The Netherlands: Newly launched church inventory site attracts church owners and the press alike

The Netherlands: Newly launched church inventory site attracts church owners and the press alike

Although the effects of secularization are being felt in many places all over Europe, the way to react and deal with them is often country specific. This is especially true for the use of churches and their interior. Structures that have grown historically and nationally, make people and governments react differently to (former) holy places and objects.

In the Netherlands the government is largely absent, which has currently led the Dutch having to make clear choices in relatively little time.

Buildings and interior are owned by the parish or congregation and its costs are mainly paid through voluntary contributions. There is no established church or church tax system as in other countries. So if the number of parishioners is too low, it is generally decided that a church will be closed.

This has enormous consequences. In a country with a high density of churches combined with a secularization that has been much more pronounced than in other countries, up to 90% of the churches could close in the coming ten years. Put in concrete numbers: In the archdiocese Utrecht alone, which is a central and densely populated part of the Netherlands, its cardinal expects closure of 280 out of the existing 300 churches.

And it is not only the buildings themselves. Inside of them are about half a million (!) of objects that could be damaged, forgotten, stolen, or go missing, if not properly taken care of. In some cases their value will mainly lie in their proven service for the parish or congregation, in others their art historical, cultural or sacred value calls for protection and careful preservation.

Printscreen website Kerkcollectie digitaal

Key, first of all, is to know about the existence and the value of as many objects as possible. The Museum Catharijneconvent, the national museum for Christian heritage and history in the Netherlands, has an excellent team that is specialised in drawing up inventories and assessing the value of (obsolete) collections, so that appropriate measures can be taken. To help them manage this gigantic task, the museum has developed guidelines for value assessment (so-called Guidelines on Ways of Dealing with Religious Objects, which have been in use since 2011) and a platform that enables a reallocation of religious objects (called Supply and Demand for Religious Objects).

On top of that, a digital platform was very recently launched, the Church Collection Online (in Dutch: Kerkcollectie digitaal). It is a practical registration toolkit that is not publicly accessible, but will be, in co-operation with the museum, used by church owners themselves to register, manage and ultimately understand their collection better.

It is the first time in the Netherlands that the user community is involved on such a large scale in preserving heritage. For sure, awareness building is important in this process as well: religious heritage is the most endangered heritage in the Netherlands, but only recently have church owners begun talking openly about the situation in their parishes and congregations. Media coverage and a bit of good timing might hopefully also lead to more public awareness: an article about the platform’s launch in one of the main national newspapers De Volkskrant just before Christmas caused the museum’s phone line to be red-hot in an instant.

Press release Museum Catharijneconvent (in Dutch)

Newspaper article in De Volkskrant (in Dutch)

Website Museum Catharijneconvent – Heritage (in Dutch)

Interview on Radio1 national radio (in Dutch)

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