“The scholar who pioneered the study and preservation of Christian monuments in Greece.”
Georgios D. Lampakis (G.L.) was born on 18 February 1854 in Athens to Dimitrios Lampakis and Margarita Plati of Tinos. He was the third of the family’s four children, coming after Ioannis and Eleni and before Emmanouil. His mother, whose family had most probably left Mountado, Tinos, after the Chios massacre of 1822, had been raised in the religious environment of the Kechrovounio Monastery and the Evangelistria Institute. The success with which she passed her devotion on to her children is made clear by G.L.’s career choices.
His father left them in search of work, and the family was supported mainly by his mother. Help came to Margarita Lampaki at this most difficult time from the Tiniot environment in which she had grown up. It was on a scholarship awarded by the Evangelistria Institute that G.L. graduated from the Rizareion Church School, and it was as a protégé of Admiral Kanaris that G.L. continued his studies at the University of Athens’ Theology Faculty before travelling to Germany for post-graduate studies at the universities of Munich, Leipzig, Berlin and Erlangen, where he defended his thesis on Christian antiquities in Attica and received his doctorate in Christian Archaeology.
Returning from Germany with a Ph.D. at the age of 29, he published an article in the Aion newspaper on 30/09/1883 entitled: “The state of our Christian antiquities”. The article would mark the start of an entirely new debate in Greece, and it was only just over a year later, on 23/12/1884, that a small group of scholars founded the Christian Archaeological Society, with G.S. serving as its first General Secretary. G.S. would be appointed Greece’s first General Ephor for Christian Antiquities the following year, but he had hardly settled into this post when he was appointed private secretary to Queen Olga, who became the patron of the Christian Archaeological Society.
Serving as a royal private secretary opened up new horizons for G.L. by bringing him into contact with powerful people and providing him with freedom of movement. He was primarily responsible for the queen’s philanthropic activities, which were supported by a host of institutions, associations and local dignitaries and extended beyond the borders of the free Greek state into parts of the Greek world still under Ottoman rule. G.L. was thus given the opportunity to make a series of journeys through the Greek world and Asia Minor—opportunities he exploited to the utmost, researching monuments and relics, saving what he could, raising awareness of the monuments, relics and issues, and leaving behind him active cells of people with an interest in studying and taking care of the Christian antiquities in their locality.
The material thus collected enriched the collections of the Christian Archaeology and Art Museum he had founded in 1884, and whose director he was. The Christian Archaeology and Art Museum would later form the core of Athens’ Byzantine and Christian Museum. In 1890, two letters sent out to bishops, abbots and commissioners by the Holy Synod and the Ministry for Religious Affairs respectively invited them to send old relics and heirlooms to the Museum. G.L., whom Chrysostomos Papadopoulos described as “a philanthropist and benefactor, a willing defender of all those in need… a devout and honourable man and the dedicated executor of Queen Olga’s wishes”, was now active throughout the Greek world, chiefly through his tours in Ottoman lands. In this capacity, he would play a key role in fomenting the nationalist ideologies of the period—for instance, he actively supported the candidateship of the soon-to-be-martyred Chrysostomos for the metropolitan throne of Smyrna. However, he remained a theologian before all else, doing all he could to make his vision of Christian unity a reality, forging links with other Christian denominations, and passionately (indeed, sometimes over-enthusiastically) supporting union with the Anglican church.
The year 1912 witnessed the creation of the Chair of Byzantine Art and Culture at the University of Athens. Since G.L.’s first, enthusiastic article 29 years earlier, a new generation of archaeologists had risen to prominence, a generation “which was divided from their predecessors by a profound change: the emergence of Byzantine studies as an academic discipline”. The need for scientific research had superseded G.L.’s enthusiastic Christian Archaeology, and he would not be appointed to the chair which he considered his by right. Deeply embittered, he died aged just 60 on 15/02/1914, a mere ten years after his marriage in December 1904 to Evthalia Dimitriadi.
G.L. left an astoundingly voluminous body of work behind him documenting the Christian monuments of the Greek world in a host of photographs, drawings and publications. The Lampakis Family Archives preserve significant sections of his life’s work, which is of value to any student of Christian Archaeology.
Dr. Nikolaos Fyssas, University of Athens