Halle Conference: the Report

More than one hundred delegates from over twenty different countries met to support religious heritage conservation in rural areas at the third biennial conference organised by Future for Religious Heritage (FRH) in Halle (Saale), Germany in October 2014, titled “Sustaining Europe’s Rural Religious heritage”.

FRH Conference in Halle 2014, Report

In Bulgaria 120 religious sites are abandoned and 50 need emergency repair

Interviewed by the national newspaper “24 Sega” (24 Hours) the Director of the Bulgarian National Museum of History, Mr. Bozhidar Dimitrov, said that in Bulgaria there are almost 7.000 churches. Nearly 1.000 churches were built after the end of the communist era, in 1989.

Almost 100 medieval churches have been classified by the Bulgarian State as monuments of culture.

Most of the new churches are built with the help of private sponsors, because the State’s subsidies are not enough.

There are orthodox religious sites almost everywhere in Bulgaria: for instance there are churches and monasteries in Varna, Veliko Tarnovo Gorna Oryahovitsa. 495 temples and 13 monasteries exist only in Plovdiv Diocese.

Unfortunately 50 churches are still abandoned. They are located above all in Gabrovo, Bansko, Pernik, and even in Sofia. 71 monasteries are abandoned as well. Almost 30 temples and 23 monasteries should be urgently repaired.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church financed a restoration with 3 million BGN (EUR 1.5 million), but this amount is not enough for repairing all the religious heritage in this country.

120 изоставени храма и 50 за спешен ремонтThe St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Italy to promote religious tourism during the Jubilee

In an interview with the national newspaper “Avvenire,” the Italian Minister for Culture, Mr. Dario Franceschini said that the extraordinary Jubilee announced by Pope Francis will be very important for religious tourism. According to the Minister, that event will be a moment of faith and prayer, but also a way to promote the cultural heritage in Italy, as the Via Francingena and other pilgrims routes like the path of San Francesco and the City of Assisi. The Camino di Santiago de Compostela could be a good example to follow.

Walking along those routes, pilgrims could enjoy the beauty and learn more about Italy’s history and art.

But even before the Holy Father announced the Jubilee, the Minister said, “we were already organizing new itineraries of faith and culture aimed to promote regions such as Tuscany, Umbria and Apulia”.

The pilgrims will visit Rome and its historical Basilicas, but also little churches, sanctuaries, little villages and new lanscapes.

Mr Franceschini was interviewed by Vincenzo Spagnolo, a prominent Italian journalist.

Read the article “Cammini di arte e di preghiera”

Extending the Pilgrimage: a journey between tangible and intangible religious heritage

From 19 to 22 March 2015 The Sociedad Regional de Cultura y Deporte of Cantabria, in Spain welcomed 25 experts on religious heritage from across Europe for an international conference organized in the framework of the ALTERheritage project.

ALTERheritage aims to make existing material for vocational learning on religious heritage conservation and management available to a larger proportion of the sector in Europe. It is funded through the Leonardo, Lifelong Learning programme of the European Commission. This event was the sixth in the seminar series and was hosted by Centro de Estudios Lebaniegos in Potes, FRH member and partner in the project.

gruppo cant

The three-day conference explored the link between tangible and intangible heritage through pilgrimages. Visits and encounters with local leaders in the political, tourism, and church worlds added greatly to the conference discussions. It focused on the importance of the restoration and of the protection of religious heritage in Cantabria and in Europe. This is a topic that is relevant to the North and South, East and West of Europe, and the partnership is a good step to come together on this issue.

The delegates spent part of their journey visiting churches and religious sites, such as the Santo Toribio de Liébana Monastery, Santa María de Lebeña Church, Santa María la Real de Piasca Church, Santa María de Lebeña Church, the Dioceses Museum of Santillana and Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles Church.

During the conference, the delegates met with the Dean of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral and listened to his inspiring speech. They also experienced the rich culture and history of this fascinating region.

