Spazio Kor, an audience development strategy from a baroque church in Asti, Italy

Photo2Different artistic expressions, a single interdisciplinary place. Theatre shows, figurative arts, events, meetings… Spazio Kor is the ideal place to create a new cultural experience, an ideal reference point for cultural research and innovation thanks to a new inclusive and participatory approach in the re-use of cultural religious heritage. Continue reading

Norway: tourists wearing and tearing the stave churches

Many ancient churches in the world started off as simple wooden structures. Through time and increasing wealth of the Church and communities, most of them were replaced with stone buildings. Wooden churches, also known as stave churches in different parts of Europe, are therefore rare and offer unique insights into our heritage and history. However, little is done to preserve this ever so distinguishing heritage for future generations.

Lom stave church

Lom stave church is one the most visited churches in all of Norway. The use of carpets can be a smart move to mitigate mechanical wear and tear to surfaces. But what happens with the floor beneath when we trudge around with our soaked clothes and shoes? Photo: Fredrik Berg.

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The Fortified Churches of Transylvania, UNESCO Heritage, Where To?

Dobarca - Photo by Alexander KloosThe South-eastern part of Transylvania is renowned for its fortified churches built since the 13th century. These served as a defence form until the last Ottoman incursion into Transylvania, 1788. The fortified churches are specific to the Saxon and Szekely villages located in this area, and are part of the European phenomenon of fortified churches.

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Unique 19th-Century British Church in Pontresina reveals its charm for visitors

NINETEENTH-CENTURY BRITISH VISITORS AND THEIR CHURCH IN PONTRESINAHistoric English church architecture in Switzerland highlights the importance of the 19th-Century summer seasons by presenting in the Museum Alpin Pontresina some well-known British personalities who visited Pontresina and the built heritage that they left behind but which sadly no longer exists.
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Baudelo Abbey Or A Gothic Revival In Ghent, Belgium

Champagne and croquettes are served to a public of hipsters in an ecclesiastical setting where once monks contemplated and served the Lord. After some years of quiet decay, abandoned and at the edge of contemporary city life, the church of Baudelo Abbey in Ghent, Belgium, is rejuvenated.

Image of the interior

Image of the interior

Black and white marble join contemporary interior design with the eighteenth century outline of the building. A fashionable checkered floor hiding the new heating system complements the ionic capitals and black architraves. Baudelo Abbey is a testimony of monastic architecture during the Counter-Reformation in modern day Belgium. The original Cistercian abbey was founded in the early twelfth century near Klein Sinaai – an allegorical desert to the north-east of Ghent. During the years of the Calvinist Ghent Republic (1577-1584) both the abbey and its refugium within the city walls were destroyed. Some years after the fall of the City Republic the monks returned from their exile in Cologne. A new abbey was built on the site of the earlier refugium. The church was constructed in a late Gothic style in the early seventeenth century and underwent an internal redesign by Pieter van Reijsschoot in the second half of the eighteenth century. The recent reactivation of the redundant Baudelo Abbey church follows a redesign as a library in the early nineteenth century. After the abolition of monastic orders in Flanders in 1795, the church shortly inhabited a temple of reason before becoming the location of the central library. Books from all monastic institutions were gathered and displayed in the abandoned building forming the core of the later Ghent University Library. The interior is redesigned to house the books, the Van Peteghem organ, once played by a young Mozart during his visit of Ghent in 1765, was sold. On the outside a new portico in a neoclassical style was added in 1817. However, most of the late building dating back to the early seventeenth century survived, including the turret and its carillon by Hemony. Other parts of the former abbey were reused as a school, a function these buildings hold up to this day. The rest of monastic estate became a botanical garden and is currently undergoing a make-over to a contemporary city park.

