Church Collection Online
In the Netherlands the religious landscape is changing dramatically. Many churches are closing its doors. This not only brings the buildings into jeopardy, but hundreds of thousands of religious objects as well. This calls for action.
Museum Catharijneconvent is the national museum for Christian art and history. It is also the national knowledge centre for religious heritage. The museum collected data of over 230,000 religious artefacts in Dutch churches and monasteries. Due to many congregations merging and churches closing, a great part of this data however is no longer up-to-date. To cope with this problem Museum Catharijneconvent and the church owners work hand-in-hand. The museum developed an online collection management system: ‘Church Collection Online’. With this tool the church owners can manage their collections. The benefits are twofold: as the potentially 6,000 church owners work directly in the web based system, they help us to update the data on a national level. This is essential to make the right decisions.
Church Collection online is pioneering and consists of a few key elements: it is an easy-to-use toolkit, offering direct online access to the church owners. They can add new registrations and images, modify existing registrations and add personal stories. Church Collection Online also has an easy-to-use heritage value assessment toolkit that is unique in Europe.
Together Museum Catharijneconvent and the church owners safeguard the most endangered Dutch religious heritage.
Read more about Church Collection Online at: www.catharijneconvent.nl/kennis-advies/erfgoed-kerken-en-kloosters/kerkcollectie-digitaal (in Dutch)
Church Collection Online – involving heritage owners in safeguarding our heritage
Church Collection Online (‘Kerkcollectie digitaal’) has been developed by Museum Catharijneconvent, the national museum for Christian art and history in the Netherlands with a superb art collection, dating from the early Middle Ages up until the present-day. Museum Catharijneconvent is also the national knowledge centre for religious heritage. The museum has a team of specialists that work together with church owners to draw up inventories of heritage collections in Dutch churches and monasteries, assess the value of these collections and – if necessary – is involved in finding new uses for obsolete objects. The museum has an archive and database in which over 230.000 religious artefacts in Dutch churches and monasteries are registered. This data has been collected over the past 40 years.
Decline of Dutch churches
The religious landscape in the Netherlands is changing dramatically. More and more churches are no longer being used. At this moment every week two churches or monasteries close their doors. Cardinal Eyk of the archdiocese Utrecht expects to close 280(!) out of 300 churches the coming ten years. The consequence of this dramatic decline is that not only the buildings are into jeopardy, but that the heritage kept by churches is also in great danger. The heritage team of Museum Catharijneconvent simply cannot be involved in all these church closings to advise the owners how to safeguard their collections. Therefore hundreds of thousands of religious objects are at risk. At this moment religious heritage is the most endangered heritage in the Netherlands.
Guidelines on Ways of Dealing with Religious Objects
To deal with these major issues we have to work closely together with the owners. We have been doing so for the last couple of years. The first step Museum Catharijneconvent took was in 2011 when we developed the Guidelines on Ways of Dealing with Religious Objects (‘Handreiking roerend religieus erfgoed’). These guidelines consist of two toolkits: a religious heritage value assessment guide and guidelines to deaccessioning religious objects. As many artefacts become redundant it is relevant to focus on culturally valuable heritage: what should we keep for the Netherlands? With the value assessment guide these decisions can be made by the owners in close cooperation with heritage specialists. For the remaining objects the deaccessioning guidelines are helpful. To make the toolkit as practical as possible for the user we developed an easy-to-use heritage assessment form. The guidelines are widely spread and used among Dutch churches.
New uses for obsolete objects
The next step was to develop a website to find new owners for religious objects. Through this platform Supply and Demand for Religious Objects (‘Vraag en aanbod religieuze voorwerpen’) churches can find new owners for their superfluous religious objects. The objects are not for sale, they are donated to other churches or religious institutions in the Netherlands and abroad. Within six months around 90% of the objects find a new user.
The next step – Church Collection Online
The guidelines and the supply and demand platform are very useful toolkits, much appreciated by the church owners. The question was however how we could increase the possibilities of safeguarding our religious heritage. We had four goals:
- How could we update our collected data? The whereabouts of a great part of the (valuable) objects is often unknown to us, due to the widespread merging of parishes and congregations, and closing of churches and monasteries. We had to find new ways of updating our data.
- How could we increase the possibilities of determining the cultural valuable part of our religious heritage? To know what we should protect we have to know about the cultural value of these items.
- How could we increase the involvement of the church owners in this process? With these serious challenges it is essential to work together with the heritage community.
- How could we help the church owners in keeping their collections? We had to develop an simple and practical collection management system.
To meet these goals in 2015 we developed Church Collection Online (CCO), a practical registration toolkit for both church owners and heritage professionals. CCO consists of a few key elements:
- The collected data of over 230,000 religious artefacts is now available to church owners through CCO.
- CCO is web based. Every church owner has direct online access to their own collection(s).
- CCO has an object overview page where the church owner can see the available data and images of the objects in his collection. For many churches in the Netherlands this data is available. It is for the first time however that church owners have online access to this data.
- CCO has a registration toolkit where the church owner can edit existing registrations and add new object registrations. It includes a very easy tool to add images (drag and drop). This is a crucial element in increasing the registration of church heritage and in updating the national oversight of the whereabouts of (valuable) objects.
- CCO uses the ‘heritage thesaurus’ of the National Heritage Agency in the Netherlands. This way on a national level we can connect objects with each other.
- CCO has an easy-to-use value assessment toolkit. This is an essential instrument to know more about the significance of the objects. To our knowledge this is the first digital heritage assessment toolkit in Europe. We have developed the toolkit with specialists from the National Heritage Agency in the Netherlands. There are a few key advantages to this toolkit: first of all the value assessment is an integrated part of the digital object registration (and not a separate paper form). Secondly, the final score of the assessment is being calculated automatically (to come to a final score using the assessment guide in the Guidelines on Ways of Dealing with Religious Objects is not easy). Finally we have made two versions of the value assessment toolkit: one for heritage specialists and one for non-professional church owners. Two value assessment can exist alongside each other. We value both.
- In CCO there is the possibility to add personal stories to object registrations. Owners – the so-called heritage community – have the possibility to add personal stories to the object registrations. This provides in-depth context to our heritage. At the momen this part is being developed.
Church Collection Online: a pioneering toolkit
CCO is a pioneering toolkit for the following reasons:
- Through CCO Museum Catharijneconvent works together with a very large heritage community in safeguarding our endangered religious heritage (potentially 6,000 churches).
- The museum offers the church owners an easy-to-use web based ‘Do It Yourself’-collection management toolkit.
- We developed the first digital heritage assessment tool in the Netherlands, and we believe in Europe.
- Through CCO we collect intangible heritage: stories that provide context to the objects.
The National Heritage Agency of the Netherlands declared that Museum Catharijneconvent ‘an example for the Netherlands’ in using digital toolkits to involve the heritage community. On 15 December 2015 the Volkskrant, one of the leading national newspapers, published a large article on CCO. Learn more about Church Collection Online (in Dutch).