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Studying the myth of Saint Mark’s basilica

Some places of worship such as Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, or the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, have an inherent symbolic relevance that surpasses the historic and monumental dimensions of the building, within the collective imagination.

The church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople can be regarded as a true symbol, perceived since its construction by contemporary historians. Its importance quickly grew far beyond the borders of Byzantium, as its visible influence on Saint Mark's basilica testifies. The church, sadly destroyed, can only be seen through its architectural legacy and through the texts that were dedicated to it through the centuries.

This theme has interested the Italo-Greek researcher Beatrice Daskas since her PhD, and she has explored it in-depth in Washington DC at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. She will now study the history, myth and reception of the church of the Holy Apostles funded by Horizon 2020. The European fund will enable her to enjoy her first academic experience in Italy as part of Ca’ Foscari until June 2019 after being a Alexander von Humboldt fellow at the Institut für Byzantinistik, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich.

The research project she chose as the continuity of her research, The Church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople: the Myth and its Reception across the Centuries (MYRiCE), was one of the last four Marie Curie grants awarded at Ca’ Foscari by the Department of Humanities.

“I chose Venice and Ca’ Foscari - Daskas says - as I was struck by their dynamism and openness towards the future - characteristic features of the international environments I have been lucky to be a part of. In the Italian academia it felt like the most appropriate choice”.

Beatrice Daskas is now a member of the CISC (Centro Interdipartimentale di Studi Storici sul Cristianesimo) at Ca’ Foscari, among the first which studied globalization of christianity from Medieval ages to the current days.

On the Holy Apostles church

“The lost church of Constantinople, the Holy Apostles, is one of the most explored foundations in the Byzantine artistic legacy”, explains Daskas. “Its history was only written thanks to indirect sources - including written records - as the buildings were dismantled after the Fall of Constantinople which lead to the church being replaced by the Fātiḥ Mosque”.

Built in the fourth century as a mausoleum for Constantine the Great, then transformed in the imperial tomb and the martyrium in memory of the apostles, the church was modified two years later by Justinian in a monumental style following a cross shaped floor plan with five domes. This architectural identity left its traces in written records as well as in the iconography and architectural imitation, including Saint Mark’s basilica in Venice and minor churches built between the ninth and the eleventh century in Chalkidiki and Cappadocia.

Through a historical and iconological analysis and semiotics as a symbol and a myth, Daskas offers a new vision of the traces as “cultural witnesses which provide ideas, mentality, attitudes of the considered historical period” to construct the image and the significance that the church got in different contexts and how it was then interpreted in other places in time.

Additionally to her monographic research based on several sources regarding both the Holy Apostles church and Saint Mark’s basilica, an online exhibit will present the results of the research with a broader audience interested in Venice, following Daskas’ previous virtual exhibition for Dumbarton Oaks in 2015.