FRH Council nominations announcement

The FRH welcomes at all times applications and recommendations for its pool of candidates to its Council. Its Nominations Committee reviews candidates and recommends a list to the Council prior to the General Meeting. This year, the Nominations Committee will fill up to three vacancies on the Council for its Class of 2015-2018. All candidate applications or recommendations should be sent by electronic mail by September 1st 2015 Continue reading

Religious heritage conservation: education and management

by Thomas Coomans*

The last ALTERheritage meeting took place in Leuven on 15 and 16 June 2015 and was organised by the Raymond Lemaire International Centre for Conservation (RLICC), University of Leuven, together with its two ‘silent partners’, the Centre for Religious Art and Culture (CRKC) and KADOC Documentation and Research Centre on Religion, Culture and Society. Educational and management aspects of conservation were the focus of the meeting.

Thomas Coomans

Thomas Coomans

On 15 June, RLICC organised at the Arenberg Castle a conference on educational and management aspects of conservation. RLICC provides an international and interdisciplinary advanced master programme in conservation of monuments and sites that includes religious heritage, management and preventive conservation of heritage. Prof. Koen Van Balen, holder of the UNESCO Chair on Preventive Conservation, Monitoring and Maintenance welcomed the audience composed of twenty ALTERheritage partners and about forty students and alumni. Prof. Thomas Coomans presented five complementary keys for understanding religious built heritage (construction, style, iconography, use, meaning). Prof. Sven Sterken focused on the specific issue of heritagizing post war churches.

Arenberg Castle

Arenberg Castle

Two RLICC students, Eva Weyns and Valérie Vermandel, explained how courses, projects, internships, and contribution to ALTERheritage developed their skills and knowledge on religious heritage. Aziliz Vandesande, PhD student at RLICC, introduced to educating on preventive conservation. Zeljka Knezevic, head of the university’s Monument Division, explained how the university uses and manages its 140 listed historic buildings, especially the former religious buildings, which include the Great Beguinage (World Heritage since 1998) and the library of Sciences in a former medieval monastery (Rafael Moneo 2000). Jan Jaspers and Dimitri Strevens from CRKC explained the policy and the tools developed by the Flemish Region for the management of parish churches in Flanders (see further). Martine Van den Bergen presented “Open Churches”, a NGO valorising the heritage of more than 300 churches in Belgium, including education programs for the broad public.

This stimulating conference concluded with stressing the essential role of Academia in defining methodologies, transmitting expertise on heritage prevention and management, educating the actors of tomorrow, and contributing to the indispensable change of mentalities about religious heritage in a double bottom-up end top-down dynamic.

After the conference, ALTERheritage visited several religious heritage sites in Leuven: the gothic collegiate church of St. Peter (its belfry tower is World Heritage, 1999), the Great Beguinage and its church (World Heritage, 1998), the romanesque St Lambert Chapel, the baroque church of St Michael, the pilgrimage church of St Antony and the tomb of saint Father Damien, the University library of Sciences (former convent of Celestines). The meeting ended with a visit of KADOC Documentation and Research Center on Religion, Culture and Society. The ALTERheritage group also was welcomed on the City Hall of Leuven by Sir Dirk Vansina, the alderman for heritage and tourism.

CRKC: an integrated approach for local parish churches plans

Redundancy of Catholic parish churches is a recent social and political issue in Belgium. After a series of conferences with all parties involved –-Catholic church, municipalities, governmental agencies of internal affairs and heritage-– the Flemish government invited in 2011 the Catholic Church and the municipalities to establish a plan for the future use of parish churches for each of the Flemish towns. The Centre for Religious Art and Culture (CRKC) was asked to assist parishes and municipalities in this planning process by providing basic information, designing road maps for the planning process, and giving information about good practices for extended or new uses of churches.

AlterHeritage visited the Historic abbey of Park and was introduced to the ‘parish churches plan’. In 2012-13, CRKC collected basic information about the 1786 Catholic parishes in Flanders: historical and heritage data and descriptions, urban and social context of the building, actual and future use of the church for worship, present other uses, and possibilities to organize a secondary or new use.

For further information please visit

*FRH Council Member since 2011, Thomas Coomans is Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture and the Raymond Lemaire International Centre for Conservation, at the KU Leuven, in Belgium. He has published widely on the history of church conservation, and is also a member of the Commission Royale des Monuments et Sites, which works to preserve historic sites in the Brussels area.

ALTERheritage: looking for European Answers

This week, we launched the ALTERheritage brochure. This report is an occasion to reflect on some of the key achievements of ALTERheritage, a European funded project which showed the potential to raise considerable awareness of the value of participation in conserving cultural and religious heritage and generating lasting impact.

cover ALTERheritage

FRH would like to congratulate all those who have played a part: every partner who has contributed to this great achievement of immense benefit for religious heritage conservation, management, regeneration and tourism.

We therefore express our gratitude to the Lifelong Learning LEONARDO programme of General Directorate Education and Culture of the European Commission which allowed us to establish this successful partnership.




The unknown treasure of Transylvania

by Mara Popescu*

The sacred vernacular architecture is as important as the history of a people, it reflects the history, its customs and traditions, in few words: traditional civilization.