The President of FRH, Future for Religious heritage, Olivier de Rohan Chabot, highlighted the importance to raise awareness of the public opinion and all the institutional stakeholders on the safeguarding of religious heritage and to keep momentum.

Joaquin Solanas, General Director of Culture for the Cantabria Government, emphasized the ambition of the region to listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. FRH and the partnership was pleased to see coverage of the event in El Mundo and Diario de Montanas, among others, which testifies to the greater interest in the that initiative.

FRH’s mission is to help inspiring people across Europe to get excited about the conservation of cultural and religious heritage. A recent EU poll, published last year, showed 4 out of 5 consider the religious buildings in their midst to be crucial.

As announced in Cantabria, the next ALTERheritage conference will be organized in June in Leuven, Belgium.

Read the articles:

Diario de Montanas

El Mundo



Photo Gallery

ALTERheritage: protecting worship sites across the EU


Leggi la versione in Italiano su EurActiv Italia!

The protection of the architectural patrimony and of the historical and cultural heritage is the aim of an international conference that will take place in Potes, in the autonomous region of Cantabria, in Spain, from 19 to 21 March 2015. A great example places of worship is the Via Francigena, the pilgrim route running from France to Rome that in the last few years has been successfully re-launched.

The event is part of the ALTERheritage project, financed by Leonardo Programme.

The European religious sites are not only a symbol or a pilgrim place: they represent an artistic patrimony, our history and at the same time the future for new generations. They are also a destination for sustainable tourism, in respect of the environment and of local communities. Heritage is often put at risk by wars, robberies, fire and, lately, by unregulated construction projects or just neglected by member states.

This issue is very topical in Italy: the Franciscan monks have recently organized a fund raising for restoring the Basilica di San Francesco D’Assisi’s frescos. Thanks to this successful initiative, they are collecting funds from all European countries. It is not by chance that a Dutch proverb says: “Everything of value is defenseless (alles van waarde is weerloos)”.

The ALTERheritage project focuses on life-long practical training of those working in managing and preserving this precious heritage in national and local contexts.

The project is an initiative of the European network for historic places of worship – Future for Religious Heritage (FRH). Among the partners are the Department of Conservation of the University of Gothenburg, in Sweden, Media K Gmbh in Germany, KU Leuven – Raymond Lemaire International Centre for Conservation in Belgium, The Churches Conservation Trust in England, the Sociedad Regional de Cultura y Deporte in Spain and the Museum Catharijneconvent in The Netherlands.

Dedicated to experts, the event will be hosted by Centro de Estudios Lebaniegos in Potes.

The programme includes visits of religious sites, such as the Santo Toribio de Liébana Monastery (that is one of the holy places since the Middle Age, as Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela), Santa María de Lebeña Church and Santa María la Real de Piasca Church.

Among the participants: Miguel Ángel Serna Oliveira, regional Minister for Education, Culture and Sports of the Cantabria Government; Francisco Javier Gómez Ruiz, Mayor of Potes; Joaquín Solanas, General Director of Culture for the Cantabria Government; Pilar G. Bahamonde, Centro de Estudios Lebaniegos Director; Segundo Leonardo Pérez López, Dean of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral; Olivier de Rohan Chabot, President of FRH Future for Religious Heritage and President of “La Sauvegarde de l’Art Français”; the architect José María Páez and Enrique Campuzano, Director of Dioceses Museum of Santillana.

The three-day conference will be the occasion to present Religiana, another project initiated by FRH, on religious heritage and tourism. Religiana promotes those buildings to both secular and non-secular audiences, by developing a multilingual smartphone, tablet and computer application.

Religiana is available not only to individuals, but to organizations who can help promote interest in Europe’s religious heritage, such as tourist promotion offices, tour operators, guide books, and map makers. It is managed jointly by the FRH, who has developed the software, and its members in different countries, who run the scheme locally.

