UK – Should wooden church pews be replaced by stackable seating?

It’s an issue which divides many church congregations. But now the Rt Rev Colin Fletcher, the Bishop of Dorchester, has praised parishes which rip out wooden pews from their churches to convert the buildings into “community hubs”. He has endorsed dozens of schemes in his diocese which have seen traditional seating removed, to be replaced by more comfortable, stackable options. Tell us what you think in the online poll, via Should wooden church pews be replaced by stackable seating? | National Churches Trust.

PARTNER SEARCH – Emergence and transmission of European cultural heritage and Europeanisation

Horizon 2020. REFLECTIVE -2-2015.
Emergence and transmission of European cultural heritage and
Europeanisation. (Europe in a changing world: inclusive, innovative and reflective societies.)

Europe’s cultural heritage is important to all, crucial for collective memories and sociability of groups as well as a source of inspiration. As part of this cultural heritage, the art and artefacts of religious heritage play a significant part. This heritage is not well known to the general public, nor do people understand the significance for both good and ill of religious cultural history across Europe.
Art Alive in Churches, a UK NGO is seeking partners for Horizon 2020to help improve the understanding of this rich cultural heritage, and importantly to make the art and artefacts accessible to all, in particular people with disabilities. Additionally it wishes to explore the possibility of the establishment of a European Heritage Skills Bank to enable the correct maintenance and restoration of religious buildings and artefacts. This Bank would encourage young people in particular, including those with disabilities, into apprenticeships in much needed skills and thus into self employment or the setting up of SME’s in the field.

For more information please contact:
Jennie Hawks
Art Alive in Churches

Rothe, Annemarie, The fortified churches of Transylvania – endangered treasures in the heart of Romania

More than 850 years ago settlers from Western Europe – Flanders and the middle Rhine area – followed the invitation of the Hungarian king to come and settle in the heart of the Carpathian bow. The king needed loyal subjects to secure the eastern boundary of his kingdom against aggressors from further east. He guaranteed the new settlers wide privileges like freehold properties, freedom of movement and local autonomy. Over 700 years the German speaking community – since the middle ages known as Saxons – could built up and preserve its internal administration and lifestyle habits under different reigns and within the multi-ethnic population. Only with the Hungarian and Romanian nationalisation politics of the late 19th and early 20th century the Saxons lost their autonomy. Since World War II, when communist conversions changed completely the traditional ways of rural life, the Saxons left the country in several waves of emigration. But only after the fall of the Ceaușescu regime 1989/90 the mass exodus of more than 90% of the Saxon population within a few years left the remaining community in a rather desperate state.

The fortified churches

The first basilican churches in the villages were built in the 12th and 13th century without fortifications. Many of them were later modified and enlarged in gothic style. Due to the constant threat of invasions from the east – the Mongol invasion 1241, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century and marauders in their wake – the Saxons started from the 14th c. onwards over a period of several centuries to develop the churches – being the only stone buildings in the villages – to fortified ensembles. Some of them became impressive complexes with several ring walls and moats, battlements and defence towers. Even the churches were adapted to defensive functions, their bell towers topped with battle platforms and one or two stories for defence purposes added on top of the chancels. Within the walls, often under the battlements, small rooms for storage were integrated. Wells were installed and sometimes chambers for living included. Thus in case of danger the whole village could take refuge in their fortified church, taking the cattle and supplies with them to survive the siege. Even when times changed and the immediate dangers decreased the fortified churches were thoroughly maintained, ringwalls and fortifications repaired. They had become a sign of identification in a hostile environment and an expression of the strength of the Saxon community. It is no wonder that the most popular hymn among the Saxons is “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (A mighty fortress is our god). Only in the late 18th and the 19th century with more peaceful and prosperous times to come the Saxons started to alter the buildings. Bell towers were topped with “modern” spires and the interiors changed in baroque style. Ring walls were dismantled and schools, community halls and parsonages built with the obtained material.

Many of the churches show masterpieces of sculpting inside and outside. The interiors appear rather scarcely decorated today because after the reformation the original frescoes were painted over. But a great number of pre-reformation altar pieces have been preserved and show beautiful paintings. Colourful frescoes can be seen in some of the churches and presumably there are a lot more under the layers of paint. But they are not well accepted by the strictly Lutheran parishes. So, many a gem is still to discover.

The present situation

Almost every village between the cities of Sibiu/Hermannstadt, Medias, Sigișoara/Schässburg and Brașov/Kronstadt has a fortified church thus forming a unique cultural landscape. But the maintenance of the churches, traditionally the common work of all Saxon villagers, can hardly be undertaken today since many villages are deserted by the Saxons or only a few elderly people are left. From 171 000 in 1986 over 102 000 in 1990 the Saxon population shrunk to around 12500 today. More than 50% live in the cities, the other half is scattered over almost 250 villages. The buildings are by far too big for the congregation if there is one at all. The Romanian, Hungarian and Roma population, although neighbours since centuries, have not and could not develop an identification with the Saxon churches. Hence they cannot yet feel responsible for this heritage even though they live around it. After the exodus of the Saxons 1990 new settlers came to the villages, most of them no farmers and many unemployed. The demographic and social situation and the general rural exodus because of the difficult economy of Romania increase the problem.

The value of this unique heritage was acknowledged through the inscription of seven objects in the World Heritage list. Until today the strength of the churches prevented major losses. But every year the problems become more visible and the deterioration increases. In particular the small and less known churches and those in remote villages suffer from lack of repair. The Evangelical Church A. C. of Romania, owner of the churches, makes every endeavour to save its heritage or at least secure it for better times to come. A special office (Leitstelle Kirchenburgen) was set up to manage this work, coordinate all activities around the fortified churches and develop long term strategies. Some national projects, an EU-funded project for the restoration of 18 churches and several private initiatives for particular churches show the interest and commitment of many people. But a lot of help is still needed to save this outstanding religious heritage.

