Europe seeks new action to save religious heritage

The Europe-wide concern was clear to see at the FRH Conference titled “Extended use for religious heritage” last week, where 86 experts from 24 countries gathered in Venice to discuss the future for religious heritage in Europe. Pioneering the international discussion on ‘Extended use’, meaning finding community and cultural functions and uses that can co-exist with, or add significance to religious activities, the discussions covered topics including authenticity of the heritage, interpretation, material impacts and the flexibility of different religions.

‘Extended use’ can increase resources and support vital to keeping historic places of worship open. An increasing number of European religious heritage buildings are at risk. Many are in a state of disrepair and as a result are being closed, sold, torn down, or changed beyond recognition. Congregations in Europe are shrinking and others are challenged with managing mass-tourism to their buildings. These are threats to the high quality architectural and artistic heritage they hold, and the cultural heritage they represent.

Often small groups of local people are faced with responsibility for the care and management of some of the most important heritage which lies at the heart of our European identity. Having defined the European landscape and cityscape for centuries, these buildings contribute to our way of thinking and belief systems, and our understanding of aesthetics, art and architecture.

Oddbjørn Sørmoen, Chair of the Conference Committee and Director of KA Association for Employers in the Church of Norway and Church-related NGOs, said:
“We took a leap forward, opening the minds of practitioners of the possibilities of extending the use of religious heritage, but also in terms of European co-operation to progress in this field. FRH provides the only communication platform in Europe, for a field of heritage with experts thirsting for knowledge exchange.”

Olivier de Rohan, President of FRH and of the Sauvegarde de l’Art Français said:
“FRH is a young organisation with much energy and enthusiasm. I saw the delegates leave the event with a sense of excitement and determination to keep the discussions going in their home countries, which should be of great value to all of us.”

The speakers included Don Gianmatteo Caputo, Director of the Pastoral Tourism and Cultural Heritage for the Patriarchate of Venice and Director of Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra, Thomas Coomans, Professor at the University of Leuven, Department of Architecture and the Raymond Lemaire International Centre for Conservation in Belgium, and Lady Frances Clarke, Co-founder and President of Venice in Peril. [See a full list of speakers below.]

FRH is the European network for historic places of worship. The organisation was established in 2011 as an association sans but lucratif (ASBL) in Belgium, following an event in Canterbury 2010, which identified the lack of, and need for, a European platform for communication about this type of heritage.

The conference was generously supported by the Headley Trust.

More information

Contact: Leena Seim, FRH Development Officer,, +44 7822 146 252