CYPRUS – Archbishops appeal for UK support to protect religious heritage

Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus and Bishop Christophoros of Karpasia, accompanied by UK Cypriots’ Federation President, Peter Droussiotis, met with the Minister for Europe, David Lidington MP at the Foreign Office, and the Shadow Minister of Europe, Gareth Thomas MP at the House of Commons, on May 15th. 

The delegation made the case for the urgent restoration and protection of Cyprus’s religious and cultural heritage in the areas of the Republic of Cyprus occupied by the Turkish army. Several independent reports have presented evidence of the destruction of many of the island’s historic Greek Orthodox Christian churches and monasteries as well as the desecration of graveyards and cemeteries. Mr Droussiotis stressed that these sites and monuments “are of huge cultural and religious significance and belong not only to the Cypriot people (…) but to the whole of humanity.”

Both Mr Lidington and Mr Thomas expressed their support for the efforts by Archbishop Chrysostomos II to seek access to Christian places of worship and other sacred sites and religious monuments in the occupied areas with a view to resurrecting, restoring and maintaining these and said that they would raise the matter both with Turkey and also with the Turkish Cypriot leadership.

Read the full article here.

SEMINAR – Museology of religious buildings

The Ecole du Louvre is organising an international summer seminar on museology, From a place of worship to a museum”, aimed at advanced students or young professionals.

Organised in the summer, it is intended to provide supplementary training in various aspects of museology (mediation, exhibitions, conservation, restoration etc.) with theoretical teaching modules, round tables, meetings with professionals and researchers, supported by visits to sites and museums. Application deadline: June 3rd, Seminar: 1-12 September 2014.

Read the description here.

FRANCE – Sens seeking sponsorship to save its heritage

After several citizen’s associations, recently created for this purpose, sounded the alarm bells about the state of the city’s heritage, Sens (Yonne) has set up a large-scale multi-annual project to save its religious heritage, co-financed by private partners.

The church of Saint-Pierre-le-Rond has been closed to the public for fifty years for security reasons; several other churches are in very bad shape. The municipality recognises the need to save this heritage, since it is ‘a touristic asset’ for the city, but stresses that it cannot do so unaided. It has now formed a partnership with the Church’s allocator, Jean-Pierre Mayot, national architect (architecte des bâtiments) of France, and Samuel Drey, from Yonne’s heritage service. The partnership hopes to draw private sponsorship.

Saint-Pierre-le-Rond has been closed for fifty years. Photo O.R.

Read the article in French here.


EUROPE – Vandalism of religious heritage on the rise?

The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe has published a report portraying 133 cases of vandalism against Christian sites in 11 countries. The Observatory warns that vandalism against religious sites seems to be on the rise.

In France, for instance, 667 incidents of vandalism were recorded in 2012, of which 543 were directed against Christian sites (against 527 in 2011), 40 on Jewish sites (31 buildings, 9 cemeteries), and 84 on Muslim sites (83 buildings, 1 cemetery).

Austria also reports a growth of vandalism, amounting to 3.5% between 2009 and 2010. Since there is no disaggregation of data between public buildings and religious sites, clear data on the growth of vandalism directed specifically against religious heritage are not available. Still, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the Head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for Relations between the Church and Society, is quoted saying that

“the instances of vandalism against churches,
mosques, synagogues, and cemeteries in many
European countries have grown manifold in the past

Read the report from the Observatory here.


EUROPE – EU Council finally recognises Cultural Heritage

For the first time in the history of the EU – The Council of the European Union has adopted Conclusions on cultural heritage as a strategic resource for a sustainable Europe. This is a breakthrough for heritage recognition in Europe, of which religious heritage plays a major part. The excellent news was announced during a meeting of the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council under Hellenic presidency on 21 May in Brussels.

