MANCHESTER, New Hampshire – St. George’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manchester is at the forefront of an initiative to preserve, archive, digitize and collect precious relics and stories, documents and articles that will tell the lives of members of the Greek community and will trace the lasting impacts of one of the queen cities. largest ethnic groups over the years.
Especially the Saint-Georges Memory Project will teach the next generation the history of the Church and the greater Greek communities of Manchester, as well as other parts of the state, according to archivist and historian Meletios “Meleti” Pouliopoulos.
“This is our story,” Pouliopoulos said. “There’s just a great story. Now is the time to really capture it all.
Pouliopoulos, currently of Stratham, Mass., is a former Manchester native and attended church services at St. George in his youth. Today he is president of the nonprofit Greek Cultural Resources. Its mission is to “obtain, document, preserve, archive, promote and provide access to recordings” of Greek music, traditions, publications, images and interviews.
After visiting St. George as a guest speaker a few years ago, the church community was inspired to conduct a thorough accounting of its archives, the numerous works of art, Greek newspapers and books stored in its library and other relevant documents. The initial goal was more than $10,000 to fund the project, but Pouliopoulos, who was hired as a consultant on the project, said they were just getting started and hoped to raise much more in the months to come.
In addition to cataloging the church’s library holdings, and possibly redesigning the library itself, Pouliopoulos said they are also engaged in an oral history project, which will collect interviews starting with members aged 75 or older, then by younger members of the community. .
They are seeking input from members of the Greek community across the state, recognizing that many former Manchester residents have left the city over the years.
“This endeavor is not just a project for our cathedral, but it is a project that encompasses our journey, that of our Greek community, over the past 117 years,” said George Skaperdas, chairman of the board of trustees. of St. George. “The story we share is global. Every family in our community shares comparable stories about their family’s journey to America.
St. George was founded in Manchester in 1905. The original founding members met in a cafe on Spruce Street. They later built their first cathedral at 95 Pine Street. The building was completed and their first services were held on May 5, 1907.
Skaperdas said the Church has long been a common denominator for many Greek-Americans.
“Church has become ‘ground zero’ where our families can come together to worship, educate, socialize, celebrate, mourn, comfort and support one another,” Skaperdas said.
The church has evolved and grown over the years. As political pressures emerged to assimilate to Americans or preserve their Greek culture, a second church was erected at the center of the Greek community, the Church of the Evangelismos (Annunciation). Evangelismos was merged with St. George in 1936. In 1937 another split in the community occurred and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was established and still exists today.
In 1966, worshipers built the spectacular landmark that is today’s cathedral on Hanover Street and marched together from their church on Pine Street to the church on Hanover Street to mark the migration to their new spiritual home, Pouliopoulos said.
This decision was important to Pouliopoulos for several reasons. For him, the new church not only represented many new works of art, such as the magnificent Italian-made chandelier and the Byzantine-style religious icons. This also meant the removal and, unfortunately, loss of many older icons and stained glass windows.
Most of the surviving icons are now in the St. George Library, located on the ground floor below the cathedral. Pouliopoulos explained that most of them were illustrated in a different style, closer to Renaissance Catholic iconography.
“A lot of them have (written) stories underneath, families who dedicated the images,” Pouliopoulos said.
Much of what survived the demolition of the old church did so because church members stepped in to salvage discarded items that were destined for scrap. Pouliopoulos said some of the old stained glass windows were installed at a dentist’s office in the city. And a painted icon was recently discovered in one of the church’s closets.
Other treasures may still exist in the homes of community members and, although Pouliopoulos does not have much hope of finding them, any additional discoveries would be invaluable to the church’s collection.
Unfortunately, Pouliopoulos said St. George has fallen behind in maintaining many historical records as interested generations have aged. Church history books have been published every few decades since St. George’s founding, but the last one was in 1980. Since then, the closest thing they have published is a 2005 documentary film for the centenary of the Church.
Pouliopoulos hopes that the culmination of some of this work will be the creation of a more up-to-date history book. And he is already discovering new information that may not have been accessible to historians of the past.
One of these discoveries was a history of the Greek community in Manchester published as a small academic book in 1928 in the Greek language. The book was in the archives of the Manchester Historic Association and Pouliopoulos said he was working with native speakers to help translate the work.
Another exciting discovery was an old film reel which recorded the historic march from the old Pine Street Church to the present Hanover.
While some Greek regional newspapers have disappeared over time, Pouliopoulos’ research has uncovered surviving issues of some newspapers, such as the Hellenic Chronicle And The acropolis, and digitized them. The very first Greek newspaper in the region, Ergatis, published in 1910, has disappeared over time.
The library’s holdings were also able to fill gaps in other archives of Greek history elsewhere in the country. Pouliopoulos has digitized various documents of interest and book-bound national newspaper collections, such as The national heraldand made its content searchable on a computer using optical character recognition software.
So far, Pouliopoulos has cataloged more than 1,000 library items, digitized 1,600 pages of documents and tens of thousands of pages of newspapers.
Any history of the Greek community and the Church would be incomplete, according to Pouliopoulos, without a list of a number of fraternal organizations that had chapters in the city, such as the former NOA Club (which stands for Nea Orthodoxia tis Amerikis or New Orthodoxy). in America), the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), its youth branch, established in Manchester in 1926, called the Sons of Pericles, and the Greek American Progressive Association (GAPA).
Pouliopoulos said the Order of AHEPA was the pro-assimilation faction, while GAPA opposed the effort by focusing on cultural preservation.
“We have old newspapers here that are over 100 years old,” Pouliopoulos said.
During the first half century of settlement in New Hampshire, many Greeks were discriminated against by white Americans and considered second-class citizens. English newspaper articles of the time barely acknowledged the founding of the congregation of St. George, and any mention of Greek individuals was often in a negative light.
Pouliopoulos said the way Greek-Americans were perceived took a turn after World War II, when many Greek men returned from the war as heroes or made the ultimate sacrifice.
Christos Kalivas, the state’s first Greek-American to give his life during the war, has since seen his name engraved in a city park, a monument and a senior apartment building.
These days, Pouliopoulos fears the culture is disappearing as some of the younger members engage with it less and less.
“Now we’re a few generations removed from when we grew up,” Pouliopoulos said. “We don’t hear the language spoken as much and people are further removed from their traditions.”
Phil Liakos, chair of education at St. George, said the Greek church, culture and heritage have all served to unite them as a community over the past century. Now he hopes the St. George Memory Project will do the same.
“I believe that the Memory and Library projects currently underway are also a unifying factor in the community,” Liakos said.
On April 2, the church is planning a bus tour to a regional point of interest for Greek Americans: Brookline, Mass. The tour will stop at the Holy Cross Chapel, the Maliotis Cultural Center and the Archbishop Iakovos Library.
“We opened it up to all the churches, all the Orthodox churches in Manchester,” Pouliopoulos said.
Ultimately, Pouliopoulos said the church group tasked with redesigning the library hopes the space will be ready for a grand reopening in the fall.