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Doc. 8826 rev.

27 September 2000

Cathedrals and other major religious buildings in Europe


Committee on Culture and Education

Rapporteur: Mr Huib Eversdijk, Netherlands, Group of the European People's Party


      In the context of the “Europe, a common heritage” campaign, this report stresses respect for the religious dimension and the need to consider different models, including multifunctional use, to manage the upkeep of some of the larger religious buildings still in use in Europe.

I. Draft recommendation on the management of cathedrals and other major religious buildings in use

1.       Cathedrals and other major religious buildings are amongst the most significant constructions of the European architectural heritage. With them are often associated a wealth of works of art and furnishings. In most cases they possess a significant historical past and in certain cases this past embraces different religions.

2.        These buildings are particularly vulnerable because of their size, richness, antiquity and tourist frequentation. Their fabric is at the mercy of environmental pollution, storm damage and potential earthquake.

3.        The cost of the proper maintenance and repair of such buildings often far exceeds the resources of the present religious community that uses them.

4.        Some arrangement must therefore be reached between the religious authorities and those concerned (at local and national levels) with the conservation of the cultural heritage. Different models exist - from mediaeval associations such as the Oeuvre Notre Dame in Strasbourg to the Dutch Monumentenwacht that provides a modern maintenance service. Further partnerships should also be sought in civil society, with interested non-governmental associations and with the tourist industry.

5.        The religious communities have very different attitudes to the physical heritage. Some (such as the Orthodox and Catholic Churches) regard the buildings and contents as sacred. Others (such as most Protestant Churches) are very much open to multifunctional use of the premises. These differing attitudes should be respected for major religious buildings that are still in use.

6.        In its earlier work on memorials (Recommendation 898) and redundant religious buildings (Resolution 916), the Assembly concentrated on the physical aspects of the cultural heritage. More recently it has drawn attention to the relationship between church and state (Recommendation 1396). The Assembly feels therefore that it is most appropriate that the religious dimension be recognised as part of the cultural heritage in the context of the present “Europe, a common heritage” campaign.

7.        This campaign involves the whole of Europe. The Assembly is aware of the revival of religious interest in former communist countries and in the moves to restore religious property to the churches. It is concerned that due consideration is given in this process to allocation of responsibility for conservation of the fabric of the major religious buildings that are of cultural importance. Where possible and appropriate the return of historic buildings should be accompanied by return of the estates that used to service them.

8.        Religious communities should for their part build on their long traditions of love of beauty and fine craftsmanship, music, welcome to pilgrims, hospitality, to inaugurate a new form of tourism based on an understanding of spirituality and the role that intangible values have in the cultural heritage.

9.        There is room for solidarity as well as partnership. Countries and religious traditions with more experience and resources should assist those that are less endowed.

10.        The Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i.       examine the various models for the maintenance, conservation and repair of major religious buildings still in use in Europe and draw up a code of good practice for their effective management and recognising the rights and responsibilities of the religious communities;

ii.       organise from time to time conferences at which experience of the management of cathedrals and other major religious buildings in use can be exchanged, and promote the creation of a data base on that subject;

iii.       ask the governments of member states to:

      a. ensure that adequate and appropriate lists are drawn up of major religious buildings and sites of cultural and historical importance (according to the general criteria applied for monument listing);

      b. draw up conservation plans for each major religious monument or site in consultation with the religious authorities involved;

      c. encourage partnerships between the religious authorities, local interest groups, conservation firms and tourist organisations and co-ordinate such initiatives on a broader national basis;

      d. draw on the code of practice and encourage the multifunctional use of religious buildings wherever appropriate;

      e. make sure that adequate funding is available and control provided for the proper maintenance of the major religious monuments.

II. Explanatory memorandum by Huib Eversdijk

A. Previous history

1. The Assembly has on several occasions approached the subject of religious buildings. Earlier reports have covered memorials (Doc. 4542), protection against air pollution and natural disasters (Docs. 5160 and 5624), redundant religious buildings (Doc. 6032) and integrity of collections (Doc. 8111).

2. The Committee on Culture and Education has also been involved in the consideration of problem areas such as the great cathedrals now situated in northern Cyprus, the status of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and the management of pre-Christian monuments such as Stonehenge.

