As it has already been pointed out, the development of the philhellenic movement begins from the end of the 18th century, when Europe discovers, thanks to Winckelman, Barthelemy and other scholars and historians of the time, ancient Greece, which progressively passes into the educational system of the western world.
During the second decade of the 19th century, the philhellenic movement entered a mature phase and synchronized with the demand for the liberation of Greece.
In this phase, there are three factors that shape philhellenism, and they are:
– the sense of debt to the ancient Greek culture,
– the liberal sentiments against tyranny and
– the common faith of the Christian nations.
In this article we present through a series of items from the collection of SHP, objects that highlight the importance and contribution of the common Christian faith in the development of the philhellenic movement. We selected objects and documents from France, England, Italy and Germany, in order to make it clear that this reception was prevalent throughout Europe.
The first object is an important document for the birth of philhellenism, long before the proclamation of the Revolution of 1821.
This is a motion submitted in 1815 by François de Chateaubriand, Member of the French Parliament (Chambre des Pairs de France). This proposal was debated at the meeting of 9 April 1816 and approved by a vote. The document was printed in 1816 by the publisher P. Didot.
This proposal, submitted by Chateaubriand to the King, refers to the “barbaric forces” (Ottoman Empire) and the slavery status of Christians. The paper describes the problems faced by Greek slaves. This text is the first official political initiative in Europe in favor of the Greeks, and is based on the common Christian faith of the peoples of Europe with the Greeks.
The text reads: “It is about claiming human rights and erasing […] of the shame of Europe”.
According to the draft resolution: “His Majesty is humbly asked to order his Foreign Minister to write to all the royal courts in Europe, in order to enter into general negotiations with the Barbaric Powers, to ask these forces to respect the flags of European nations and to put an end to the slavery of Christians”.
This proposal was accepted by the House of Peers and was recorded as the first political intervention of a great power in Europe in favor of the Greeks who were at that time under Ottoman control.
It is worth noting that the dominant element for the political world to be interested in Greece was the common Christian faith and the sufferings of Christian slaves in the Ottoman Empire.
In 1821 the Greek Revolution broke out. Again the first stimuli that attract public interest have to do with the common Christian faith and the sufferings of Christians. The press and art record the massacres, looting and suffering of Christians. One of the first events that shocks the public opinion, and essentially inaugurates the philhellenic movement, is the martyrdom of Patriarch Gregory V.
From the beginning of the Greek Revolution, and throughout the 1820s, the European and American press constantly highlighted the sufferings of Christians and presented the struggle for the liberation of the Greeks as a struggle for the liberation of Christians enslaved by the Turkish Muslims. Very indicatively, we present articles from three newspapers, from the archive of more than 1000 newspapers of this period, which form part of the SHP collection.
From the moment the Greek Revolution broke out, another important issue that makes its appearance, is the blessing that Greek fighters receive from priests and bishops. These scenes constitute one of the most popular subjects of philhellenic art during the Revolution. Here are two examples from France and Italy, of issues that circulated significantly in Europe.
Another relevant issue that dominates the philhellenic art, has to do with the oath of the Greek fighter. This oath always takes place in front of a cross. The Greek fighter swears, in the presence of his family or in the presence of his fiancée. These scenes always remind us that the Greeks are fighting as Christians in order to free themselves from the Muslim Turkish tyrant. This was the central message that moved the public in Europe.
This issue of the common Christian faith is projected in the public opinion on all the occasions during all the emblematic events. For example, at the great art exhibition in the Paris Salon in 1822, a painting by the French painter Charles-Edouard Le Prince, known as Crespy-Le Prince (1784-1851), is presented to the public. The painting is entitled “Inspiration d’un prêtre grec pendant l’orage” (Inspiration of a Greek priest during the storm). The Greek priest holds in his hand the 103rd psalm of David which refers to the greatness of God. This painting is typical of the messages that the public asked to receive in order to side with the Greeks.
Another interesting theme that was widely projected during the Revolution, and was reflected in the philhellenic art, has to do with the history of the Greek Deacon. This story is the subject of a poem by the French poet Casimir Delavigne. The figure was imprinted in a work by Antoine (Tony) Johannot (1803-1852), on which various art objects were based, such as the mantel clock that follows.
