Jewish heritage in context of other religious heritage in Europe

Trencin, Slovakia -- a man takes a picture of the former synagogue, with a church and the castle in the background

Trencin, Slovakia — a man takes a picture of the former synagogue, with a church and the castle in the background

 

The focus of Jewish Heritage Europe is — well — Jewish heritage in Europe…. but it is important to see the preservation, restoration, use and re-purposed re-use of Jewish heritage sites in the context of sites of other religious heritage.

Through the Future for Religious Heritage organization, we learn about other initiatives that dovetail in many ways with Jewish heritage issues — from purely preservation and restoration questions and practices, to the re-purposing of buildings no longer used for worship, to issues involving promotion and religious tourism.

FRF and its partners have organized a number of conferences and other meetings addressing these issues, as part of a European Union-funded initiative dubbed ALTERheritage — with ALTER an acronym for Adapting Learning Tools for Europe’s Religious Heritage — founded in 2012 as “a response to Europe’s clear need to build expertise through an interdisciplinary and international approach to developing practicable learning tools for sustainable conservation and management of religious heritage. The project was the first international project led by Future for Religious Heritage (FRH) with European Commission funding.”

An online document now reports on some of ALTERheritage’s initiatives and draws their findings together.

Its introduction stresses that Religious Heritage Preservation is a European Challenge.
 

History has left us with innumerable different places of worship in Europe, often displaying the very highest quality of architecture as well as visual art. Churches, temples, synagogues and other places of worship are records of our shared European history, displaying artistic, architectural and social currents that transcend our modern day borders. They are also invaluable economic, social and cultural resources that need to be preserved, used and interpreted for the benefit of local communities and the wider society alike.

 

Though the specific circumstances in Europe vary greatly, a rising number of countries and denominations experience diminishing congregations. This jeopardises the available funding to maintain and conserve this type of heritage. Thousands of places of worship across Europe are under used or already considered redundant in urban areas as well as in the countryside. Many of them risk demolition or being sold and privatised during the coming decade. Others are not able to cover the costs incurred by the waves of tourists flocking to their monumental buildings. Losing this heritage will not only mean an irreversible large scale loss to the community of a particularly meaningful heritage, but will also stand as a missed opportunity for economic growth and fostering social cohesion.

 

Most professionals charged with looking after this heritage are architects, art historians and conservationists who have little experience of the entrepreneurial side of regenerating the buildings. Conversely, the companies ready to invest in this type of property often lack an understanding of the specific cultural and heritage values and the potential of religious heritage. Moreover, local decision makers, administrators and regulators lack access to international examples of successful projects, which could inspire appropriate solutions. International exchange of experiences to support innovative, respectful and groundbreaking solutions is particularly important in this field where both religious and secular presuppositions affect what is possible, allowed and acceptable for places of worship.

 

The document notes that numerous European players are developing methods, guidelines and tools for both “subtle and complex” conservation and management of religious heritage, designed to “build the capacity of the relevant professionals.” “They are being launched locally and nationally, but are often challenged to reach European impact,” it states.
The ALTERheritage document describes ALTERheritage projects, conferences, and other activities and outcomes and provides links and information on “toolkits”, resources and best practices.
Among specific topics addressed are:

 

— Guidelines on handling redundant objects from religious heritage buildings

 

— Tools to build projects for extending the use of religious heritage buildings

 

— Templates for the evaluation process of religious heritage buildings when facing redundancy

 

— Preserving religious heritage and use in cultural tourism
— Pilgrimage routes as facilitators for religious heritage

 

— Religious heritage conservation: education and management

 

<