3. The present initiative was launched in 1994 (Doc 7198) by Mr Lopez Henares with the problem of the financing of restoration of Burgos Cathedral in mind. Committee discussion in Lisbon in December 1994 extended the scope to include all religions and to concentrate on (a) scale and (b) sharing of responsibility between religious and secular authorities. On the invitation of his successor Mr Diaz de Mera, a hearing was held on the subject in Avila in March 1999. In the hearing it was noted that priorities included concentrating resources on maintenance so that the buildings can survive without recurrent crises; providing specialist training for the craft and conservation skills required by large culturally significant religious buildings; being responsive to the sacred traditions of the buildings concerned (and these traditions vary from one faith to another, and from one historical tradition to another); encouraging interfaith awareness of their importance.

4. This report follows and builds upon a preliminary paper prepared for the hearing by Peter Burman, Director of the Centre for Conservation, Department of Archaeology in the University of York (UK). The overall aim is to promote awareness of the problems experienced in Europe with regard to the culturally outstanding religious buildings of all faiths; to encourage member Governments to take steps to prepare authoritative lists of such buildings; and to encourage partnerships at national and local levels to ensure the survival of sacred buildings in use.

B. Definitions

5. Cathedrals are emphasised because, historically, they were among the most important buildings created in Europe to the extent that they have qualities of universal cultural value, and this has been recognised by so many of them being inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage List, including Canterbury and Durham (England), Chartres (France), Burgos (Spain). Others, such as Kutna Hora (Czech Republic), Bamberg (Germany) or Strasbourg (France) are the key monuments in World Heritage Cities.

6. Several such buildings are still used for religious purposes even though the religion may itself have changed: for example Syracuse Cathedral, which was formerly a Greek temple, the Lusignan Cathedrals of Famagusta and Nicosia and (for a time) Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which were converted into mosques.

7. Indeed there are many major buildings and places of other faiths throughout Europe and still in use. This is the case for example of the historic mosques in Turkey (especially Istanbul) or Bosnia-Herzegovina (Sarajevo). Important Jewish synagogues dating principally from the 17th to the 19th centuries survive in many European cities, though many (as in Toledo) are no longer in use.

8. The second half of the twentieth century saw the rapid spread of Buddhism in Europe and the Buddhist communities have often focused on developing an existing historic castle or house as a monastery, thereby providing that building with a future.

9. Also included in our qualification “major” are the great monasteries of the Benedictine, Cistercian, Augustinian and Carthusian orders and the Orthodox monasteries for example in Romania, though many are now preserved or romantic ruins such as San Galgano (Italy), Jumièges (France) or Fountains (UK).

10. This report is not limited to the fabric of the buildings, but is well aware of the fact that sacred buildings of all traditions often have sculpture, carving, painted decoration, wall paintings and furniture which are not only of great cultural value in themselves but which are also integral aspects of the buildings and can only be divorced from them with loss.

11. “Major” in the sense of this report means large or requiring considerable investment to upkeep. Thus many Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe may be relatively small but have mural paintings or iconostases of outstanding artistic and historic value and which require painstaking conservation.

12. We should not of course overlook the future of the thousands of more modest or smaller churches, mosques, synagogues and monasteries that survive in profusion across the cultural landscape of Europe. Collectively they are of great importance, and their context in the countryside or as essential elements in town or city is also important. But in the majority of instances we would expect them to survive through essentially local initiatives; however, they should be included in the plans of every Government to ensure the survival of the religious heritage.

C. Context

13. We take as our context the fact that Europe is a richly diverse and rapidly changing collection of national communities with a strong desire to work together, especially in the sphere of cultural heritage. Governments have recognised that cultural heritage is part of the Council of Europe’s mission alongside democracy, the rule of law and human rights. As stressed in the “Europe, a common heritage” campaign, the immaterial side of this heritage should be recognised as being as important as the material. An understanding of religions and respect for religious communities is regarded as being as important as the conservation of religious buildings, and indeed it would be impossible to achieve the latter without sensitivity and awareness of the latter.

14. Nevertheless, we are also aware that there are other specific factors and it may be helpful to list some of them.

15. During the wars of the twentieth century many major religious buildings were damaged or destroyed, to the irreparable loss of Europe as a whole. Many still stand in ruins as in the Kaliningrad Oblast. It must be part of our mission to prevent this from happening in the future, first by striving always for peaceful coexistence but second by encouraging the idea that all major religious buildings are part of the common cultural heritage of European and world citizens.

