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Holy Apostles Symposium Redux

Posted On March 24, 2015 | 16:09 pm | by jamesc | Permalink
James N. Carder (April 2015)


Speakers at the Holy Apostles Symposium, 1948. Sirarpie Der Nersessian (seated), Milton Anastos, Glanville Downey, Albert M. Friend, Jr., Father Francis Dvornik, and Paul Underwood. Dumbarton Oaks Archives (AR.PH.Misc.216).

This month, the Byzantine Studies program hosts a symposium on the lost Constantinopolitan church of the Holy Apostles, the second time that Dumbarton Oaks has sponsored a symposium on this topic. In 1948, Sirarpie Der Nersessian directed a similar symposium, which was the product of collaborative research conducted over several years by resident members of the Dumbarton Oaks scholarly staff. Albert Mathias Friend Jr., the first Director of Byzantine Studies, had initiated a collaborative research program at Dumbarton Oaks in order to facilitate the ambitious Holy Apostles project. At the symposium, Glanville Downey spoke on ancient texts referencing the church, Paul Underwood discussed a reconstruction of the architecture, Friend and Der Nersessian offered papers on contemporary mosaic programs and possible reconstructions of the Holy Apostles mosaic cycle, Milton Anastos considered imperial theology, and Father Francis Dvornik discussed the patriarch Photios. In reviewing the symposium, the Byzantine art historian Kurt Weitzmann wrote: “It was a very unified program, demonstrating how Friend had been able to get every scholar at Dumbarton Oaks involved in his project.” At Dumbarton Oaks, the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives and the institutional Archives have holdings of correspondence, notes, draft texts, drawings, and photographs related to the 1948 Holy Apostles Symposium.

A little-known component of the 1948 symposium was the simultaneous meeting at Dumbarton Oaks of the Trustees for Harvard University, which included Harvard’s president, James Bryant Conant, and six other members of the University Corporation. Dumbarton Oaks had invited them, in part, to meet with the Fellows and to attend the last sessions of the symposium. This would be the first, as well as one of the very few times, that the Trustees would meet in Washington and observe directly the activities of the research institution. In a letter to Robert Bliss dated March 25, 1948, and preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives, Paul Sachs, chairman of the Dumbarton Oaks Administrative Committee, outlined the implications of the Trustees’ visit:

We have all been anxious for a long time to have the seven members of the Corporation as guests at Dumbarton Oaks and to be in a position to have you and Bert [Albert Mathias Friend, Jr.] and Jack [John S. Thacher, Director] and others concentrate attention on these seven men and on them alone; and I have a feeling that they, also, would welcome an opportunity for such close and undisturbed cooperation, in order that they may get clearly in mind the exact nature of the important work that scholars and staff are doing at Dumbarton Oaks.

During their visit to Dumbarton Oaks, on April 24 and 25, 1948, the Trustees stayed and ate at the Fellows Building (Guest House), attended the last day of the symposium, toured the facilities, visited the gardens and the collection, met with the Fellows, and dined at the home of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, at 1537 28th Street N.W.