In Quebec, like in many others countries in Europe, we have to deal with a new phenomenon, the church closures and the parishes diminishing. This situation is no longer an only ecclesiastical problem but a challenge for the society at large. This situation raises the problem of the conservation and the conversion of the religious buildings but also all the questions around the future of the religious objects.
We don’t actually have any real policies to deal with this problem. But recently, the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec made an announcement about his interest to develop a concerted strategy between all the people and associations concerned by the religious heritage. In the same way, la Société des musées québécois (an association who regroup the museums of Quebec) made a specific recommendation about the urgency to find a solution to protect the religious objects.
For the Société des musées québécois, the future of the religious objects is a preoccupation since many years now. In 2009, the Société began an inventory of the religious objects conserved in situ. The objective of this project is to identify and describe the religious objects still conserved in open churches. To be selected these objects must have a historic and artistic value for the national heritage. All the information and photography are diffused on the website of the Government of Quebec in the Répertoire du patrimoine culturel du Québec.
But this inventory project has no concrete effect on the churches closures. When a church closes, the religious objects are taken out of the building for storing, sale or destruction, in these cases the only thing that survives is the virtual information. Already, some objects present on the website are no longer conserved in the church or anywhere else and sometimes, they no longer exist at all.
The other problem about religious objects in Quebec is the important influence and role of the parish in our territorial development, history and social culture. The foundation myth of Quebec is intimately connected to the catholic religion. Each parish has his specific history, specific heritage and identity and, during many years, the citizens were more attached to their parish than to their city or village. Consequently, in the determination of the religious heritage objects, we are confronted with the problem to chose between national or parish religious heritage. The national museums are not interested in taking any kind of religious objects and most of the citizens do not want to see these objects leave their region. The perception of the religious heritage is not the same for the expert and for the parish community. For the parishioners, the object is important because it is a witness of the family and parish history even if it doesn’t have a financial value. In this situation the questions are: which objects should be kept? Which cultural values do these objects represent? Why and where should we keep them?
This year, the Musée régional de Vaudreuil-Soulanges, with the support of the Société des musées québécois, begins a new project to collect information and oral history about some of the religious objects kept in different parish to try to identify another kind of cultural value and to try to understand the construction of these different values. The participation of the parishioners and the knowledge of the local history are an important part of this project.
The work and the Guidelines on ways of dealing with Religious Objects produced by the Museum Catharijneconvent are a real inspiration for the success of this project even if the situation is very different in many ways between Europe and Quebec.
We hope this project will help our public institutions and governments to be more concerned and effectives in the way to find a solution for the future of religious objects.
Université du Québec à Montréal
Musée régional de Vaudreuil-Soulanges