16. This report is not concerned with the redundancy of religious buildings or with cemeteries and churchyards (these are important subjects and have been dealt with in other reports and initiatives), but we are aware that the practice of religion has in many countries - but by no means all - declined. In such circumstances major religious buildings are more likely to survive if they “diversify”.

17. Another factor is that historical circumstances have always and presumably always will create special situations; for example in the European monarchies there is usually one major religious building which serves as the coronation church (Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam; Westminster Abbey, UK) or which belongs in a special sense to the Crown (Escorial Monastery, Spain; St George’s Chapel Windsor, England); and there are also buildings which serve as the national place of celebration or mourning (St Paul’s Cathedral, London, is regarded as being the “parish church of the nation”), or which contain many of the memorials of a nation’s national heroes, including writers, artists, politicians, military heroes, or women or men who have made some outstanding contribution to the life of a nation.

18. Yet another factor is that countries in Europe vary enormously as to whether or not there is separation of the State from Church or other religion, or whether there is some kind of half-way house, or whether for historical reasons there are strong connexions between the religious authorities and the State; so, to give some examples, since the French Revolution there has in France been a strong separation of Church from State and the buildings, cathedrals and churches, belong to the State and the local authorities respectively; in Germany the situation varies between one Land and another, depending upon historical factors; in Norway and Denmark the official church is the “National Church” and the State picks up the bill for cathedrals and churches and also for the salaries of the clergy who are regarded, in some aspects of their work, as being servants of the State; in Greece the Orthodox Church traditionally has close links with Government and senior politicians; in England, the Church of England (owner of the most prestigious cathedrals and churches) has close links with the Crown and with Parliament, and can even legislate in its own domain of interest, but there is continuous debate as to the wisdom of this system and in practice it is continuously evolving or changing.

19. The notion of continuous change or evolution is indeed critical to the whole purpose and direction of this report. We are not living in the Middle Ages, or in the Age of Reason, or in the Age of Romanticism or Revolution, and we are no longer in the twentieth century, which might from some points of view be considered the Age of Destruction. In a new era we have an opportunity to find new ways, to be for example an Age of Consolidation, an Age of Experimentation, and an Age of Openness. These three ideas will guide our recommendations.

D. Means

Lists or inventories

20. This is a matter, which relates to the whole cultural field. But there is no doubt that, in order to improve the situation of major religious buildings, member States need to have a clear idea of existing religious buildings and sites. Why do we say sites? Principally because the majority of religious buildings have some kind of specific setting: for example the cathedral at Hildersheim (Germany) is important not only for itself but on account of its role in the fortified Domberg, and the worshipper or visitor today can appreciate the historical connexion between religion and the secular power and might; or the cathedral at Salisbury (England), one of the most perfect buildings created in a single campaign in the thirteenth century, is given added value by its situation in a Close or Precinct which contains some eighty houses from the thirteenth century onwards, is surrounded by medieval walls (“a city within a city”), and whose beauty of texture and history, trees and open spaces, and riverside setting has been celebrated by the painter John Constable and many others; or a typical monastery, whether of the Catholic or Orthodox traditions, which will consist of not only the church but of the living quarters of the monks or nuns, the buildings associated with their domestic economy, the rooms associated with their activities of study and scholarship, the buildings for the welcome and accommodation of pilgrims and visitors of all kinds.

21. Therefore we would suggest that States should prepare lists which will show clearly what religious buildings exist which are by analysis and definition an integral part of the cultural heritage; and that these lists should also include the context of the buildings, specifically those aspects which require to be protected, to be maintained, repaired, restored, and sometimes converted for new or ancillary purposes.

22. In making such lists we would ask member States to bear in mind that we now have an opportunity to look back and reflect on the 20th century as a whole; some countries have already begun to take seriously their responsibilities to protect and preserve what is often called the “Modern Heritage” and we would simply draw attention to the fact that many of the key buildings of the 20th century were religious buildings, and that they should be added to the list if informed opinion and analysis shows them to be worthy representatives of the cultural heritage.