Champagne and croquettes are served today to a congregationwhere once wine and host was handed out to monks. Baudelo Abbey in Ghent has recently become a sparkling hub for hipsters, after years of silent decline the abbey church of St. Bernard in Ghent, Flanders, is rejuvenated and once again a place for gathering. Not for monks or anyone following the Order of St. Benedict, but for foodies and hipsters bringing back life to this historic building. Two centuries have passed since the last monks left the premises and for many decades this former house of worship hosted the university library. Yet for some decades the building had been abandoned, a silent witness of a troubled past, hidden in a corner waiting for a rebirth. The author remembers parties being held in the church during the Ghent Festival some fifteen years ago. A unique but temporary experience.

Bernard’s Church with neoclassical portico in late 2016The history of the Cistercian Abbey of Baudelo goes back to the twelfth century. Leaving city life behind him, Boudewijn van Boekel of Ghent went into the desert following a centuries old monastic tradition. The closest equivalent of a desert in the county of Flanders at that time was a place located to the north-east of Ghent today called Little Sinaai. His foundation grew quickly and became an important stronghold of the Cistercian Order in the county. Probably the best known figure from Baudelo Abbey is Willem, the thirteenth century author Van den Vos Reynaerde. The epic tales of a cunning fox later inspired people like Chaucer, Shakespeare and Goethe. In 1578 the abbey fell victim to Calvinists of the Ghent Republic, the monks went in exile to Cologne, Germany, and the buildings were raised to the ground.

After the troubles of the sixteenth century had finally come to an end, the monks returned to Flanders from exile. It was decided to rebuilt the abbey in Ghent, on the site of their original thirteenth century Refugium which had been demolished during the years of the Ghent Republic. The new Abbey Church of St. Bernard, built between 1602 and 1616, is an example of monastic Gothic architecture of the early seventeenth century, a testimony this style was never completely abandoned. An elegant turret was added some fifty years later, supporting a carillon by Hemony. In the eighteenth century the building received most of its current interior, an elegant neoclassical redecoration in black and white marble executed by local architect Pieter van Reysschoot. In 1765 a young Mozart played on the new organ during his father’s tour of the Low Countries. The organ by Van Peteghem from 1763 was ultimately sold in the early nineteenth century. In the aftermath of the French Revolution Baudelo Abbey, as other monastic institutions in Ghent, was abolished in 1795. For a short period the church functioned as a Temple of Reason, but the success of this cult was limited.

St. Bernard’s Church housing the university library in 1853 -  collection Ghent University library

St. Bernard’s Church housing the university library in 1853 – collection Ghent University library

The abandoned buildings were soon occupied by new inhabitants. Students replaced monks as the monastic houses became a school, the estate was converted to a botanic garden and the Church of St. Bernard became a library. Books form all monastic libraries in the city were put together and created what would soon be the foundation of the Ghent University Library. Among the most exceptional pieces are some books of the Ghent school of illuminations and manuscripts such as the Liber Floridus of 1120. Then in the wake of modern architecture a new University Library was conceived and built to the designs of Henry van de Velde. His vision, a concrete formation, is sometimes dubbed the fourth tower of Ghent. After the Second World War St. Bernard’s Church continued as the municipal library, until the books were moved to an abandoned modernist building in a more central location of the city.

04 stad gent

Books in the aisles – collection Beeldbank Stad Gent

For years the former abbey church stood vacant, in an otherwise vibrant part of town. Plans to use the church as a stage for plays and musical performances of the adjacent art school, housed in the other buildings of the former Cistercian foundation, were abandoned due to a lack of funds. The building looked fine, a bit neglected but nothing alarming. Some people, including the author, will remember dancing nights inside the chapel during the Ghent Festival at the turn of the century. Then signs of neglect, recurrent at vacant structures, began to appear. Parts of the vaults were in a bad state and scaffolding was placed inside the church. Externally the wooden turret showed signs of neglect and was restored in 2006. Years passed until in 2015 the building was bought by Trobo NV with plans to convert it to a food market. Baudelo Abbey, since 1936 a listed heritage site including the church of St. Bernard, was renovated and converted in a close cooperation of the architect, a structural engineer and the city’s department for monument preservation.

