2013 Utrecht Seminar topic: Movable religious heritage – Values and protection

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?

The Partnership

In 2010, Museum Catharijneconvent – the national museum for Christian art and culture in the Netherlands, took the initiative to devise fundamental solutions to the challenge with evaluation of religious heritage objects, in cooperation with various partners. These efforts culminated in the publication of the Guidelines on ways of dealing on religious objects. From 2013 onwards Museum Catharijneconvent is responsible for documenting and assessing the value of ecclesiastical art in the Netherlands. In this context, the museum will be focusing mainly on the closures of churches, monasteries and convents, which place a particular strain on the movable religious heritage.

FRH brings practical experiences into the European context, inviting the perspectives of a variety of organisation types, differing religions and denominations and management structures that vary between countries and sectors. The aim is to find new links that can create innovative solutions. The last conference organised by FRH was in Venice, in 2012, on the subject of “extended use of religious heritage buildings” meant finding uses that can co-exist with a continued religious use. Extended use does not always save the interior however, and alternative uses cause even more displacement of the interiors from their original contexts, so decisions must be made on how to manage these effects.

The Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands is at the heart of heritage management in the Netherlands and helps other parties to get the best out of our heritage. They are closely involved in listing, preserving, sustainably developing and providing access to the most valuable heritage in the Netherlands.They are the link between policymakers, academics and practitioners. They provide advice, knowledge and information, and perform certain statutory duties that have been assigned to them.

The event is also supported by the Mondriaan Fonds.