These conclusions recognize cultural heritage (both tangible and intangible) as a unique and non-renewable resource and a major asset for Europe and for the entire European project. They emphasize the important role that cultural heritage plays in creating and enhancing social capital, as well as its important economic impact and key contribution to environmental sustainability. Cultural heritage is recognized to play an important role in achieving the Europe 2020 strategy goals for a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

The conclusions call for more resources to be invested in cultural heritage and for the mainstreaming of cultural heritage in national and European policies. The European Commission is also invited to further support at EU level the networking of, and pooling of resources between, public and private sector heritage experts and practitioners as well as civil society organisations.

Read the Conclusions on the EU Council’s website here.

SWEDEN – Publication: A thousand years of religious heritage

On May 22nd, the new book Tusen år till (A Thousand Years More) will be presented to the public in Uppsala, Sweden. The publication gives an overview of the rich religious heritage of Sweden, created by artisans, artists and architects over the last millennium, and taking into account some of the highlights of Sweden’s 3400 churches. The Swedish Church was involved in the book project.

Read the full press release in Swedish here.


WORLD – Growth of religious tourism

The global market for religious tourism continues to grow. Last year, 215.000 visitors reached the cathedral of Santiago de Compostella after walking St. James’ way. The town of Medjugorje, in Herzegovina, draws over a million visits anually since six children claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary there in 1981.Peter Johansen writes:

Yes, religious tourism is big. And it’s getting bigger. Researchers suggest the market is more resilient to recessions and is more open to repeat business than secular leisure travel. According to Kevin J. Wright, director of growth markets at the Kentucky-based National Tour Association, the global faith-based travel sector is worth $18 billion and includes 300 million travelers a year, the majority well educated and with comfortable incomes. “Studies show that 35 per cent of travelers want to take a faith-inspired vacation, so the market potential remains enormous,” he says.

Read the full article here.


TURKEY – Armenian architecture and its European impact

Dr. Mark Jarzombek, Professor of the History and Theory of Architecture (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), emphasizes the role of Armenian (church) architecture in shaping the medieval stone building tradition from Europe to India in A Global History of Architecture, which he co-authored.

The Church of the Vigilant Powers (Zwartnots, AD 641-666) or the Cathedral at Mren from that period are typical. But my point was that advanced stone masonry by 600 AD was a dying art in the rest of the world. It was not practiced in Europe before 800 AD, not practiced in Byzantium (which emphasized brick), nor in Persia (mud brick), nor even in India (wood). In other words, during the time period between 400 and 800 AD Armenia/Syria was the only place in the world where advanced stone masonry was still practiced. That is the key to understanding the role of Armenia in the history of architecture.

Read the whole article here.

The World Monuments Fund reports that Mren cathedral (Digor, Kars, Turkey) is in desperate need of documentation and conservation, as its condition has deteriorated dramatically in recent years. The south facade has recently collapsed. Read their report here.

Photo via Fresno State University

The cathedral of Mren, 7th century. Photo via Fresno State University

ITALY – Independent movie fund-raising for repair of Sabbioneta synagogue

A young Italian filmmaker, Ghila Valabrega,  is fund-raising to finance a short movie  that itself is conceived as a means to raise funding to repair the 19th century synagogue in Sabbioneta, Italy (a UNESCO world heritage site) which was badly damaged in an earthquake in 2012.

Read the full article by Jewish Heritage Europe here. For a virtual tour of Sabbioneta Synagogue, click here.


THE NETHERLANDS – Can designation as monument be harmful?

The Dutch organisation Kerkelijk Waardebeheer has launched a plea to the government under the slogan: “it takes two to tango”, asking for a better cooperation between churches and government, especially regarding the government’s heritage policy.

(Local) governments have designated about 60% of church buildings in the Netherlands as monuments. While this status limits the liberties that the building’s owner – usually the parish – have, it does not usually mean any financial aid from the part of the authorities. Churches spend an estimated 40% of funds on the maintenance of their buildings; as congregations and income continue to shrink, this will become increasingly untenable. Moreover, the status of monument makes it harder to find alternative uses for a church once it is desecrated.

Read the whole article in Dutch here.