Conservation process

23. Now that we have definitively moved beyond the nineteenth century, when there was a tendency to engage in heroic programmes of restoration to overcome previous neglect, and now that we have also moved beyond the twentieth century during which the powerful influence of the Modern Movement often caused the authorities to remove the layers of the past (there are many examples of this, but for example many great Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals and churches had acquired decoration, furnishing or arrangements of the Baroque, Neo-Classical or Gothic Revival Periods, and in the 1950s and 1960s these were often swept ruthlessly away without any proper analysis or understanding of their values), we have again an opportunity to do something distinctive. We can distinguish the following aspects:


24. This is an unspectacular activity but the faithful carrying out of good maintenance practices is precisely why so many religious buildings of importance have survived the centuries. Consider: in the English county of Norfolk alone there are more than 600 churches surviving of before 1500, and the same survival rate might be given for Bezirke in Bavaria, the Poitou-Charentes of France, and many other districts. How is it that these religious buildings have survived? It is because essentially local people - farmers with their ladders and their skills, derived from looking after their own buildings - have for many centuries given their services and their skills to ensure that the church of their village community had the thatch, tiles or other roofing material kept in good order, that water could evaporate or drain away from the building safely, and that the walls were pointed or rendered with good lime mortars and plasters. They were the same techniques and materials, in every country, which were used on the vernacular buildings of the district and of course they varied from place to place as the culture of Europe is strongly regional in character; in some places brick, in some places stone, in some timber-framing, and so forth.

25. There are two or three important points to be derived from these facts and these experiences: one is the enormous value to the cultural heritage of maximising the potential and the abilities of local people. The willingness to be a volunteer varies from culture to culture, but in an Age of Openness it is surely not too much to expect that every European country will wish to encourage participation in protection of the heritage. Participation should not simply be passive, in the sense of being a worshipper or a visitor (we say more about tourism below), but also it can be about active involvement. Simple vigilance is important: for example, if a member of the community sees or suspects theft of lead or other valuable materials, she or he can notify the authorities immediately; if a member of the community notices that water is pouring through some part of the roof, similarly they can draw attention to it. In England and Wales the local church communities annually elect two churchwardens, and it is the specific task of these lay men or lay women to be vigilant for the maintenance of the fabric and the furnishings and treasures of the church; they are often the point of contact with the architect, or with local or national Government authorities; they often take the lead in promoting the church to visitors; and they are responsible for good order generally. Essentially, maintenance is something which can be done without the involvement of conservation professionals, though it is important that conservation professionals guide what is done if it goes beyond simply replacing what is loose or missing, or beyond stopping the causes of water penetration which is the most frequent cause of decay.

26. In The Netherlands and in Flanders (Belgium) there is a State-subsidised organisation called Monumentenwacht which, for a small annual sum, carries out regular inspections and replaces instantly any missing slate or tile which is causing a problem; the report of the inspection draws attention to any more extensive work which requires the involvement of professionals, including (it may be) a builder, surveyor or architect, and maybe other skills such as those of the specialist craftsmen, conservator or art historian or archaeologist. The principle and the success of this practical support from the State leads us to suggest that all member States should study the work of Monumentenwacht and consider establishing, according to local conditions, something equivalent in their own countries. We are encouraged to hear that a similar organisation is being set up in Britain at the present time. It cannot be too much emphasised that such procedures save money and other scarce resources; the building which is regularly and faithfully maintained does not need a big campaign of repairs or restoration or, if it does, it is only about once a century and that is usually at least as much a response to fashion as to necessity. It is virtually axiomatic that restoration is only needed because of neglect, whether neglect of a relatively modest kind, or neglect which is total and over a long period. Such special situations then require special measures, and a great deal of extra funding.