In the Transylvania area there are still hidden unexpected treasures of architecture, little known by the public or even by specialists.

One of those is the Reformed Church Ákos / Acâş, built in the days when Notre Dame was still in the process of building in Paris, year 1175, according to an inscription found in the church.



The Reformed Church from Ákos (in Hungarian) / Acâş (in Romanian) is the most valuable architectural monument of Satu Mare, and one of the most beautiful Romanesque monuments in Romania, presenting analogies with churches from Herina and Capleni, being closely related with the churches in Jak and Zsambek in Hungary. The church’s monumental towers of Ákos / Acâş are visible from far away. The geographical position, at the junction of Sălaj Hills with the Western Plain, on the river bank of Crasna, favored economic development of the village, which becomes a fair in the medieval period.

On the domain of Ákos, in the second half of the twelfth century, a monastery was founded being the expression of wealth and social status of the family. Initially, the monastery belonged to the Benedictine order as donation from Ákos noble family. The monastery has been also a resting place where it could have kept the memory of ancestors. About the functioning of the monastery we have no accurate data, but the village is first mentioned in 1342 as “Ákosmonostora” (monastery Ákos). Another document, written in 1421, provides information on the monastery’s dedication to “Holy Virgin”, and the content of the right of patronage.

Ákos - Református templom source: zolipress

Ákos – Református templom source: zolipress

Ákos noble family grows over the centuries XII-XIV, when a lot of other estates and monasteries are added to the family’s heritage. One of the descendants of Ákos family was murdered by the Tartars at the border called Banrekesz, during the great Tartar invasion of 1241. Over the XV century the Ákos family dies one by one, and the monastery decades and it is converted into a parish church. The last Ákos descendants disappear from the village in the sixteenth century. In this period, Ákos / Acâş, as in other places in the area, residents convert themselves to the Reformed religion. The first Protestant priest is stated in 1597.

The former Benedictine monastery’s church has a basilica plan with a single apse. The decisive element that determines the placement of the building no later than after the Mongol invasion, is the enlarged rectangular area in front of the altar, which is a kind of rudimentary chorus.

The naves are divided by rectangular columns. The central nave and two side aisles have framework.

A tripartite Romanesque window in the east wall of the central nave makes us believe that it must have had originally a different roof. The apse has a semicircular shape. On the west side there is a pair of columns, cross-linked by archivolts. They carry a rostrum, which is a characteristic of monastic architecture. The interior of the church is simple, without any decorations.

Walls and massive proportions of the church did not leave much natural light to enter inside the building. This wasn’t a very important thing, because the monastic liturgy was held at night, under the burning candles’ light.

The whole church is built out of brick, the building is austere, low-profile. A characteristic of this architecture of brick, with walls left unplastered, is the use of bricks with enameled surface. The vertical articulation of the facades is made by some strips, ie masonry strips that come out slightly outside, called lesene or pilaster strip. Under the cornice of the apse and the nave below, you can see a frieze of semicircular arches. This system of parament is of Lombard origin.

The western façade is dominated by two towers above the rostrum, continuing the initial style of the abbey’s church of Cluny, considered as a model for the Benedictine monastic sites. The upper floors of the tower are framed by pilaster strips and are divided by friezes of arches. Bottom floor of the tower is lit by a narrow and high window, and the last two floors with a pair of twin windows.

The superior register of the central nave has windows, which is a characteristic of basilicas. The roof of the lateral naves begins below the line of the central nave’s windows. The central nave’s roof has two slopes, and the lateral ones have only one slope. The roof, imitating the stone models of western Hungary, is made out of brick.

Tatar and Turkish attacks affected the church. The fire of 1642 destroyed the roof of the building and, according to local tradition, until the construction of the new roof in 1732, the liturgy was officiated under the tower. In 1747, the old tower’s helmet struck by lightning, was replaced with a new one. The earthquake of 1834 severely damaged the church, the renovation taking place until the early twentieth century. Renovation works carried out in two stages (1896 and 1902) were led by Frigyes Schulek. Respecting the Romanesque rules, the exterior walls were not plastered.

The old shingled roof of the tower, onion-shaped, was replaced during the restoration with another one, pyramid-shaped, of brick. Also during this period it was built the upper gable and the west porch. Inside, the sanctuary was re-vaulted and the new triumphal arch has now a triforium. Restoration works were generally well done, helping to preserve the value of the church. In recent years, the infiltrated water from the walls was removed by drainage. The excavations carried out before the drainage works have revealed the outer walls of the cemetery surrounding the church and the former chapel’s walls, and inside, the changes made to the sanctuary.

The benches inside the church are made in a traditional style, painted with floral motifs of great artistic value and made in the 1750-1776 in a late Transylvanian Renaissance floral style. The church has a pipe organ, which dates from the early twentieth century and two bells, one made in 1742, the other in 1924.

According to a legend, the Islamic crescent moon was placed on top of the tower because it was said that the Turks did not attack Muslim shrines that had this sign. Perhaps this idea came to the locals after the Turks destroyed the newly renovated church in 1642. Only after 90 years have passed, in 1732, the churchgoers rebuilt the roof and towers and during this period, the the services were officiated outdoors.

Mara Popescu is a Romanian researcher. She is a member of FRH, of Europa Nostra and of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).