Reflection on the First Biennial Conference “Extended Use of Religious Heritage Buildings” – Venice, Italy 2012

Reflection on the First Biennial Conference “Extended Use of Religious Heritage Buildings” – Venice, Italy 2012

As part of FRH’s 10th-year anniversary celebration and in light of the recent launch of our 5th Biennial Conference “Europe’s Living Religious Heritage”, we’re taking a look back on FRH’s first-ever biennial conference “Extended Use of Religious Heritage Buildings” which took place in Venice, Italy in 2012. This conference brought together 86 heritage professionals and experts from 24 countries to discuss topics related to the theme of extending the use of religious heritage buildings. We’ve asked one of the coordinators of the conference, Oddbjørn Sørmoen to give us his reflection on the conference and how this laid the foundation for FRH’s future biennial conferences.

Oddbjørn is a Senior Advisor of Cultural Heritage at the Church of Norway. He is formerly the Director of the Department for Church Buildings and Heritage Administration and the KA Association for Employers in the Church of Norway and Church-related NGOs. He is also a Founding Member of FRH who was the chair of the FRH Venice Conference Committee.

One year after its foundation, FRH sought to bring together those throughout Europe who shared a common interest in protecting its religious heritage. The goal of the Venice conference was not only to bring these people together to discuss the issues, but to encourage them to create a strong network so that people from all over Europe could work together and share ideas towards this common goal. On this, Oddbjørn states that

This first FRH conference brought together professionals from many fields, denominations and religions and countries, even if the whole of Europe was not yet covered. Venice, off season, was the ideal place to meet, in an atmosphere where the importance of the religious heritage for our time speaks for itself…Many of the speakers came from Venice itself. This engagement with the local, but also international and multicultural community, was at the core of the vision behind the FRH. Venice is built upon multiculturalism, trade, innovation and with an open eye to the world. Going to Basilica San Marco, together with Don Caputo from the Patriarcato di Venezia, for a special visit after dark, was something no one forgets. Him asking us to feel the atmosphere of the dark cathedral, sensing the history and the centuries, before reading the text of the Pentecost, while seeing the mosaics depicting the text being lit one after the other, was really about bringing the heritage to life and putting the religious heritage in the right context.

Oddbjørn points out the importance that participants meeting one another had in the Venice conference and how it was able to strengthen FRH’s network. By brining together heritage experts from all over Europe, they were able to network, share ideas, and discuss ways to work together towards their mutual goal of protecting Europe’s religious heritage.

People really got to know each other and were networking all the time in a relaxed atmosphere…The talks and presentations covered a wide field of interests, but the main reason for the success was the meeting of people with the same interests, motivation and focus, but with different input and experiences.

The success of this conference inspired FRH to continue the tradition of holding biennial conferences in order to continue the conversation that began in Venice. The format of the current Biennial Conference which includes four hybrid events means that the discussions about the challenges to Europe’s religious heritage can be heard by many people all over the world. Currently, the live recording of our first event “Continuity in Function or Use” has been viewed over 650 times and growing, a number not easily attainable in a physical conference. According to our feedback survey, the majority of respondents said that they attended in order to learn about the challenges facing Europe’s religious heritage with over 85% of respondents saying that they would recommend the event. This shows that the message of the challenges facing Europe’s religious heritage is spreading and the motivation to help protect it is growing. The success of FRH’s current biennial conference would not have been possible without the foundation being laid during our first conference in Venice 2012.

The live recording of the first event can be found here.

Registration for the second event of our biennial conference can be found here.



Oddbjørn Sørmoen and Olivier de Rohan participating in the panel discussion.


Panel participants discussing the conference theme.


FRH Advisory Board member, Thomas Coomans admires the local architecture.


Participants Networking during a break at the Don Orione Conference Centre


Participants networking after the panel discussion.

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