27. We have already mentioned the activities of Monumentenwacht, whose professionals come from many different possible backgrounds - but often builders who have developed a sympathy and interest for heritage buildings - but there are also systems of inspection which involve other kinds of inspectors, for example architects or surveyors. For example, since 1955 (when there was a large deficit in maintenance and repairs of religious buildings because of the shortage of materials and other resources during and after the second world war) there has been the quinquennial inspection of churches. This is an example of the Church of England being able to use its powers of legislation to good effect for the heritage, and over the past almost half a century this measure has made an immense difference to the survival in good order of parish churches. The choice of architect or surveyor has to be approved by the diocese, and that professional has to be someone with appropriate training and experience. In the report which follows the inspection, the professional has to identify work which (i) must be done at once, rather as the Monumentenwacht teams immediately put right some emergency measure; (ii) must be done within the next 18 months; (iii) should be done within the quinquennium; and (iv) work which it is desirable to be done in the somewhat longer term. The advantage of this way of thinking is to encourage a sense of strategy, which is important for all heritage buildings. The items under (i) and (ii) tend to be relatively small in scale and exceedingly important or necessary, and can often be afforded by the local community; items under (iii) and (iv) tend to be larger in scale, for example a renewal of the roof covering or the pointing of a tower or a programme of renewal of the basic materials of the building, in which case more planning is needed, negotiation with the authorities of the Church and State, approaches to funding bodies (in England the Government-sponsored English Heritage and the Government-regulated Heritage Lottery Fund) and a fund-raising programme needs to be put in hand by the local community.

Substantial repairs, and restoration

28. As suggested above, these will not be entered into lightly or without adequate preparation - or so we would hope - in any system, which obtains in a European country at the present day. Repairs and restoration actually have the effect of changing the character of the cultural heritage, and so virtually every country has developed some traditions or philosophy of understanding what is acceptable and what is not; and virtually every country has developed some traditions and parameters of control or authorisation.

29. However, it has to be admitted that the evidence we have had reported to us suggests that there is still far too much unauthorised repair and restoration work (which, as explained above, we distinguish sharply from good maintenance practice) to religious buildings. In Europe, all countries should by now have built into their systems the concern for authenticity-in-diversity which is embedded in the Venice Charter of 1967. We commend to the religious authorities as well as to the member States the great importance of developing strategies, which encourage a consistent and responsible approach to repairs and restoration. We have had reported to us many ideas as to how this can be done. One way, which we may also commend, is to prepare for every major religious building what in some countries is called a Conservation Plan. This idea came originally from the Burra Charter, an Australian daughter of the Venice Charter, which developed the idea that in making any changes at all to heritage buildings and sites (which the Charter calls, sensitively, “places”) there should be a clear understanding of where precisely the heritage value lies - its cultural significance - and that from that understanding, and from wide and deep consultation with users and others knowledgeable about or concerned for that particular building or site, specific policies should be written down, and then known by everyone concerned, and even published; and the purpose of these policies is to make sure that in any changes that are carried out the identified aspects of heritage value are not spoiled or swept away but retained and even enhanced. This is a most important matter because, in our Age of Experimentation and Openness, we accept that buildings - including sacred buildings - may have to be changed; but we should go one stage further than that and urge that the changes should respect the existing values, or do so as far as possible, and that will simply be impossible if no-one knows what those values are.

30. It is reported to us that in some non-European countries no work is carried out to a recognized heritage building without the prior preparation of a Conservation Plan; and it is further reported to us that in the United Kingdom the most powerful funding body, the Heritage Lottery Fund, will not accept applications without the submission of such a Conservation Plan and it appears that other funding bodies may soon follow its example. The rationale is clear, and even clearer when it is considered that the resources are never fully adequate to the task: no money, especially public money, should be spent on work which might damage or endanger the heritage; and the money should be spent on what is really necessary or desirable, and can be defended as such, and not on what is merely fashionable or has been fixed upon in order to meet the dictates of an agenda which are against the best interests of the heritage. Again this argument is strengthened if we accept the view that, in effect, the heritage belongs to all; and never is that more true than in relation to the religious heritage, which is by definition for the benefit of the people who worship or make pilgrimages there and, by its inspirational character, of value for all mankind.


31. Again, in a responsible society, no work - other than maintenance - should be carried out to the buildings, which represent the religious heritage without being properly authorised. In the Scandinavian countries this means scrutiny by the National Museums, which have developed special expertise relating to cathedrals, churches and their works of art (for example, wall paintings); in the German Länder the authority of the various Landesämte für Denkmalpflege plays a crucial role; in France the oversight of the specially-trained regionally responsible Architectes-en-chef is important; in Italy the several regional Soprintendenze; and so on.

