Opening the Centre for Religion and Heritage at the University of Groningen

By Todd Weir, Director

On 25 October, we officially launched the Centre for Religion and Heritage (CRH) of the University of Groningen with the participation of F.J. Paas, the King’s Commissioner in Groningen. The Former Courtroom at the Faculty of Religious Studies and Theology in Oude Ebbingstraat was filled to capacity with students and scholars, but above all with representatives of the leading Dutch heritage organizations and museums. This was a testimony to the urgent need for scholarly focus on the issue of religious heritage in the Netherlands.

Opening the Centre for Religion and Heritage at the University of Groningen

On the picture René Paas, Dr Mathilde van Dijk and Prof. Todd Weir. Image RD

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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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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.


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

EU Prize for Cultural Heritage

Europa Nostra Awards 2017 announced

On April 5, 2017, the European Commission together with Europa Nostra revealed the 29 winners from the ‘2017 European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europe Nostra Awards’. The awardees represent 18 EU countries, and are being recognised for their excellent and dedicated work in the field of cultural heritage.

As FRH, we want to congratulate all the winners, and are very pleased that seven religious heritage related projects received an award.

These award-winning projects are: St. Martin’s Chapel in Stari Brod, Roof for the ruins of the Monastry of San Juan in Burgos, The Clérgos’ Church and Tower in Porto, Rode Altarpiece Research and Conservation Project, Cultural Heritage and Barrier-free Accessibility project Berlin, Educational programme for Czech cultural heritage, and Jewish Cultural Heritage: Educational programme.

Citizens from around the world could vote online for the Public Choice Award until 3 May and rally support for the winning project(s). The winner will be announced during European Heritage Awards Ceremony on 15 May 2017 as a part of the Europa Nostra congress taking place in Turku, Finland. We are already curious if one of the religious heritage sites will be among the winners!

St. Martin Chapel in Stari Brod, near Sisak, Croatia

St. Martin Chapel in Stari Brod, near Sisak, Croatia

Famagusta’s Religious Heritage: Past, Present and Future

by Michael Walsh*

Famagusta’s story is one that is worth telling and one from which there is yet much to be learned, replete as it is with the contrasts of triumph and tragedy; avarice and devotion; influence and neglect. It is a history from which we learn of the historical complexity and richness of Mediterranean economics, politics and aesthetics, and also become aware of the pressing need that exists for a re-evaluation of the responsibilities of the international community concerning endangered heritage in regions where warfare may have ceased but where a political solution is yet to be found.

Though the city was founded in and around 964, and moved directly into the French sphere of influence in the 1190s, its meteoric rise to prominence did not truly begin until after the fall of Acre in 1291. At this point Lusignan Famagusta, via a negotiated balance of trade between east and west, became one of the principal entrepôts in the E/eastern Mediterranean and also, not insignificantly, the new coronation place of the Kings of Jerusalem. The majestic Cathedral of St. Nicholas in the main square, modelled on Rheims and the great ecclesiastical structures of the Rhinelands, was surrounded by smaller gothic churches of the many orders present in the Medieval city which included Greeks, Armenians, Nestorians, Jacobites, Georgians, Nubians, Indians, Ethiopians, and others.

There was a castle, a palace, and a port from which radiated trade connections with the known world. But Famagusta was also infamous for corruption, political treachery, the slave trade, and murder, so much so that Saint Brigitta preached in the city’s square that divine retribution was inevitable. Dante too wrote of Famagusta in Canto XIX of ‘Paradiso’, mentioning it by name.

At the end of the 14th century, catalysed by the enforced government of the Genoese (1373 – 1464), the decline began from which Famagusta would never fully recover. Trade began to re-route to Alexandria and Beirut while the Black Death cruelly decimated the population. Nevertheless, when the Genoese departed in 1464, Famagusta became a source of renewed interest for Venice which, after a strategic marriage and the subsequent abdication of Caterina Cornaro, acquired the city and the island in 1489. The Senate invested heavily with all the artistry and engineering of the Renaissance to remodel the magnificent walls (which Vasari tells us were constructed by Micheli Sanmichele) and these were completed just as relations with Venice’s Ottoman rivals in the eastern Mediterranean deteriorated and led to war.

