Documenting Byzantine Heritage at Risk

The Salvaging Crete Project aims to systematically document eight small, fourteenth-century Byzantine churches with fresco remains signed by (or associated with) one of the earliest known named Byzantine painters – Ioannis Pagomenos. Scattered throughout the prefecture of Chania, Crete, these churches provide insight into a pivotal early moment in the artistic transition of the medieval period to the early modern Renaissance in the Aegean. Furthermore, these churches, which sprang from the patronage of local villagers, offer an unparalleled vantage into the often invisible stories, struggles, anxieties, and daily experiences that animated life for the peasantry in Byzantine rural communities.

Wall paintings are fragile and their conservation is inherently linked to building conservation. A range of human and natural factors can negatively impact building envelope conditions, leading to the destruction of plaster and the images of the wall paintings themselves. Such threats jeopardize the survival and accessibility of these important artistic treasures and sources of historical information vital not only to the people of Crete, but the global community.

In response, using international standards in the summer of 2019, the Salvaging Crete Project captured graphic, photographic, and ethnographic information describing the physical configuration, evolution, and condition of these sites with the goal of supporting their future management and care. Heritage recording serves as the basis of the conservation process, while also contributing to the documentation of cultural heritage for posterity. The project’s continuing aim is to raise awareness of these monuments, highlight their value to global scholarship, and to provide a useful resource to the stewards of these sites. In collaboration with the Ephorate of Antiquities of Chania, the initial field survey created a full digital image archive which is being made available on this website.

The interdisciplinary, collaborative project draws faculty and heritage professionals from Eastern Michigan University, Washington University in St. Louis, and William & Mary and is funded by the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection and the Council of American Overseas Research Centers’ J.M. Kaplan Fund Responsive Preservation Initiative for Cultural Heritage Resources.

Explore and learn

Whether you are new to Byzantine studies or an advanced scholar, get an overview of the where all eight churches are located and their position in the history and context of Crete.

Visit the churches to view the full archive of digital images, measured drawings, conditions assessments and conservation recommendations.

Go more in depth into the history or our conservation approach with the readings included under our resources.

Follow the project

We are excited to share our progress on this project in the field and beyond! 

Get to know more about the Team by visiting our bios. We are an interdisciplinary project, with members based at different institutions across the U.S. and coming from the fields of architecture, art history, conservation, and anthropology.

Follow our News, where we share stories of our ongoing work.