Grönwaldt and Drda-Kühn – ALTERheritage: counteracting the threats for Europe’s religious heritage

Grönwaldt and Drda-Kühn – ALTERheritage: counteracting the threats for Europe’s religious heritage

Pirka K. Grönwaldt / Karin Drda-Kühn (media k GmbH)

European religious heritage sites face shared threats like vacancies, redundancies and under-use on the one hand or problems with managing large numbers of tourists on the other hand. In order to alleviate these issues in future it is essential to exchange knowledge and experiences throughout Europe and to find customisable good-practise models. To attain this goal the European Commission has accepted the ALTERheritage (Adapting Learning Tools for Europe’s Religious Heritage) project as a Leonardo Da Vinci partnership within the Lifelong Learning Programme and thus is financing seven European stakeholders, including religious and governmental bodies, universities, charities and businesses.

Since August 2013 ALTERheritage aims at making available the already existing material for vocational learning on religious heritage conservation and management to a larger share of European stakeholders and thus is increasing the capacity of practicing specialists involved in conserving, managing, and regenerating religious heritage sites. In order to accomplish this objective, a series of meetings is hosted by the partners which form the centrepieces of the project and ensure continuous dialogue between the project partners. The meetings offer an opportunity to present and evaluate guidelines, learning tools or methods developed by the partners as well as general international knowledge exchange and site-visits to relevant places of worship which can be seen as best-practise examples.

The limelight topics of the project meetings are chosen by the particular hosting partner, ensuring a wide variety of different topics and approaches to specific challenges of European religious heritage during the project life span. While the first meeting, which was operated by the European network Future for Religious Heritage (FRH) in Brussels in October 2013, mainly was a planning meeting with the aim to introduce the topic to the partners and to encourage relationship-building between them, (up to now) the following meetings focused solely on heritage topics.

The second ALTERheritage meeting took place in Utrecht in November 2013 and was organised by the dutch Museum Catharijneconvent (MCC). The seminar mainly covered the topic of “moveable religious heritage – values and protection” and directed the audience’s attention to the fact that heritage is not only about the buildings but also about musical instruments, bells, garments and hangings as well as valuable books and historic records. Which led to the questions how to deal with this moveable heritage objects in times of closing churches – without putting those historically relevant objects in jeopardy – and which objects should be kept and what should be relinquished.

In March 2014 the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) held the third ALTERheritage meeting in Manchester, which was dedicated to the topic “Extenting the Use of Religious Heritage Sites’”. The meeting included seminars on the significance of tourism for heritage sites, volunteer manage-ment, differences in European funding structures, the introduction of a Regeneration Business Plan Toolkit, as well as site visits – e.g. to a local church which was in the midst of being converted into a community centre for a (by now) non-christian neighbourhood.

The Department of Conservation of the University in Gothenburg organized the fourth ALTERheritage meeting in June 2014. The main topics of this meeting were the Swedish funding and legislation for the protection of churches, international and Swedish perspectives on religious heritage, the churches preservation movement, and guidelines for identification, priorisation and management of values in churches. Site visits presented different good examples, e.g. the conversion of a church into a community center and coffeeshop for people with low income and refurbishment of churches in order to create visitor-friendly spaces. Alterheritage partners were impressed about the many ways how Gothenburg churches are communicated to locals as well as to foreign visitors: an own summer programme communicates events in churches and a map of Gothenburg curches is offered in three languages.

The forthcoming ALTERheritage meeting will take place at Bronnbach Monastery in Germany between 26th and 28th of October and will feature the title “Respect, protect, revive – religious heritage sites and cultural tourism in rural areas”. media k GmbH, the Bad Mergentheim institution in charge of this meeting, chose this topic, as needs and living conditions have been changing in rural areas during the last decades and new approaches for market-oriented development strategies and employment possibilities are urgently needed in order to avoid rural depopulation. Therefore tourism is becoming an even more important economic factor nowadays and religious heritage sites are of utmost importance. While the landscape in these areas is still mainly characterized by agriculture, the inner world of the provincial towns and villages is versatile. This combination offers a perfect basis for cultural and religious tourism – distant from the hustle and bustle of the metropolises – allowing visitors not only to enjoy leisure time and to recharge their batteries, but also to explore the rural cultural and religious heritage sites.

Many rural regional authorities, communities, economical stakeholders and religious / cultural institutions in Germany – and specifically in the Tauber valley – have identified this potential and are seizing the opportunity to boost and revive these rather laggard regions. They are striking new paths, e.g. by optimizing synergies and use of existing resources, by fostering cooperation between touristic agencies, cultural and religious heritage sites and local economy, as well as by supporting small and medium-sized enterprises in general.

Taking actions and adopting new ways will always bear risks. How many actions can be taken without endangering the identity of a place or the dignity of a heritage site? In order to discuss those opportunities and risks of religious tourism in rural areas around 30 European experts will be present at the upcoming ALTERheritage meeting. They will introduce their best practice examples and are available for professional interchange and discussions with attending stakeholders during the public part of the meeting on the 27th.

In the limelight of this seminar will be speeches of operators of cultural touristic networks for stakeholder inclusion at religious sites, talks on religious heritage as a catalyst or beneficiary of tourism trends, religious pluralism and dignity of non-Christian heritage sites as well as a presentation of historic church glass conservation at the International Centre for Cultural Heritage Preservation and Conservation Research (IZKK): event programme.

Although registration periods for the seminar and the open conference part at the Bronnbach Monastery are already closed, a few last-minute-tickets are still available – preferably for interested FRH members (allowing them to combine this event with the FRH conference in Halle, starting at the 29th). If you would like to register or are interested in further information on the German ALTERheritage contribution, please contact

Future ALTERheritage meetings will take place in Spain and in Belgium and the topics will be published on the project website in due time. Please also check the website for more information on the project in general or visit ALTERheritage on Facebook for latest news. For specific information on one of the previous topics or events please contact the respective European partner directly.



Future for religious heritage (FRH), Belgium

Department of Conservation – University of Gothenburg, Sweden

media k GmbH, Germany

KU Leuven / Raymond Lemaire International Centre for Conservation, Belgium

The Churches Conservation Trust, United Kingdom

Sociedad Regional de Cultura y Deporte, S. L. (SRCD), Spain

Museum Catharijneconvent (MCC), Netherlands

Picture credits:

1)       Thomas Coomans – University of Leuven / KU Leuven

2)       Future for Religious Heritage

3)       Pirka Grönwaldt – media k GmbH

4)       Karin Drda-Kühn – media k GmbH

5)       Kloster Bronnbach

6)       IZKK – Internationales Zentrum für Kulturgüterschutz und Konservierungsforschung

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