32. In England, the authorities of the Church of England with their unique power to legislate have established for cathedrals a national Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England and every cathedral also has its statutory Cathedral Fabric Committee - broadly speaking, important matters including any requiring permanent change to the building have to be decided by the national Commission; maintenance, repairs and less major matters are decided by the Fabric Committee. A similar system, though based on legal rather than administrative premises, has for centuries existed for the parish churches and has recently had a massive overhaul. In practice, though, although the Church may appear independent it is in fact in a strong relationship or partnership with the authorities of the State. We also hear that cathedrals in England are taking the lead in many matters relating to the conservation of their heritage, for example in establishing treasuries (as, notably, also in Italy, Germany and Spain) for their vulnerable works of art; in providing facilities for visitors (as they prefer to call tourists), for example at St Albans where there is a relatively new Chapter House designed by William Whitfield; by encouraging the training of specialist craftsmen and conservators through their collaboration with the European Association of Conservation Building Contractors and with cathedrals in France and Germany - we will say in passing that we should like to see this spirit of collaboration and acting together spreading to every other European country in the crucial matter of nurturing the next generations of specialist craftsmen and conservators - and every cathedral in England, and many important heritage buildings in Wales and Scotland also, are now commissioning Conservation Plans, not simply as a condition for grant-aid from the State but also because such Plans, along with Management and Development and Business Plans, are being seen as useful preparation for any wise or skill interventions or development. Moreover, as in Australia, Japan and New Zealand, it is intended that in many cases these reports should be published so that their contents can legitimately be a matter of well-informed debate. Again we should like to commend this practice.

33. In the long term, the preservation of the religious heritage - which also implies the sharing of that heritage with the people of that country, and its visitors - depends upon public support; that public support will only be forthcoming when the public has confidence in what is being done; and in order to have confidence the public, and especially through the work of conservation professionals and the media who take an informed interest in such matters, has to have well-founded information of what is being proposed and what is happening. An excellent propaganda job (in the best sense) is being done in Strasbourg, a World Heritage City, by the Oeuvre Notre Dame - the Cathedral Works Organisation that has existed since the twelfth century - through its Museum and its exhibitions. Such cathedral workshops also exist at fourteen locations in England (and two in Scotland, Edinburgh Cathedral and the Abbey of Iona), and in France and Italy.


34. Creativity may take many forms, but the point we wish to make here is that the religious heritage of Europe is a living heritage, and there are as many signs of hope and vitality as there are reasons for concern. It is simply that the human spirit is less constrained than in former times, and the spiritual life may lead our citizens on unexpected journeys which are relevant and important for them. The twentieth century was also, alas, to an unacceptable degree an Age of Intolerance of which we could all adduce more examples than we would wish: strife between faiths, and strife between different traditions of the great faiths was all too common, and led directly to the destruction of much religious heritage which had validity for all mankind. Is it too much to hope for that in the new era, although we have not yet attained to it, we could aspire to put such antagonisms behind us? One way of doing so is through the medium of creativity. This is not a new idea, but it is one that deserves discussion. In England, at the turn of the new millennium, an opinion poll has been carried out to discover what is the most appreciated building of the twentieth century. The answer? Coventry Cathedral, the masterpiece of Sir Basil Spence, consecrated in 1962 and integral to it many fine works of sculpture, carving, textiles, engraved and stained glass. It is virtually a paradigm of creativity.

35. However, it is worthwhile making gestures, which are more than gestures and which seek to engage the attention and affection of all mankind. It has been reported to us that St Paul’s Cathedral in London is currently commissioning a new font (that provided by Sir Christopher Wren having been designed for ornament rather than for use). St Paul’s Cathedral has more than two million visitors a year, which provide some of the revenue to manage and maintain what has to be regarded as - by any standards - a major cultural resource. Its management includes not only committed and responsible management, involving the team of senior clergy and highly trained laymen, but also a permanent team of craftsmen and conservators under the overall supervision of a Clerk of Works, a Cathedral Architect (the direct successor to Wren) and a Cathedral Archaeologist, working with the Cathedral Chapter and the Fabric Committee. But something more was felt to be needed, in effect a public declaration that the cathedral is concerned with creativity, and with contemporary life and pilgrimage, as well as with responsible and exemplary conservation in which everyone has a role to play. The commissioning of the new font is a step in that direction.

