) across the street from the ASCSA in Athens. It was during his last year at Moni Petraki that John Gennadius donated his library to the ASCSA. We must not forget that the Gennadius Library was built on land expropriated from Moni Petraki. The negotiations for this transfer (willful or forced?) would have been done by Damaskinos. Construction for the Library began in 1923. In short, Damaskinos was a neighbor to Americans for two uninterrupted decades: four years at the ASCSA in Athens, followed by 16 years at the ASCSA in Corinth.

Damaskinos was a master mediator. For instance, he negotiated the Greek-Bulgarian-Serb rivalries at Mount Athos after the Balkan Wars (where he served as a soldier). Most interesting for me is the negotiations he carried out in the United States. During the 1920s Greek American communities replicated the conflicts that enveloped Greek domestic politics, namely the schism between Royalists and Venizelists. In most American cities, in fact, two separate Greek Orthodox congregations could be found, serving the two parties. The rift was incredible and had to be solved for the sake of the community. On May 1930, the Patriarch of Constantinople sent Damaskinos to reconcile the groups. Why Damaskinos? Here is how we come to a full circle. If you remember, Corinth had suffered an earthquake in 1928. As the ecclesiastical leader of Corinth, Damaskinos was involved in the relief effort. His fund-raising took him to the United States, where he solicited donations by the Greek American communities. It was this very experience that had provided the contacts and credentials necessary to dissolve the schism in 1930.

So, not only was Damaskinos' the ASCSA's neighbor, but he had traveled to the United States twice, heading two important economic and political delegations. One cannot resist more questions: Did he also accumulate American credentials through his American neighbors? How did those American connections affect the cultural conversation between ecclesiastical (Greek) and scholarly (American) elites? Moreover, how did Damaskinos' American connections play out during the frightful years of the Nazi occupation of Athens? Many of the Jews hidden in Athens' underground eventually fled to the U.S. Were American archaeologists involved in this? How does Gladys Davidson and Saul Weinberg fit into the picture? Davidson was the daughter of a prominent Hebrew scholar at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. As an ASCSA fellow (1934-1937), she spent much of her time in Corinth. Gladys and Saul were married in 1942 and, in fact, after the War they both served in Europe in the Secret Service.

Perhaps I have asked more questions than I have answered, which is never reassuring. Nevertheless, I hope this posting would direct future research to those interpersonal relations that flavor cultural attitudes but also facilitate action.

For a quick overview of Damaskinos life, see:
For Damaskinos' contribution to the saving of Jews in Athens, see posting by Intenational Raoul Wallenberg Foundation
On the schism of the Greek-American community, see standard histories:
Charles C. Moskos,
Greek Americans: Struggle and Success, 2nd ed. (New Brunswick, 2002)
Theodore Saloutos,
The Greeks in the United States (London, 1964)

Blog Archive

Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States