The fall of Famagusta came in 1571 when Ottoman commander Lala Mustafa Pasha brought one of the most infamous sieges in the history of warfare to these impregnable walls. A year later, with the starvation of the Venetian garrison and subsequent flaying alive of its commander, the transfer of the city and port to ‘Selim, Ottoman Sultan, Emperor of the Turks, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Shadow of God, Lord of the Earthly Paradise and of Jerusalem’ took place. One botched attempt was made by the Duke of Tuscany to recapture the great city in 1607, but it failed, and from that point to the British takeover in 1878 Famagusta receded into history and the ‘European imagination’ – becoming synonymous with martyrdom in the sense of losing one’s very soul. It was for that reason that Shakespeare’s ‘seaport in Cyprus’ in Othello, was most probably Famagusta. Though Christian travellers were forbidden entrance to the city over the next three hundred years, artists, writers and cartographers could still sketch, describe and depict it from beyond the walls, leaving behind a visual and written record of decline, depopulation and decay catalysed by several crippling earthquakes.

With the next imperial transfer, this time from Sultan to Empress (ie Ottoman Empire to British Empire) in 1878, Famagusta’s fortunes began an upward swing once again. Now, the abandoned city had life breathed back into it: the port was dredged and rebuilt, schools were erected, roads were made, swamps were drained and importantly, the churches, mosques and fortifications of Famagusta came in for considerable long-term conservation projects that spanned seven decades. With Empire, however, also came war. Famagusta, so long ghostly, again became a bustling sea port in the Great War, a centre of military intelligence, and a hospital base (and cemetery) for casualties from the Middle East theatre of operations. Several decades later it was bombed during the Second World War, and then, between 1945-47 housed tens of thousands of Jews in detention camps in the months leading up to the creation of the state of Israel. In the 1950s it witnessed the violent stirrings of Cypriot independence which arrived in 1960, experienced the subsequent intercommunal strife for over a decade, and then bore the brunt of the 1974 invasion of the island by Turkish forces – leaving its suburb of Varosha / Maraş a ghost town to this day.

Famagusta is located just beyond the ‘Green Line’ which divides Cyprus into two and within the self–declared, but internationally unrecognised, ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ which was declared in 1983. Its historic core is quiet again – home to a few businesses and a modest number of inhabitants, its sprawling suburbs host the Eastern Mediterranean University and offer the usual trappings of a university town, while the historic port plies its trade uniquely with Turkey. Though the war finished some decades ago being in an ‘unrecognised state’ means that Famagusta’s religious heritage (and archaeological sites etc) are now virtually ignored by the international community. How, the argument goes, can one work legally in a state which came into existence illegally?

Conservation of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste

Conservation of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste

Accordingly in 2008 and again in 2010 the Walled City of Famagusta was nominated and placed on the World Monuments Fund ‘Watch List’ of endangered global heritage sites, not because it was in a war zone, but because it was in an area characterised for debilitating and long-term political stalemate. In 2012, following patient and cautious trust building measures, the preparation of several preliminary reports, and a number of international conferences on the subject (in Paris, Budapest and Bern) emergency interventions began with a pilot project funded by the World Monuments Fund, Nanyang Technological University Singapore and the Famagusta Turkish Municipality. This resulted in the safeguarding of the important mural of The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste in the Church of St. Peter and Paul. The project was published, educational materials created to accompany it in local schools, and a documentary film made.

Orthscan of the Carmelite Church of  St. Mary

Orthscan of the Carmelite Church of St. Mary

The value of the project had not only been to protect the painting but to show that it could be done. Over the following two years the same team then turned its attention to the extensive interior decorations of three other 14th century ecclesiastical structures – the Armenian Church, St. Anne’s and the Carmelite Church of St. Mary Now a large international team drawn from 14 nations embarked on a trans-disciplinary project working in a range of scholastic pursuits, from Armenian archives to virtual reality; from chemical analysis to complexity theory; from art history to international law, and so on. Encouragingly discussions also began on returning the Armenian Church to the Armenian community of Cyprus for worship on special feast days, as is currently practiced at the nearby Agios Exorinos Church for the Greek Orthodox community. Foundational survey work was also conducted in the Orthodox church of Agia Zoni (especially to protect the mural of Saint Michael Fig 5) and the ‘Underground Church’ outside the Martinengo Bastion (with special emphasis falling on the painted heraldic devices).

Armenian Church Virtual Reality Tour

Armenian Church Virtual Reality Tour

Lastly, a non-invasive 3D modelling project was completed in St. George of the Greeks and this has since been published, while much more advanced Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality models are currently being built in Singapore.

The depth and range of academic work, I believe, was essential in appreciating and understanding what Famagusta was, and is. Combine this, then, with the knowledge that in a 2008 survey 92 percent of Greek Cypriots and 72 percent of Turkish Cypriots believed that protecting each other’s cultural heritage was an important way to improve understanding over the political, ethnic and religious dividing lines of Cyprus. In 2015 the United Nations (UNDP-PFF, at the behest of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage) took over responsibility for the protection of the ‘Martinengo Cluster’, incorporating the four churches within it which had been at the heart of the WMF / NTU / Municipality projects.