Annemarie Rothe

Architect, M.A. European Cultural Heritage and associated with the coordination office of the Evangelical Church. mail to:

For further information:
Leitstelle Kirchenburgen: (Englisch, soon online) and (German, Romanian)
contact: (German, English, Romanian)
Evangelische Kirche A.B. in Romania:  (German)
The App “Kirchenburgenlandschaft Siebenbuergen” (Cultural landscape of the fortified churches in Transsylvania) gives historical and touristic information about 100 fortified churches in German, Romanian and English. Link to the free download for iOS / Android at the website


GERMANY – Event: Culture of Commemoration

Graves, epitaphs and tombs of founders and nobilities in our churches tell their story. In many churches, there are war commemorations of the fallen. What do we learn from these monuments and how do we manage them?

Saturday 22 March 2014 , 9:00 to 16:30
Church of St. Bartholomew / Zerbst / Anhalt
( 39261 Zerbst, Schlossfreiheit 3)

Participation in the seminar is free of charge . Lunch in the restaurant is available for 10 € .For information and registration, please contact:
Sonja Hahn (Stiftung „Entschlossene Kirchen“)
Andreas Janssen (Evangelische Landeskirche Anhalts)

NETHERLANDS – Groningse Klein Wetsinge church becomes village hall

The Reformed Church in Groningen Klein Wetsinge will be re-newed as a multi-purpose space. Churchgoers are no longer there, so the Local Committee on Small Wetsinge’s decied to extend the uses for the space. A lookout for tourists, a room for small events, and the opportunity for local businesses to promote local church will regenerate the building. The church is run by the Foundation for Historic Groninger Churches (Groninger kerken), which already owns over 70 churches and is experienced in safekeeping historic churches in the countryside of Groningen. For more examples visit

The renovation, which should be ready in June will cost 250,000 euros.

UK – Publication: Churches for Communities: adapting Oxfordshire’s churches for wider use

Churches for Communities: adapting Oxfordshire’s churches for wider use by Becky Payne

This new book documents the changes taking place across ecclesiastical England, focusing on twenty-five places of worship in the towns and villages of Oxfordshire (south-east England) by telling the stories of those, largely volunteers, who have given their time and energy to raise millions of pounds and work through the challenges involved in adapting an historic place of worship.

The very significant reshaping of these historic churches has been undertaken to meet modern worship needs, to enable the buildings to be used for a wide range of community activities and, increasingly, to deliver vital community services. These projects reconnect churches with their communities and provide them with a more sustainable future.

The hope is other places of worship embarking on similar projects will derive inspiration and benefit from the achievements and experiences described here.

Published by the Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust and all proceeds go to the work of the Trust.

(ISBN 978 0 992 7693 07) Available from Amazon Books, or through all good booksellers.

CANADA – Call for papers: Apocryphal and Apostolic Modernism. Forgotten connections between religion and architecture, 1945-1970

Apocryphal and Apostolic Modernism. Forgotten connections between religion and architecture, 1945-1970

Panel at the conference of the International Society for Intellectual History (ISIH) 25-27 june 2014 , Toronto, Canada

Call for Papers for a panel at the ISIH-conference in Toronto, june 2014. We are in need for new papers to complete our panel on ‘Apocryphal and Apostolic Modernism. Forgotten connections between religion and architecture, 1945-1970’. Panel description: This panel seeks to discuss the connection between religious and philosophical concepts and the theoretical discourse on architectural modernism from the period 1945-1970. The panel is structured around two different questions that, to a certain extent, mirror each other. The first one is: in what way has religious thinking, of Catholic origin, influenced the theoretical discourse on architectural modernism? Here, the panel seeks papers that will focus on the writings of (European) architects whose theoretical concepts (e.g. form, empathy) did root in religious traditions. Often, canonized views on modernism have, unjustly, neglected and even excluded this complex type of religious imagination. Next to focusing on this ‘apocryphal modernism’, the panel also seeks to answer a second question: in what way did non-religious, philosophical and aesthetic concepts influence the theoretical discourse on religious architecture? Here, the panel wants to concentrate on writings (monographs, art-theoretical journals) by (European) Catholic intellectuals from the fifties and the sixties that reflect on the necessity to innovate religious architecture in line with modernist ideals. This part can be termed “apostolic modernism”. As this panel will disclose the diverse aesthetic theories that were mobilized to safeguard a ritualistic or sacred understanding of the built environment in an increasingly technocratic society, it covers a ‘hinterland’ of both intellectual and religious history. We are looking for three papers which do not reduce the impact of religious beliefs to a regressive element at work within modernity, but disclose the interaction between artistic and religious imagination in the twentieth century, and this in the field of architecture. Type: Panel at the conference of the International Society for Intellectual History (ISIH) in Toronto Date: 25-27 june 2014 Location: Victoria College, University of Toronto, Deadline: Please contact me before the end of february with a short proposal. Thanks!

SPAIN – Seminar on Jewish Culture, Tourism, Synagogues in Cordoba

The year 2015 marks the700th anniversary of the synagogue in Cordoba, Spain, and among activities leading up to celebrations, the fifth training seminar on Jewish culture in Cordoba, which takes place this week,  focuses on tourism and especially the synagogue, write the local news sites and

via Seminar on Jewish Culture, Tourism, Synagogues in Cordoba | Jewish Heritage Europe.