Lantz, Carolina, “The church as an intangible heritage”

Works of art, like paintings and architecture, often have a deeper meaning than an untrained eye can see. There can be a symbolic content, visible only to those who understand it. This is the case when it comes to church buildings and inventories. In my master thesis Kyrkan som immateriellt kulturarv – en studie i kulturvårdens förhållningssätt till liturgiska värden (The church as an intangible heritage – A study of liturgical values and the approach to them by the conservation field), written at department of conservation at University of Gothenburg, I have examined how these non-material aspects of churches are handled in case of changes to the church building.

In Sweden today a big part of the cultural heritage work concerning churches, is based on a cultural historic characterisation and assessment document, made for each individual church. It is supposed to, among other things, be used in support of decisions concerning changes in the building. Studies have shown that these assessment documents in many cases have an insufficient focus on intangible heritage. My study shows that the intangible heritage is also overlooked in the decision making concerning churches. Even though the Swedish National Heritage Board recommends considerations of the intangible heritage, there are no recommended ways to do so.

My study shows that the Church of Sweden has a symbolic relation to the church buildings. The congregations also need to be able to use their buildings, which sometimes means that they have to be changed to comply with the Church Order. The field of conservation and cultural heritage approaches churches more as buildings than symbols, and the inventories as material things and not what they communicate. They have no, or at least do not show any, understanding of what the stakeholders consider important.

In my thesis, I have created concepts about various liturgical values, which are possessed by the things that the congregations need to be able to worship according to the norms set by the church of Sweden. I have considered these kinds of values intangible according to UNESCO’s convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, because rituals are intangible heritage, and the objects associated to the intangible heritage are part of it. Liturgical symbols are narrative, like a wordless language which could be considered intangible. If the liturgical values are intangible according to the convention, they should be treated that way. This kind of cultural heritage must be allowed to change and be transmitted from generation to generation. This means that the rituals and other events in the church are the primary heritage according to the convention, and the material objects are secondary (not said that it is not important). Therefore the churches should be allowed to be altered to serve the current Church Order.

The conclusion of the thesis is that the conservation field has ambitions to preserve intangible heritage and thereby the liturgical values, but they do not have sufficiently developed methods to do so. My concepts about the liturgical values could be used to include the intangible heritage in the cultural historic characterisation and assessment document. Nevertheless, it appears that most cases of change in churches increase the liturgical values. With more developed methods this could be achieved in a more effective way and without too many administrative detours.

Carolina Lantz

Bachelor of Arts in History of Art and Visual Communication
Master of Science with a major in conservation