Famagusta’s unique story, its priceless treasure of human experience, its fragile tangible remains, its proximity to war torn Syria, and its current international isolation, offer us much food for thought. What can we learn about ourselves when studying Famagusta’s long departed cultural and ethnic heterogeneity, or when examining it as a remnant of imperialism and colonialism, or a site of contemporary memory and mourning? Additionally, it presents us with a compelling and urgent case study for the careful revision of international law as it currently exists relating to the protection of cultural heritage in post-conflict (but as yet politically unresolved) regions. The current status quo is unacceptable while the pilot projects led by the long-term WMF / NTU Singapore / Turkish Municipality of Famagusta collaboration demonstrate that it is unnecessary. Andrew McCarthy, Director of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, Cyprus, offered us a clinical assessment saying

although archaeologists and historians are often uncomfortable and unprepared to deal with the intricacies of international law, negotiating the legal landscape is a simple fact of life in Cyprus. That said, just knowing the laws is not enough as Cyprus has become a special case requiring special treatment. The situation necessitates a custom-tailored solution to fit the situation in Cyprus.

The editors of a special 2015 edition of the Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies entitled “Occupied with Saving the Past: Advancing the Preservation Agenda in Northern Cyprus” concluded in a similar manner

The current political and legal situation on Cyprus hinders excavation, conservation, and preservation of sites and monuments that are not just important to the people of Cyprus—both Greek and Turkish—but to the world. While we must obviously live in the present, we must also strive to better understand and protect the remains of the past. Only by doing so now can we ensure the world’s heritage for the future.

The pilot schemes rolled out in Famagusta between 2012-2015 showed the value of international academic collaborations with NGO’s and local authorities and dismissed the notion that ‘scholars of the past are ill-equipped to deal with the political entanglements of the present.’ With this in mind I believe scholars and engaged citizens should begin long term planning for this magnificent city in toto in the event, or absence, of a solution to the Cyprus Problem. Additionally, I believe politicians (locally and globally) should concede that the heritage of Famagusta should not be asked to wait for a wider solution to the Cyprus Problem with all its inherent displacement and property issues. Instead efforts should be made to create strategies to protect, appreciate and fund heritage interventions and to contemplate new management and education potentials. With the good-will of NGO’s, universities, local authorities and special interest organisations, much can be done to ensure the Future of Religious Heritage in Famagusta so that it does not get added to an already long list of irreparable losses on the island. But it will require a new type of thinking, one which I feel confident may exist within the current membership of the FRH forum.

*Michael Walsh is associate professor at Nanyang University, Singapore. He was previoulsy employed at Eastern Mediterranean University (Famagusta, Cyprus) where he successfully nominated Famagusta for inclusion in the World Monuments Fund Watch List (twice) and acted as team coordinator for the United Nations project ‘Cultural Heritage Data Collection in the northern part of Cyprus’. Michael was Associate Chair (Research) at ADM from 2012 – 216 and is currently fellow of both the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Historical Society. Professor Walsh is a member of FRH.

Maintain your Heritage: Fighting a Culture of Neglect

by George Allan*

All over Europe, the building conservation movement is confronting the need to find new ways to conserve churches no longer needed for worship. This is a huge challenge which deserves to succeed.

But alongside this is a more basic problem that threatens the success of this effort, at least in some countries, including the UK. Churches must be prevented from going out of use because of neglect. Unless a major effort is mounted, many churches have no future – either as churches in use, or as anything else, because the resources to rescue them from neglect simply do not exist on the scale required.

I estimate that the Church of England’s 12,000 historic churches now have a cumulative repair backlog of £1.5bn, (€1.77bn) which is growing at the rate of at least £70M (€82M) a year.

Maintain our Heritage was founded in 1999 to campaign for better maintenance, across the whole spectrum of building types, by a group of conservationists, academics and journalists. The work of Monumentenwacht in the Netherlands was a major inspiration for us.

We believe that the UK’s major conservation institutions – notably Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund – focus virtually all their energies, funds and professional resources on the expensive rescue of ‘buildings at risk,’ often in very poor condition after periods of avoidable neglect.

They do this by perpetuating their long-standing refusal to use their powers to give grants for maintenance, focussing all the available funds instead on repairs – so that the more dilapidated and visibly “at risk” a church is, the more likely it is to receive such grants.

