Greek Anthropologist Discusses Cultural Fantasy in Unrealized Church

by Adrianne Elliott

Early this evening, postdoctoral fellow from Princeton University Dimitrios Antoniou spoke to an intimate gathering in Luce Hall about his most recent research regarding an unrealized church in Greece. The Hellenistic Studies Program Yale had invited Antoniou for the event, titled “Imagining the ‘True Vow’: Urban Planners, Dictatorial Ghosts, and the Making of Public History.” With degrees in theology, anthropology, and architectural history, Antoniou is most well known for his ethnographic work regarding an unbuilt mosque outside of Athens.

The Parthenon–a Greek religious edifice that was actually constructed. (Wikimedia Commons)

Antoniou began his talk with a brief history of the Táma tou Éthnous, or The Nation’s Vow. After Greek liberation from the Ottoman Empire, the National Assembly envisioned a memorial for fallen revolutionaries, a project they referred to as the War Hero’s Memorial. Antoniou explained that this grand edifice was never realized, however, due to a lack of funding and popular interest. The eventual result was a historic cultural fantasy.

According to Antoniou, The Nation’s Vow returned once again to the public consciousness during the dictatorial military regime of Georgios Papadopoulos from 1967-1974. Papadopoulos, with the help of famed urban planner Konstantinos Apostolos Doxiadis, envisioned a magnificent symbol of Greek modernity atop a hill in Athens, visible from the entire city and even some Aegean Islands. This masterpiece, reminiscent of American mega-churches, would be composed primarily of a church envisioned as a second Hagia Sophia surrounded by modern acropolis of public spaces, monuments, and museums. However, this concept disappeared with the fall of the dictator in 1974.

Antoniou explained that such fantastical buildings allow anthropologists like himself to study the “anthropology of the state.” He claimed that “History itself is made of silence,” so the fact that such buildings are never realized says just as much as historical events themselves. Such buildings take their place in society as potential cultural symbols. Antoniou pointed out that even as recently as last week, the Greek Orthodox Church once again revived The Nation’s Vow as a project to increase Greek pride in the wake of recent economic turmoil.

Before his talk, Antoniou explained that although his discussion was very specific in regards to the Táma, cultural fantasies such as The Nation’s Vow haunt many former dictatorial states. Ideas that lead to the rise of dictatorial state are part of a longer history that does not simply disappear when a dictator is overthrown. For Antinou, The Nation’s Vow is one of the most explicit and important cultural phantoms still haunting a modern state.

 Adrianne Elliott is a freshman in Saybrook College. Contact her at