In February this year, after months of anticipation, the abbey church re- opened its doors, now staging a food market. Originally this was planned for late 2015 but problems with the vaults seemed to have worsened and a stability renovation was needed, ultimately delaying the opening of the food market. Another challenge was the heating. Churches are rarely comfortable places during the cold winter months, a solution had to be found to maintain a comfortable temperature inside the classified church during all seasons. A heating system was installed, hiding under the floor, and covered under a new marble tiles evoking the original eighteenth century interior decoration. The design are by King George Concept, executed by Geert van Beeck of Leuven. A fashionable black and white theme with an abundance of marble was a logic choice regarding the garnishing by Pieter van Reijsschoot already there. Both aisles are now filled by food booths, fifteen in total, whereas the nave remains the location for the benches and a large oval bar. However, the anticipated meal is not spiritual or retained to bread and wine, today G&T, champagne and special beers are served at the bar and the chapels offer a wide range of delicatessen from trendy avocado dishes to Russian – Kazakh cuisine. 03

Baudelo Abbey is a vibrant example redesign for adaptive reuse can safeguard religious heritage. The monastic gardens were adapted to the contemporary desires in the nineteenth century and today again redesigned for current needs. Since its abolition in 1795 the church of St. Bernard was reused as a Temple of Reason, a sanctuary for books and today a hipster hub for food aficionados. Adaptive reuse has safeguarded the building which today is a rare survivor of a monastic church of the Counter-Reformation in Flanders in the Gothic style. The contemporary Jesuit college and chapel of St. Lieven in Ghent was demolished in 1799, erasing this part of local history visually, whereas Baudelo Abbey was revitalized with new purposes. Adaptive reuse involves a redesign. This can be regarded an addition of new layers of meaning reflecting our age rather than a transformation of the building. The conversion of the church into a food market thus becomes a contemporary layer adding to the history and heritage of the site.

Written by Marcus van der Meulen.

Marcus van der Meulen researches reactivation of religious buildings as a preservation strategy and studies church interiors. He is a member of the Centro Studi Ghirardacci, Bologna University, the Society for Study of the Church Interior and member of the FRH Network Committee.


UK: Shake up for Grants for Places of Worship

A major change has been announced in the way that church repair and modernisation projects are funded in the UK by the Heritage Lottery Fund which uses money raised by National Lottery players to help protect heritage. From September 2017, the Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) Grants for Places of Worship programme will close to new applications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Continue reading

The Horsfall Churches: Conserving the Legacy of Liverpool’s Great Church Building Family


By Ian Simpson*

Liverpool is a city which has many wonderful buildings. These include Georgian townhouses, industrial workhouses and an increasing number of bright and shiny modern developments.

It is also well known for its two Cathedrals; the monumental and formal looking Anglican Cathedral, Britain’s biggest Cathedral and the modernist Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, totally different but just as beautiful.

But Liverpool’s religious heritage has much more to offer than these two spectacular showcase buildings. Prime amongst the most important religious buildings are the churches funded and designed by the Horsfall family.

St Margaret Of Antioch Toxteth

St Margaret Of Antioch Toxteth

Charles Horsfall was born in Yorkshire in 1776. Aged 16 he sailed to Jamaica, establishing himself as a commodities trader and becoming wealthy. Returning to England around 1803 he took up residence in Everton (north of Liverpool city centre) where, in 1813, he subscribed to the fund to construct the church of St. George. This church was revolutionary, being the first of Liverpool’s four “cast iron churches”, designed by James Cragg and Thomas Rickman. The interior is built entirely of cast iron whilst the exterior is faced in sandstone; the large slate roof panels sit directly upon the iron frame.

Christ Church (Great Homer Street)

When Charles Horsfall died in 1846 his 13 children, led by his son Robert, founded Christ Church, Great Homer Street, in his memory. The noted architect E.H. Shellard was employed to design what by all accounts was a fine church. Historian James Picton (1873) described it as “a very excellent reproduction of a parish church of the fifteenth century… executed in white stone”. Sadly it did not survive the May Blitz of 1941; no trace of it remains today.