36. In such ways as these we have heard of in collecting evidence and information it is clear that the Age of Consolidation - of responsible conservation - is being balanced by the Age of Experimentation - of having the courage to create - and the Age of Openness, in which the religious authorities are prepared to seem new ways and to seize new opportunities.

37. This leads on logically to the next two topics for discussion.

E. Adaptation

38. Religious buildings in the past were almost invariably built to have a long life, of good materials, and well constructed. Consequently they are often apt to be converted in ways which provide additional facilities that are sustainable, attractive, and innovative.

39. There are in fact at least three kinds of adaptation, which may be more or less acceptable from the point of view of different religious traditions and from the heritage point of view: (i) there is adaptation for religious purposes, which has a long history - buildings have been extended or remodelled, parts have been added or taken away, and so on. In the contemporary world additions may also be made for purposes relating to pilgrimage or tourism, or good custodianship of the building’s resources. For example, at Münster (Germany) there is a three-storey addition which houses the cathedral treasury; many people consider it to be a very fine addition to the layers of history represented by the cathedral, and it fulfils a practical purpose. At Durham (England) the vaulted 13th century undercroft of the Monks’ Dormitory - itself one of the great medieval rooms of Europe - has been brilliantly adapted to serve as a refectory for visitors (recently it has had to be enlarged, as the facility was so much in demand), and another part serves as a treasury, and yet another part, the Spendiment, relatively small and secure, has been adapted to serve as the repository of the cathedral’s most precious ancient manuscripts. The octagonal Prior’s Kitchen is now a well-stocked shop, selling a wide variety of books as well as postcards and souvenirs (over which an artistic and informed control is exercised).

40. Then there is (ii) the kind of adaptation which enables the building to survive as a place of worship while at the same time providing other facilities for the community. Examples given to us include:

• the church of St Mary Magdalene, Goes (The Netherlands), which is the former Catholic parish church but now owned by a charitable foundation, on which the former parish has representation (and also your rapporteur); services, weddings, funerals can all take place as before; but also concerts, plays, exhibitions, and even large-scale banquets;

• the church of St Mary, Walsall (West Midlands, England) where a smaller church space is now surrounded by facilities for the whole community - there are in fact many adaptations of this kind in Europe, especially among the Non-Catholic Churches;

• a church in Schöneberg, Berlin (Germany), which has also been adapted with great design skill to provide a small worship space, offices and facilities for the parish and for community activities, and has been able to achieve this in such a way that the lofty spaces of the church are now accessible by stairs, galleries and a lift, so that the whole volume is now used in a sustainable way - this is a particularly interesting example, since so many religious buildings of the 19th century and earlier were often very lofty and reckless of heating costs;

• the church of St Sampson, in the Market Place of York (England), which retains a small chapel for worship, prayer and quiet reflection, while the greater part of the building, the adjoining churchyard and the former church hall, have all been skilfully adapted to serve as an Old People’s Day Centre which is immensely popular with the older generation in York, and has effectively restored a formerly decaying church to its community.

41. Finally there is (iii) the kind of conversion, which is effectively forced on a redundant religious building no longer needed for sacred purposes. This is not directly relevant to the direction of this report which is concerned to keep major religious buildings in use, sometimes by skilful adaptation.

42. However, it may be said about all adaptations or conversions of religious buildings that they must follow certain basic principles:

• the adaptation or conversion should respect the cultural significance of the building, which needs to be studied to be understood;

• the conversion should be done with such skill and design quality that it is self-commending, and is both creative and innovative, and executed with a close attention to appropriate materials and standards;

• it should be acceptable to the traditions of the religious community, and not offend the local community - in fact, it may also be necessary to explain it really well to local people, since opposition can be based on misunderstandings and innate conservatism which has no basis in real religious theology or authority.

43. It should also be clearly recognised that there is no standard approach that can be applied to all religious buildings in use. The major distinction lies between those that all as a whole or in part consecrated (essentially Catholic and Orthodox) and those which are simply used for religious purposes.

F. Tourism

44. We live in an era when, in very many countries and not least throughout the European region, tourism is a most important economic generator. However, this does not mean that the demands of tourism should take priority.