Lilian Grootswagers, FRH Council Secretary, was interviewed by EurActiv.it: “Religious Heritage represents, and by far, the largest single category of European patrimony and it is widely cherished as part of Europe’s Cultural heritage by its citizens. A recent EU poll showed 4 out of 5 consider the religious buildings in their midst to be crucial. Knowledge transfer and innovation is needed on a European level, if this remarkable patrimony is to be handed down to future generations. FRH’s ambition is to provide a strong structural framework for ongoing inter-cultural and sectorial exchanges of ideas and problems, regarding religious heritage protection, conservation and management, with active participation from organizations and individuals across Europe.

ALTERheritage is an EU project that is focused on collecting and sharing knowledge, ideas and expertise. We are very pleased the Sociedad Regional de Educación, Cultura y Deporte del Gobierno de Cantabria is one of the partners in this project and is willing to share their expertise”.

Directed and acted by George Clooney, “The Monuments Men” is a Hollywood action drama focusing on an World War II platoon, tasked with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves, and returning them to their rightful owners. The Monuments man put their lives at risk to protect and defend mankind’s greatest achievements, as the sculpture of the Madonna and Child in Bruges.

The aim of Future for Religious Heritage is precisely to support “monuments men and women” across Europe.


FEATURED ARTICLE – Community development and volunteering in a rural parish in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany


Erhaltung und Nutzung des Religiösen Erbes im ländlichen Raum in Europa

FRH-Tagung, 29.10. – 01.11. 2014, Halle (Saale), Deutschland


Community development and volunteering in a rural parish in Sachsen-Anhalt

by Sonja Hahn

Art Historian, Chairwoman of „Förderkreis Entschlossene Kirchen e.V.“, Zerbst

„Sometimes there has to be a fall first

before something new can flourish.“

(Parish priest Thomas Meyer)

Explaining the very special concept of preserving our religious heritage I have to introduce our small parish community at first. The „Evangelische Weinberggemeinde Garitz“ is a parish of the protestant church of Anhalt, which is the smallest established protestant church in Germany, located in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt. Our parish belongs to the church district of Zerbst. Zerbst by the way is now a small town in the countryside but by the time of the reformation it was one of the bigger cities in the centre of Germany and among the first cities that adopted the reformation. Martin Luther often visited Zerbst and preached in the city’s Augustinian monastery.

The church district nowadays includes 61 very small villages with their own village churches. All of them are classified as historical monuments. Not only that the villages are very small – many of them have less than 100 inhabitants – the great majority of the population now is atheistic. To give an example: Our parish consists of five villages with four village churches: one Village (Garitz) has 250 inhabitants, the others have less than 100. Only one third of the population is Christian. And this is not even representative for the situation in the whole state.

In the state of Sachsen-Anhalt only 17,4 percent of the total population are Christians. Christians of both confessions – protestants and catholics – here in Sachsen-Anhalt form a constantly declining minority. Of course the secularization is a late result of the anti-clerical policies of the GDR, but it is an ongoing process for almost several decades now. And what makes the problem worse is the fact that this is a self-reinforcing process, unless something is done about it. We are now facing the third generation of people having left the church. The first generation was still socialized in a Christian manner. But not the following generations. There was nobody to tell them the basics about the faith, the cult and even the Christian culture. So the young generation itself is not anti-clerical, but simply not informed about religion and Christianity.

Few Christians attended church regularly. So it made no sense to hold regular services in each village only for five or fewer churchgoers. Moreover, in our case, there is only one priest responsible for 10 widely scattered villages and half of the city’s district of Zerbst. Under these circumstances it was not possible to obtain a normal church life up. Not to mention the overwhelming problem for nearly all parishes elsewhere in Sachsen-Anhalt: the lack of money. Therefore new ideas were requested as a matter of urgency. Fortunately, we had a very open-minded priest and a young parish council. We understand that it is our chance to live in the countryside in villages where mutual aid still is a matter of course. We wanted to take this opportunity.

