FRH announces the overall winner and finalists of the Religious Heritage Innovator of the Year 2023

FRH announces the overall winner and finalists of the Religious Heritage Innovator of the Year 2023

Brussels, 18 December 2023 – Future for Religious Heritage is delighted to announce the 2023 overall winner and four finalists of the Religious Heritage Innovator of the Year 2023, an annual award recognising the best European projects to protect, enhance and promote our historic places of worship.

The 2023 edition ran from 28 June to 30 November 2023. After a thorough evaluation process, the jury chose the best projects on 8 December 2023, based on the five pillars of the European Commission’s Framework for Action for Cultural Heritage: cooperation, innovation, inclusion, resilience and sustainability.

The competition jury was composed of Anne Grady (Head of Development with the National Museum of Ireland to the CULT Committee of the European Parliament), Gilles Guey (President of the Association of Directors of Culture of French Large Cities and Urban Areas), Justin Kroesen (Professor of Cultural History at the University of Bergen), Greg Pickup (Chief Executive of  The Churches Conservation Trust) and Florian Trott (Managing Director of the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe).

A special publication featuring the winning and finalist projects will be released soon. The award ceremony of the Religious Heritage Innovator of the Year will take place in the context of the 2024 FRH Conference (22-24 September in Krakow, Poland).

Winner – York Minster Precinct Neighbourhood Plan by the Chapter of York(United Kingdom)

The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St. Peter in York, better known as York Minster, is one of England’s most iconic buildings, welcoming over 700,000 visitors a year. In 2018, the Chapter of York (the Minster’s governing body) embarked on the creation of an updated masterplan to ensure the financial and environmental sustainability of the Cathedral and its precinct as well as the craft skills needed to address its restoration and maintenance.

The new plan was developed through Neighbourhood planning, an important tool in England, giving the local community the power to shape the development policy in their area. This is the first time a Neighbourhood Plan has been used to create planning policies in a complex cultural heritage setting such as York Minster, a Grade I listed building with international status. The York Minster Precinct Neighbourhood Plan was officially adopted in June 2022.

Model of the future “Tech Hub” of the planned Centre of Excellence for Heritage Craft Skills and Estate Management. Photo: York Minster.

The most ambitious project of the approved plan is the creation of a Centre of Excellence for Heritage Craft Skills and Estate Management, which will safeguard ancient craft skills for future generations. This will consist of a “Heritage Quad” and a “Technology Hub”. The first will provide accommodation for international exchange visitors and apprentices, and the second will adapt existing buildings to serve as facilities for the development of craft workshops and as a place for the public to better understand heritage crafts.

In a unanimous decision, the jury chose this project as the overall winner for focusing on timely objectives such as decarbonisation and energy self-sufficiency, while linking it to aspects such as citizens’ well-being and mental health, and for the way the local community was involved in shaping and delivering the plan’s future projects.

Finalist – International Burial Grounds Survey by AG Intl Ldt & Church of England (United Kingdom)

In 2020, the Church of England launched a pilot project to digitally map and collect information from all cemeteries in England and make it accessible to the public. Three years later, they have been able to expand their model to other countries, such as Cyprus, where cemetery mapping is underway. The ultimate goal is to extend the mapping of burial grounds to the whole of Europe.

On the left, a person walks through the cemetery with a scanning device. On the right, a map of a cemetery and a search menu. Photo: Tim Viney/AG Intl Ltd.

The project is based on the use of state-of-the-art technology for the 3D mapping of cemeteries. The first steps include a tour of the cemetery with a scanning device, photographing the gravestones and scanning church archives. All this information is then brought together in a digital map showing the exact location of the graves, church and memorials; information about the person buried in each grave; and data about the biodiversity of the area.

To carry out the mapping of the cemeteries, the project has involved local communities, including schools, colleges, local voluntary associations, neighbours, people from the parishes, etc. providing them with training for the tasks requested and also taking the opportunity to further educate them about cemeteries, not only as burial places, but as part of our heritage and a resource for researching our past.

The jury noted the potential of this project to become an unparalleled resource for European genealogy, and researchers will have access to concrete data on various aspects related to cemeteries.

