In the 1980s, two thirteenth-century frescoes that had been stolen from a church in Lysi, Cyprus, and broken into fragments were put up for sale. After establishing that the Holy Archbishopric of Cyprus was the rightful owner, the Menil Foundation purchased the frescoes on the church’s behalf and financed their restoration. In return, the Archbishopric agreed to an extended loan, and in 1997 the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, designed by the architect Francois de Menil, opened. The frescoes returned to Cyprus in 2012. The chapel has since housed long-term art installations.
At the heart of the Menil’s mission is the belief that art and spirituality are central to a shared human experience and are powerful forces in contemporary society—and that institutions have a responsibility to preserve and present objects as stewards, safeguarding their future. A key aspect of the shared vision of the Menil Foundation and the Orthodox Church of Cyprus was that the original spiritual purpose of the frescoes be restored. To this end, a chapel was constructed on the Menil campus and consecrated especially for the exhibition of the frescoes—a space that honored their spiritual significance without creating a replica of their original home, a chapel in the town of Lysi. Designed by architect Francois de Menil, the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum opened to the public in 1997; hundreds of thousands visited in the fifteen years the frescoes were on view in Houston.