Antiochian Village Museum Curator Julia Ritter invites you to glimpse the architectural beauty of ancient Christian Syria through the latest exhibit at the Antiochian Heritage Museum .
From the lofty arches of a fifth-century church, to an elaborately carved palace doorway, the stone churches and homes of ancient Christian Syria were built from large, hand-carved blocks of stone, with often graceful results. Remarkably preserved for over a thousand years, these buildings of early Christian life and worship are presented in a series of photographs from the Princeton University archives, taken during American archaeological expeditions to Syria between 1899 and 1909.
The goal of the Syrian expeditions was to study, measure, draw, and photograph the ancient buildings, inscriptions and monuments of Syria, many of which had been abandoned for over a thousand years. Expedition leader Howard Crosby Butler was a Professor of Art and Archaeology, and founder of the School of Architecture, at Princeton University. Braving extreme desert conditions, travelling on horseback, and accompanied by a donkey caravan carrying limited supplies, Butler and his team eventually documented over two hundred ancient sites. Butler recognized the rare and extraordinary opportunity that lay before him: though in a state of partial ruin, these were original buildings, dating to the first centuries after Christ (and earlier), many of them untouched by the renovations of subsequent generations. The expedition findings were recorded in thousands of original photographs, drawings, maps and surveys which are now held in the Research Photograph Collections at Princeton’s Department of Art and Archaeology.
This exhibit was made possible thanks to the support and assistance of Ms. Shari Kenfield, Curator of Princeton’s Research Photograph Collections, who offered access to the Butler Archives and provided scans of the selected photographs. With her permission, the images were retouched and reprinted for this exhibit, with the goal of retaining the authenticity (and therefore some of the imperfections) of the antique photographs, while also creating high quality images for display.
In conjunction with the Stone exhibit, the completion of a large, outdoor stone monument, just outside the museum entrance, is planned for early summer. Hand-carved by Pennsylvania artist Michael Lucas, the monument will offer visitors a first-hand look at traditional Byzantine-style carving, similar to examples seen in the photographic exhibit. It will be a welcome permanent addition to the Village grounds, serving as the first station of the Village's beautiful Meditation Trail loop, with surrounding benches offering a quiet place for rest and/or prayer.
All photos are courtesy of Princeton University’s Research Photograph Collections.
The Antiochian Heritage Museum
Antiochian Village Conference & Retreat Center
Route 711, six miles north of historic Ligonier, Pennsylvania
For museum hours or tour packages: go to the website  or call 724.238.3677.