Baraldi, Luca, “Religious Cultural Heritage in Italy”

Italian history can‘t be taken in consideration regardless of its religious history. Cities, roads, geographical and cultural spaces are strongly conditioned by religious roots and systems of beliefs. In a certain sense religions – considered as a form of perception and re-elaboration of Sacred – laid the foundation  for a cultural development  and gave origin to a heritage that, still today, represents a unicum on a worldwide scale. However, the same uniqueness produced consequences also on a level of management and preservation.  Italian Constitution, considered by the juridical system as “the fundamental Law”, reserves two articles (artt. 8-9) to the relation between culture and religion within National boundaries, in order to fix some necessary guidelines to lead the definition of cooperation conditions.  Religious cultural heritage has to be identified, recognized and protected against the risk of loss of historical roots. Culture, memory, hybridization and tradition have to be preserved, in respect of different characteristics and needs.

The same relation, the interaction between different features, that has been well understood and portrayed in several UNESCO documents, has not been well comprehended by Italian juridical system. A few years ago, nevertheless, something began to change, probably thanks to the influence of Pope John Paul II, and both Italian jurisprudence and university started to face the problem of religious cultural heritage. The Government began to use the juridical form of bilateral agreement, called Intesa, also within the domain of cultural heritage, and religious confessions and Ministries gave origin to a new kind of cultural cooperation, in order to define new guidelines and to try to reach a renewed national policy. The Conferenza Episcopale Italiana created a national office for catholic cultural heritage, the Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane began to reconstruct the self-perception moving from the meaningful history of Italian Judaism, and several other confessions did the same. Cultural heritage – both material and immaterial – found its lost value, and religious institutions brought to mind the richness of their heritage.

Which are the problems that, still today, prevent the cultural system from producing proposals on a wide range, open to interregional or international cooperation? My personal opinion drives me to individuate the problem in an inadequate formative system, for both professionals and clergy. The two possible really involved parts – Christian community and civil society – often don’t have the technical and scientific bases for the comprehension of the problem in its complexity. Central institutions on a national level are nothing else but political interlocutors, rarely capable to translate declarations in operative factors. What we have to deal with is not a system lacking in initiative, but a context with insufficient interpretative skills. Culture, memory, hybridization and tradition have to be considered as different features of the same heritage, that is the reflection of the complexity of a society and its history. Dynamic nature of religious artistic heritage has to be handled by interpreters able to catch its value, respecting the fragility of religious thought and using advanced technical skills.

Is Italian scenery therefore waiting for the definition of a right system to share its richness? Or, on the contrary, the richness of heritage can’t be seen without the necessary competences, and can’t consequently be managed in a useful way? Apart from the order of different phases of causality, ReteSicomoro (www.retesicomoro.it) is trying to face the problem through a free access website, aimed at the information and the education of professionals and students, sketching a technical profile since the very first steps: a lexicon, book reviews, article abstracts, juridical sources, financial and administrative instruments, news and fundraising possibilities, an e-learning platform. The only chance to create the conditions for the preservation and the valorization of religious cultural heritage – that represents about the 70% of the entire Italian cultural heritage – is to share competences and experiences, to educate professionals and clergy, to lay the foundation for self-consciousness. No identity can exist with no knowledge of history, no living culture can survive with no comprehension of religious heritage, with no definition of what religion was in the past. To create a new cultural context, we just have to understand how culture has been created.

Dr. Luca Baraldi

Conservator of cultural heritage and religious historian of cultural and religious historian, Dr. Baraldi was a tutor of the International School of Advanced Studies of the Fondazione San Carlo and received his Ph.D. at the National Institute of Languages and Civilisations in Paris.