Finalist – The Triegel-Cranach Altarpiece on Naumburg Cathedral’s Marian Altar by Vereinigte Domstifter zu Naumburg und Merseburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz (Germany)

Naumburg Cathedral is one of the most beautiful and most important religious monuments of the High Middle Ages in Germany, listed since 2018 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “Triegel meets Cranach” is one of the cathedral’s most recent projects, which has returned a 16th century altarpiece painted by Lucas Cranach to the west choir where it once stood.

Triegel-Cranach altarpiece in the west choir of Naumburg Cathedral. Photo: Charlotte Tennler

The central panel of the altarpiece had been lost during the Reformation, when a group of iconoclasts broke into the cathedral, destroying numerous objects and works of art. Almost five centuries after this event, the cathedral decided to restore the altarpiece, making a new central panel that would fit harmoniously with the two preserved wings from the 16th-century. The restoration was commissioned to Michael Triegel, a prominent artist of the New Leipzig School. The result was a new central panel whose deliberate modernity does not leave people who do not belong to any religious denomination untouched.

While many welcomed the return of the restored altarpiece to the west choir, Germany ICOMOS expressed concern about the altar’s negative impact on the west choir, claiming that it drew attention away from the cathedral’s famous medieval donor sculptures and stained glass windows, which should be the focus of attention. The debate became national and even international in scope, threatening the cathedral’s UNESCO World Heritage status.

The judges appreciated the extraordinary and exemplary effort of Vereinigte Domstifter, the foundation that manages this historic building, to document the history of Cranach’s altar, the place it had occupied, what the main panel had represented and the legitimacy of its return to the west choir.

Finalist – Jews of Czechia: Yesterday and Today by Miller Mosaic, LLC (USA)

“Jews of the Czech Republic: Yesterday and Today” aspires to become the first documentary to deal with a still largely unexplored event of the Nazi occupation of the Czech Republic during the Second World War: the extensive rescue of Jewish artefacts.

Prayers for Maria Theresa – Maisel Synagogue Prague. Photo: Phyllis Zimbler Miller.

The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was the only Nazi-occupied country where Jews were allowed to collect cultural and religious objects on a large scale and catalogue them to create a museum collection. A general idea still prevails that the collection was created for a future ‘Museum of an Extinct Race’ in Prague. Among the many documents saved, there were 1,564 Czech Torah scrolls which were sold in 1964 to a buyer in the United Kingdom. Many of these scrolls were restored and distributed to Jewish communities throughout the world. 

Now Phyllis Zimbler Miller and her daughter, Yael K. Miller, are determined to find out why so many objects were saved from destruction at a time when Jewish culture was to be erased from Europe by the Nazis and what has happened to all the scrolls that were shipped from Prague.

The jury praised the determination of the producers to shed light on this chapter of Jewish history, as the documentation and interviews conducted for the documentary will be of great use for the further study of Jewish culture in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia during the Second World War.

Finalist – Monasteries: Past, Present and Future by Patrimonio para Jóvenes (Spain)

Spain is home to 751 monasteries where approximately 8739 nuns and monks live. Each year, Patrimonio para Jóvenes (Heritage for Young People) offers a young person between 18 and 25 years old the opportunity to embark on a journey to discover this monastic wealth by visiting several monasteries.

A group of young people during a visit to a monastery. Photo: Patrimonio para Jóvenes

The monasteries they tour range from those that are just ruins, to those repurposed as cultural venues or even luxury hotels, and those with an active religious community in which their traditional functions and uses have been preserved. After completing their journey, the grantees have to share their experiences and what they have learned about these places with other young people through a public presentation which must be linked to their abilities and/or professions.

This one-year programme allows young people to learn and experience first-hand the difficulties of managing such large historic buildings, the challenges of maintaining their financial sustainability, and the activities and links with the local communities. It also enables them to experience the intangible heritage of these monasteries by participating in the liturgical hours and daily life of these places.

The jury underlined the importance of this kind of programme, as involving young people is key to the future of our cultural heritage buildings and traditions. This programme allows them to discover first-hand the reality of monastic heritage and to experience life in those monasteries that are still active. It also allows them to develop their professional skills through the final presentation of their journey and become ambassadors of the places they have visited.

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