Together we decided not to close down and to decommission our village churches. We considered these old churches as a treasure that has been entrusted to us. In our secularised society here in Sachsen-Anhalt often only the existence of the church buildings itself reminds of the cultural heritage of Christianity. So we opted instead for the use of village churches deliberately as churches, even though we do not really need all for our regular services. We decided to open the churches 24 hours a day throughout the year for all villagers and visitors, whether they are Christians or not. And we asked our fellow villagers for help to preserve the old church buildings, whenever it was needed. Doing so we explicitly wanted to address those who are not members of our church and include them. The message was understood. Many of them now regard the village churches as their heritage, too, and feel responsible for it. Young people of the volunteer fire department, for instance, who never before had contact with the church as an institution now regularly come to say prayers in „their“ village churches and help us to organize parish festivals.

Of course it was impossible to perform the necessary basic renovation of the old church buildings only by neighbourly help. The reconstruction and restoration of the churches was done with the help of government subsidies. But the condition to this aid was a viable concept for the maintenance of the buildings. In order to fulfil this requirement the parishes of our church district agreed in 2005 to establish an own foundation for this purpose under the patronage of the „Deutsche Stiftung Denkmalschutz“ (German National Fund for the Protection of Monuments) This new foundation – „Stiftung Entschlossene Kirchen“ (the german Word „entschlossen“ has two different meanings: on the one hand it means „determined“ and on the other “unlocked“, so this name should signal our church is determined and active and this specific village church is unlocked and open to the public) manages the funds paid by the parishes (amounts of 3000 € for each village church) to held equity in stock for future renovations. In addition, a non-profit organization was founded in 2008 – the „Förderkreis Entschlossene Kirchen“ (support group). This organization is responsible for public relations: it hosts concerts, lectures and festivals in the village churches and it offers training for volunteer tourist guides. This indeed, is a very successful activity. The increasing interest of tourists to visit our village churches also raises the curiosity of our non-Christian neighbours. The „Förderkreis“-organization enhanced this interest by opening a little permanent exhibition in 2010: the „Dorfkirchen-Museum“ (village church museum) in Garitz.

The radical opening of our churches and the activities of the „Förderkreis“ (supporters group) were only first steps in our conception. Right from the beginning we knew that it would not be enough to open the churches most of the time only for quiet contemplation. So we were looking for a way to let the old village churches „talk“. The old imagery of churches is indeed no longer understood by those who have no prior knowledge about Christianity. In order to get this alienated generation interested again we would have to provide basic information about church and Christianity in a contemporary and yet unobtrusive manner. This was for sure.

It was our parish priest, Thomas Meyer, who developed the brilliant idea of „Themen-Kirchen“ – themed churches. The largest out of the four village churches was used regularly by our unified parish for the Christmas service. For the rest of the year there were only few occasions for to use the church appropriate. So it was called the „Christmas Church“ even before it was officially named as „Weihnachtskirche“ (Christmas Church) in 2009. A local artist carved in the following years on behalf of the parish a giant Christmas crib from linden wood trunks that remains all the year in the church. The “Weihnachtskirche“ with „Germany’s largest Nativity Scene“ in the small village of Polenzko became famous nationwide. It now attracts visitors from everywhere: travel groups, school classes, choirs to sing Advent.

The keystone of our concept to preserve the religious heritage in our region is the „Easter Church“ in the village of Trüben. As complementary to the themed church in Polenzko the „Easter church“ is a more ambitious project: up to the year 2017 – the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation – a permanent exhibition shaped after the principles of experiential education will be erected around the small medieval church. The Passion Path of Christ should be made understandable especially to young visitors or those without any prior knowledge. A scenery consisting of images and objects will illustrate its individual stations from Jesus entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday up to the discovery of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Almost one third of the planned scope is already completed. For example, a former cemetery hall was remodeled. It is now a little chapel with a mural of the Last Supper. Table and benches „grow“ to some extent out of the picture into reality. So visitors can take place at the same table with Jesus. For the full completion of the project the „Weinberg-Gemeinde“ and the „Förderkreis“ rely on generous donations and active participation of the villagers.