45. To give an example relating to an abbey still the focus of a spiritual community we can mention the abbey of Saint Odile, half an hour’s drive from Strasbourg (France), where the nuns have provided a refectory serving delicious country food, a shop, and walks in the neighbourhood with spectacular views of the Vosges mountains and air which is a tonic to the human body and spirit. Over all there presides still the intangible presence of the founder, Saint Odile, patron of Alsace, and the beautifully furnished abbey church where the visitor at once senses that a life of serious and committed prayer is being carried out. The majority of the visitors are probably not there for any specific religious reason, yet they are touched with the reality - the authenticity - of the religious life, and can savour it, even be inspired by it.

46. Such tourism, very close to traditional pilgrimage, which involves going on a journey to some special place, is one of the threads which link all great faiths and religious traditions. It can be a bridge to our new era, our Age of Openness.

47. Moreover, the experience of pilgrimage is not in the least incompatible with good facilities, such as those mentioned above, together with adequate lavatories, signs, interpretation, and so forth. Rather the two aspects can complement one another. As in the case of museums, the income derived from an imaginatively managed tourist shop can be a substantial contribution to cathedral or monastery revenue.

G. Conclusions

48. The report is a plea for a creative but sensitive approach to the management of large religious buildings in use. There are three main observations. First that this is a matter of partnership between state and religious bodies. Second that it is a question concerning a truly European heritage, irrespective of national boundaries, so that countries and churches with financial means should assist those that do not. Thirdly that there is no standard approach that can be applied to all religious buildings in use; a major distinction lies between those that are as a whole or in part consecrated (essentially Catholic and Orthodox) and those which are not.


Summary of the conference on conservation of cathedrals and other major constructions in Europe

Avila (Spain) – 10-11 March 1999


The Spanish experience

The specificity of the religious heritage

The Cathedral of Chartres

Varying practice in Europe

The Jewish heritage


Study visits

List of participants

MM.       DIAZ DE MERA, Chairman of the Sub-Committee on the Cultural Heritage        Spain

Mrs       LUCYGA       Germany

MM.       NOTHOMB, Chairman of the Committee on Culture and Education        Belgium       O'HARA       United Kingdom


Mr        BALLESTER, Head of the Cultural Heritage Department, Council of Europe

Dr        COHEN-MUSHLIN, Director of the Jewish Art Centre, Jerusalem

Mrs        SANCHEZ, Curator, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid

Mr        TOQUERO, Director General of the Heritage of Castilla- León


Mr       GRAYSON, Head of the Division on Science and Culture

Mrs       NOTHIS, Administrative assistant

Reporting committee: Committee on Culture and Education

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: None.

Reference to committee: Doc.7198 and Reference No. 1990 of 30 January 1995

Draft recommendation: unanimously adopted by the committee on 4 September 2000.

Members of the committee: MM. Roseta (Chairman), Zingeris, de Puig (Alternate: Varela i Sera), Ivanov (Vice-Chairmen), Arzilli, Bartumeu Cassany, Baumel, Billing, Ms Castro, MM. Cherribi, Chiliman, Cubreacov, Dumitrescu, Fayot, Mrs Fehr, Mrs Granlund, MM. Hadjidemetriou, Haraldsson, Hegyi, Henry, Irmer, Mrs Isohookana-Asunmaa, MM. Jakic, Javelidze, Kalkan, Mrs Katseli, MM. Khripel, Kiely, Kofod-Svendsen, Kovacevic, Lachat (Alternate: Reimann), Mrs Laternser, MM. Legendre, Lemoine, Libicki, Mrs Lucyga, MM. McNamara, Melnikov, Mezeckis, Monfils, Mrs Moserova, Mr Nagy, Mrs Nemcova, MM. O’Hara, Pinggera, Mrs Poptodorova, MM. Pullicino Orlando, Ragno, Risari, Mrs Saele, Mr Sağlam, Mrs Schicker, MM. Schweitzer, Shaklein, Siebert, Mrs Stefani, MM. Svec, Symonenko, Taliadouros, Ms Troncho, Urbanczyk, Vahtre, Valk (Alternate: Eversdijk), Wilshire, Xhaferi.

NB: The names of those present at the meeting are in italics

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Ary, Mrs Theophilova-Permaul, Ms Kostenko