Robert Horsfall was a successful stockbroker who, in later life, became heavily influenced by the Tractarian (Anglo-Catholic) movement within the Church of England. He founded the small church of St. James-the-Less in 1869 for the Tractarians of Kirkdale, a working-class area of north Liverpool. This too was lost in the May Blitz.

St. Margaret of Antioch

Robert commissioned George Edmund Street – who is perhaps today best known for London’s Royal Courts of Justice – to build the church of St. Margaret of Antioch on Princes Road, Toxteth. Consecrated in 1869, the exterior of this simple but attractive brick church holds no clue as to the glories within.

It is difficult to do justice in words to the interior decoration scheme at St. Margaret’s. Practically every square centimetre of wall and ceiling is included within a carefully-designed scheme of paintings and geometrical designs. The chancel ceiling features a host of angels, each with their own musical instrument, in 14th-Century style. There is some excellent stained glass here, including some 1952 work by Nicholson which replaced windows destroyed in WWII. Thankfully the rest of the church came through the War intact; it also survived civil unrest (the “Toxteth Riots”) in 1981 undamaged.

Robert Horsfall died in 1881 and is commemorated in a memorial brass in the chancel of St. Margaret’s.

During the late 19th Century there were tensions between the Tractarian and Evangelical parties within the Church of England, and perhaps nowhere were these more evident than in Liverpool. Many families, the Horsfalls included, had members on both sides of this theological divide. George Horsfall, a younger brother of Robert, was on the other side of the Church of England’s religious divide and was staunchly Evangelical.

Christ Church (Toxteth Park)

See below for key to map

See below for key to map

George Horsfall founded Christ Church in Toxteth Park, a short distance from St. Margaret’s, in 1871. Local architects Culshaw and Sumners were engaged to design this large, highly complex and somewhat eccentric building whose tall, bowed broach spire is visible for several kilometres across South Liverpool. Christ Church contains some very good 20th Century work by local craftsmen, including a stained glass window by Gustave Hiller showing Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral under construction. The reredos and chancel floor are the work of renowned Liverpool ecclesiastical architect Bernard Miller.

St. Agnes’ Church

Upon Robert Horsfall’s death his son Douglas Horsfall decided to build a church in his memory and “which would most readily bring a man to his knees”. Continuing the family tradition of engaging nationally-known architects, he commissioned John Loughborough Pearson to build a scaled-down version of his design for Truro Cathedral on a site in Toxteth Park about 500m from Christ Church.

St. Agnes’ Church was consecrated in 1885 when Douglas was just 29. The similarities with Truro Cathedral are invisible from outside, the exterior being of red Ruabon brick, but upon entering the church they become obvious – the Caen stone interior with its quadripartite rib-vaulting is quite glorious. St. Agnes’ cost £28,000 to build, equivalent to about £3,000,000 today.

Douglas Horsfall’s youth meant that he had many opportunities throughout his life to add to the church. He commissioned the sculptured frieze above the apse in memory of his brother Charles in 1893; based on Van Eyck’s “Adoration of the Lamb”, this was executed by Nathaniel Hitch who carved the reredos of Truro Cathedral. In 1935 he added the West window (featuring his father as St. Chad) to honour the church’s 50th anniversary.

St. Faith’s

St. Agnes’ was not to be Douglas Horsfall’s only Liverpool church. He founded St. Faith’s, Great Crosby, as a spiritual home for the Anglo-Catholics in the north of the city, in 1900. The reredos here is by Salviati of Venice; its depiction of the Crucifixion was denounced as “Popish” by the Evangelicals of the day as factionalism within the Anglican Church continued to simmer.

Douglas also founded the small Chapel of St. Pancras, Sefton Park, in 1906, as a daughter church to nearby St. Agnes’. The dedication is significant as both Agnes and Pancras were child martyrs. St. Pancras’ closed in 1937 and served as the assembly hall for Lidderdale Road School until demolition in 2003.