A Culture of Neglect

This, and other factors, has created a culture of neglect. Small rural parishes struggling to give routine care to their church will get no support from these institutions and we have heard of parishes deciding to close down after receiving an estimate for £40,000 (€47,200) worth of repairs for which they are unwilling to make the fundraising effort. In remote rural areas, the church is often the last communal building left after decades of depopulation and its closure can be a catastrophe for the entire population of the area, both for church-goers and others.

Against this background, we set out to campaign for the more efficient application of resources to maintenance. Our founding principle is that any historic building not receiving routine, preventive maintenance is by definition ‘at risk’. By that standard, most historic buildings in the UK are at risk – often long before any more overt threat to their future emerges.

Between 2002 and 2003, we carried out a pilot scheme of a Monumentenwacht-type service in Bath, for all types of historic building. [see photo] This was well received, and although we knew it could not be replicated directly in the UK, for financial and other reasons, we established that there were no technical reasons why such a service could not be provided.

In 2006, we published the results of a major research project, Putting it Off, which analysed the reasons for the culture of neglect. It found that this is not confined to churches or historic buildings; Britain neglects all its buildings: schools, museums & galleries, housing. Other sectors are no better, and almost every year people walking along a UK street are killed by masonry falling from neglected buildings.

A recent study by the Edinburgh World Heritage Site and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) even found that 72% of buildings in the centre of the city needed repairs.

GutterClear in Gloucester

One practical outcome of our Bath pilot was “GutterClear”, a church maintenance promotion scheme in the nearby Diocese of Gloucester, home to 400 of the most important churches in Britain.

The problem is that although Church of England parishes are required to maintain their churches, they often fail to do so, either trying mistakenly to save money, or for lack of volunteer help to reach the often inaccessible heights of their church.

Similar schemes had been set up in other Dioceses but what is unique about GutterClear is that it emphasises the role of competitive contractors and runs with minimal cost.

It works by making it easy for any place of worship (of any denomination or faith) to use the services of a number of accredited local maintenance contractors, working to a standard specification and contract terms, to clear and test every gutter and downpipe regularly, thus dealing with the single most potent source of repair bills. The contractors take “before and after” digital photos, and report back on any problems they see. Some use traditional ladders, and some use mobile access platforms. [see photos]

The scheme is not subsidised, as the parishes using the system deal directly with the contractor and pay the full cost of the service, for which they receive a competitive individual quotation, while remaining free to use any of the contractors – or make their own arrangements as they wish. A web site supports the scheme and enables parishes to seek quotations from the contractors at the click of a mouse. The costs of administering the scheme are low, and are met from funds raised at dinner with HRH Prince Charles, at his home in Clarence House, London, in 2007.

Changes Ahead

Happily, there are now signs of change.

First, the UK Government has appointed an expert review of the “sustainability” of the current repair funding for Church of England churches. Details are now emerging and it is likely that the review will insist on far better standards of maintenance. Schemes such as GutterClear and its equivalents may be created in every Diocese. There are also moves to enable Dioceses to take over the management of parish churches. A vigorous six-year programme of training of parish volunteers by SPAB is, however, sadly coming to a close.

Secondly, the National Churches Trust, a major grant-giving charity, has started a pilot programme to promote routine maintenance in Yorkshire, and has also created a nation-wide grant scheme for small maintenance works for churches . Both of these schemes are funded by the Pilgrim Trust , a private charity, which has rightly decided that its funds available for churches are more effectively spent on maintenance than repairs.

Thirdly, another pilot maintenance scheme – with similarities to Monumentenwacht – has been set up for all historic buildings in Stirling in Scotland, by the Stirling City Heritage Trust , and funded by Historic Environment Scotland.


Looking outwards to the rest of Europe, we draw encouragement from the many successful maintenance schemes in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium and keep in touch with these, hoping we might develop into a more formal network. We are also keen to contact anyone in other counties without such initiatives, who might be interested in making a start.

Our experience suggests that the path towards a maintenance-led culture can be long and hard – but at least, we have on our side the overwhelming financial and conservation logic of maintenance, which becomes all the more apparent as resources tighten and the inherent wastefulness and unsustainability of the neglect-and-repair cycle becomes painfully apparent.

*George Allan has been a campaigner for historic buildings since his days as a law student. During and after his career as a commercial solicitor in London, he set up local environmental campaigns in London and Kent and helps SAVE Britain’s Heritage on national issues. He was also elected to Islington Council in London and took a full part in its planning and conservation decisions for more than 16 years.

George has always felt the need to campaign for maintenance and co-founded Maintain our Heritage in 1999. He combines his love of European travel with a passion for running and organ music.

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