of Religious Buildings
in 20th and 21st century Europe

Monuments, Heritage, Identity

International hybrid Conference
from 25 to 26 September 2023

See Programme

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The blaze that destroyed Notre Dame de Paris in 2019, the earthquake that destroyed the basilica of L'Aquila in 2009, or the current devastating war going on in Ukraine – the fragility of historic religious buildings continues to raise the question of why and how the destroyed buildings would be rebuilt. In past centuries the destruction of a church or cathedral was an incentive to start the construction of a completely new edifice. Several gothic cathedrals were erected after destruction by fire of their predecessor building. A change in approach is perceptible in modern Europe after 1800; a connection between the historic religious building and national identity is substantial in many restoration projects of the nineteenth century when the restoration of historic churches and cathedrals progressed towards the construction of a supposed ideal.

Europe has changed profoundly in the twentieth century by wars, secularization, the rise and fall of socialism. With regard to the restoration of historic buildings, the rise of modernism and the establishment of the Athens Charter (1933) and the Venice Charter (1964) have significance. Whether and how historic buildings were rebuilt is a tangible component of these changes. The explanation why these buildings were restored or reconstructed cannot (only) be explained by the need for a place of worship. The decision for a reconstruction was often made for other reasons: to revive or recreate a monument or heritage site that could shape a new identity. The methods why and how this is done remain contested, as the polemics about the reconstruction projects in Paris and Potsdam illustrate.

Whether and how historic cathedrals, churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious buildings should be reconstructed is topical again after the fire that destroyed Notre Dame in Paris, and the ongoing war in Ukraine. At the same time there is a growing debate about how this reconstruction should take place, with Notre Dame in Paris being the most striking example. The current polemics about reconstruction taking place in Paris and Potsdam, among others, can be summarized as a conflict between functionality and connotation as a place of worship, a conflict of alteration of the existing situation due to the intended reconstruction of a historical state, and the way in which this reconstruction is carried out. The approach to the problem of why and how to rebuild the destroyed church has changed in contemporary Europe, through political and religious changes and through changed understandings of restoration methodology. By looking beyond national borders this conference aims to come to a better understanding of the restorations and current polemics.

This hybrid conference will bring together experts in Architectural and Art History, Architecture and Monument Conservation from several European countries such as Germany, Belgium, France, Estonia, Lithuania, Sweden, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine. By bringing together speakers from different countries in an academic setting, similarities and differences in the approach to the reconstruction of historic religious buildings in Europe and the development between 1918 and the present day will be discussed.

The event will take place in presence at RWTH University Aachen, but we offer the possibility of online participation.

For registration and information, please contact:

Organisational Committee

Prof. Dr. Anke Naujokat (RWTH Aachen University)
Marcus van der Meulen (RWTH Aachen University)
Jordi Mallarach (FRH Europe)

Hosted by

Chair of Architectural History at RWTH Aachen University


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