St. Paul

The final Horsfall church was something completely different. St. Paul, Stoneycroft, was paid for by Douglas Horsfall and designed by Giles Gilbert Scott. Consecrated in 1916, this looming, vast grey edifice is Europe’s largest brick-built church (with over two million bricks) and the only Horsfall church to feature reinforced concrete. Scott used the project as a “test bed” to try out some of his ideas for Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral.

St Paul Stoneycroft

St Paul Stoneycroft

Heritage At Risk

Of the nine churches partially or wholly funded by the Horsfalls six survive. Four of these pose serious and interesting challenges to conservators and are on Historic England’s “Heritage At Risk” register.

Christ Church poses particular problems. Its complex roof structure has made maintenance difficult; in tandem with poor detailing to the rainwater goods this has led to water ingress over the years resulting in dry rot to the roof timbers. A proposal to carry out urgent remediation works is in development and will hopefully proceed in 2018.

A programme of repair works at St. Agnes’ started in March 2017. As well as renewing the south slopes of the roof, some potentially dangerous high-level stonework will be repaired. Some interior stonework and flooring repairs will also be carried out. As part of the preparation for this project a drone survey of the roof was commissioned. This provided invaluable high-definition pictures at a tenth of the cost of hiring a “cherry picker” to take a surveyor up to roof level.

Some cracks appeared within the interior (Caen stone) walls about three decades ago. These were pointed-up in an ugly grey mortar mix at the time but no further action was taken. In the run-up to the current project it was noted that some of these cracks had opened up again, suggesting live movement within the structure, and an urgent investigation was carried out. It was found that the cracks (which did not appear on the external walls) were caused by thermal expansion and contraction of the limestone. A monitoring system is to be introduced which will record atmospheric conditions within the church and inside the walls and then, by computer analysis, correlate these to any future movement. Once the mechanism is fully understood, a solution can be designed and implemented to prevent further cracking.

The newest Horsfall church, St. Paul’s, has been the most problematic. Repairs carried out in 1998 were only partly successful, and by 2013 the flat reinforced concrete roofs incorporated into the brick structure were showing signs of serious decay. The steel reinforcements had failed due to concrete carbonation and water ingress.

These structural problems combined with the cost of heating and a declining congregation led to the abandonment of St. Paul’s in 2014. In April 2017 the building was acquired by the Coptic Orthodox Church which has ambitious plans to repair the building and improve its community facilities.

The surviving Horsfall Churches, built over a period of about a century, are all fascinating buildings in their own right. Together they tell the story of how church design progressed through the 19th Century and of how one family of philanthropists devoted their wealth to the architectural and spiritual development of the city of Liverpool. It is surely right that continued effort and resources should be devoted to conserving these churches for future generations to enjoy.

Key to map:

1.    St. George, Everton

2.    Christ Church, Great Homer Street

3.     St. James-the-Less, Kirkdale

4.    St. Margaret of Antioch, Toxteth

5.    Christ Church, Toxteth Park

6.    St. Agnes, Toxteth Park

7.    St. Faith, Great Crosby

8.    St. Pancras, Sefton Park

9.    St. Paul, Stoneycroft

My thanks to Mrs Kim Stanley of the Diocese of Liverpool for producing the map


Lewis, D. (2000) – The Churches of Liverpool. (Bluecoat Press)

Pevsner, N. (1969) – The Buildings of England: South Lancashire. (Penguin Books)

Picton, J. A. (1873) – Memorials of Liverpool, Historical and Topographical, including a History of the Dock Estate. (Longmans, Green & Co.)

Simpson, I. (2014) – The Parish Church of St. Margaret of Antioch, Toxteth. (St. Margaret’s Church)

* Ian Simpson is the Heritage Officer for the Diocese of Liverpool, a position funded by Historic England as part of the Places of Worship Support Officers programme and has been involved in the care and conservation of historic buildings for several years. He is also a Trustee of the Churches Visitor and Tourism Association, the only UK-wide cross-denominational forum dedicated to best practice in welcoming visitors to churches. In his spare time Ian enjoys travel, photography and the occasional drop of beer.

Ian welcomes correspondence (in English, Spanish or Portuguese) at and his website is at