Virtually every country in Europe now deals with a changing religious landscape. Flourishing religious communities abound in many parts of Europe, but there is a general tendency towards a more secular society. More and more churches, monasteries and convents for example, are losing their original function, which puts the cultural heritage held within them in jeopardy.
The Netherlands has witnessed a sharp decline in interest in ecclesiastical and monastic life, which by extension threatens the maintenance and conservation of the buildings and objects, and the future does not look encouraging. The combined memberships of the Catholic and Protestant Churches in the Netherlands are falling by 170,000 each year. The buildings will not all vanish, but if continuing at this rate, by 2050 the Protestant churches will be close to the brink. The same applies to the Catholic buildings in the final quarter of the century. It is estimated that at least 150,000 religious objects will become obsolete in the longer term. Many countries in Europe are heading in the same direction and so international joining of forces and international exchange of ideas and good (and bad) practices is essential to face this great challenge.
We call for creative solutions to manage this trend! Choices must be made: what should be kept, and what should be relinquished? The decisions affect the buildings themselves, but also to their magnificent interiors and the treasures held in them. What are their cultural, historical, financial and public values? How dependent are the values on their physical and social context, and how should that inform the decisions about what to do with them? How can we build a stronger legal protection for the objects?
Photos: © Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht, photo Ruben de Heer