Finally, the last-mentioned aspect is worth to be highlighted again: Our concept of open churches, cultural events and themed churches would never succeed without the active help of many neighbours, whether they are Christians or not-yet-Christians: strong young men who lend a hand, women who prepare food, brew coffee and bake cake for festivities, young people who make music. We asked them for help and they helped. Again, Christians or not-Christians, by participating, they all develop a certain respect for the religious heritage of their region. And so do their families and friends. We are often asked if anything was stolen or damaged in our unlocked churches. The answer is: We have not even once had a bad experience.

We, the Christians, are still a minority in our rural area. But we are a well-respected one. More and more young people accept our invitations with pleasure. Two decades ago, most residents had never set foot in the church in their village. Today there are very few who never had done it. Even the lone visit to the church, the encounter with the silence, gives people new hope. Some time ago, an anonymous entry found in the guestbook of the village church of Garitz: „Get me! Life here is not worth living, it’s a journey back and forth. I wish redemption.“ Several months later a new entry in the same handwriting: „I have arrived and I’m thankful to be here. I love life and my family in good and in bad times. Protect the people who stand at my side!“ Here, apparently, someone had spoken quietly with God. And he or she had received a response. Is there a better reason to open our churches for all people?


FRANCE – Volunteers organise themselves to save their religious heritage


De Kapelle now gathers around 40 lovers of religious heritage to help sustain the five churches of the commune. They also organise visits to help others enjoy the heritage.


Créée en 1996 par la volonté de quelques amateurs du passé historique religieux d’Halluin, De Kapelle recense actuellement une quarantaine de membres. Durant toute l’année, les bénévoles assurent l’entretien et le fleurissement des cinq chapelles que compte la commune et organisent également des visites guidées des différents édifices.

via L’association De Kapelle d’Halluin préserve le patrimoine religieux – La Voix du Nord.

POLAND – Culture ministry rejects request to renovate historic synagogue

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage turned down a request to help fund the renovation of a historic synagogue in Przysucha.

The total estimated cost to renovate the synagogue in southern Poland, about 60 miles from Warsaw, is $52,000. The foundation had requested $43,000 from the culture ministry.

The synagogue’s titleholder, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, said it was trying to convince federal officials to change their minds on the decision they made last week.

“We do not understand why it is not in the interest of the Polish state to assist in caring for Jewish monuments,” Monika Krawczyk, the foundation’s director general, told JTA.

via Polish culture ministry rejects request to renovate historic synagogue | Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The NETHERLANDS – Thinking out of the box for abandoned churches

Out of the box thinking was the task for four young designers when they started with their design for a new use of four different churches. A church like swimming pool with garden was one of the results, an idea that probably will remain a dream nevertheless. Deltateam Fryske Tsjerken wanted new and exciting ideas for filling their church again.


Out of the box denken was de opdracht aan vier jonge ontwerpers toen ze startten met hun ontwerp voor een nieuwe bestemming van vier verschillende kerken. Een kerk als zwembad mét zwemtuin erbij was een van de resultaten. Een idee dat wellicht een droom zal blijven van het project Droomkerk. Opdrachtgever Deltateam Fryske Tsjerken wilde kerkbesturen spannende ideeën meegeven bij het opnieuw invullen van hun kerkgebouw.

Het artikel Een zwembad in de kerk, waarom niet? uit de Leeuwarder Courant van 4 juli 2014 maakte nieuwsgierig en leidde naar de projectleider Jitze Tadema van het Deltateam waarmee de Agenda Toekomst Religieus Erfgoed in gesprek ging en een tussentijdse balans opmaakte. Het project Droomkerk was een frivool uitstapje van het Deltateam dat nu alweer drie jaar bestaat. Een ambulant drietal dat kerkbesturen in Friesland ondersteunt bij herbestemming, sluiting of andere problematiek in het kader van leegloop van hun kerk.

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