Of particular interest is the poetic collection “Les Orientales”, of Victor Hugo, which refers exclusively to the Greek Revolution and is published in Paris in the context of his solidarity with the suffering Greek people, promoting the philhellenic spirit in Europe. It publishes the revolutionary actions of the Greeks for freedom from the Turkish yoke, choosing to highlight events that will move more, such as ancient Greece, the Christian faith, the siege of Messolonghi, the achievements of Canaris and Botsaris, etc.
“To Greece, forward, oh friends! Revenge and freedom!”
Victor Hugo calls Greece the mother of western civilization:
“(…) Greece of Lord Byron, Greece of Homer
You sweet sister, you our mother”.
The following excerpt presents Canaris saying:
“My brothers, if I return alive, Messolonghi will be spared,
I promise to build a new church of Jesus Christ.
If I die and fall in the dark night of Death
From which no one can return
And if all my blood is spilled, what is left of it
You will bury in free soils my ashes
Under the sun’s light, the clear sky, you dig my tomb”
Finally, the magnificent painting that follows, by the great German painter Paul Emil Jacobs (1802-1866), summarizes in one image the central messages of the philhellenic art. The Turk has killed the father, looted and burned the church from which he has stolen the sacred utensils and kidnapped the mother as a slave. The son has his gun with a single bullet, and therefore the hope to neutralize his tyrant. The scene has as its background ancient columns and the burning temple, and it marries the ancient Greek with the Christian element. This was the central message of philhellenic propaganda during the Greek Revolution, but also for almost the entire 19th century.
In most churches of all denominations in Europe and the USA, sermons and fundraisers in favor of the Greeks took place. Many priests were members of Philhellenic committees with significant activity, and many missionaries arrived in Greece and supported the Greeks and the development of national education.
Very indicatively, we present below some examples.
Bastholm, Hans (1774-1856), Danish priest who supported the struggling Greeks by organizing (banned) fundraisers through the newspaper Vestsjællandske Avis.
Holstein, Frederik Adolph, count, Dane Philhellene, he publicly argued that the philhellenic fundraisers, such as those organized by the priest Hans Bastholm, should not be illegal. In 1827 he published a 24-page publication entitled “The case of the Greeks in Denmark. A bold observation”. The proceeds of the sale were intended for the support of the Greeks.
Christian VIII or Christian Frederick (1786-1848), King of Denmark (1839-1848) and King of Norway in 1814, responded anonymously to a fundraiser by the Danish priest Hans Bastholm, contributing 500 thalers. He was also a subscriber of the philhellenic newspaper «Graekervennen» (the Philhellene).
Bendell, Gregory, American Philhellene, pastor at St. Andrew Church in Philadelphia with philhellenic activity.
Beskow B. von, Swede Philhellene, he composed the cantata “Sweden to the children of Greece” which was played in a concert organized by Swedish Philhellenes in a church in the Ladugord area (17.06.1826).
Crussel, Swedish Philhellene, composer of the “Hymn to the Liberation of Greece”, which was included in a concert at the church in the Ladugord area organized by Swedish Philhellenes. (17.06.1826).
Edwards Dwight, Sereno (1786-1850), pastor of Park Street Church in Boston, he delivered an address, entitled “The Greek Revolution” on April 1, 1824 in favor of the Greek Struggle.
Gender, a German Philhellene, priest from Augsburg; he kept in touch with the English Philhellene Warren, who was informing him on the course of the Greek Revolution.
Hildebrandt, Johann Andreas Christoph (1763-1846), a priest in Halberstadt, preacher in Welferlingen and author of novels. He wrote the philhellenic work “Die Sklavin in Anatolis Wüste” (The Slave in the Desert of the East, 1822), which refers to the Turkish atrocities and the desire of the Greeks for an uprising.
Keun, Bernard (1733-1801), Dutch pastor of the Lutheran Church in Smyrna, who influenced the Greek Enlightener Adamantios Korais, whose studies he financed. Keun taught Korais Latin and encouraged him in the study of ancient classics.
Münter, Friedrich Christian Carl Heinrich (1761-1830), Danish Lutheran bishop, member of the Ionian Academy, he corresponded with Orthodox priests to give them courage during the Greek Revolution.
Parkes Cadman, Dr. S., president of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, in his speeches he referred to the moral obligation of America to help the struggling Greeks.
White, William, bishop, president of the Philhellenic Committee in Philadelphia.
A thorough study of the basic expressions of philhellenic art and movement before and during the Greek Revolution, confirms that the common Christian faith was one of the cornerstones of the philhellenic movement and the important help that the Greeks received during their struggle.