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Emergency Rescuing of 60 Wooden Churches: A Civil Society Mobilization

Since 2009, a very important project has been underway in Romania focusing on the conservation of 60 wooden churches in the center of the country. These wonderful structures are part of the national heritage. However, these countryside treasures could disappear entirely since their remote location and diminishing congregations has meant fewer resources to care for them. They date back to the sixteenth century and have gone through very difficult periods ever since; the fact that they are still standing seems a miracle. It is still possible to save them and we need the help of those who appreciate their beauty and significance. Neither the Orthodox Church of Romania nor the Ministry of Culture have the means to conserve and maintain these churches, despite their cultural and religious importance.

The Pro Patrimonio Foundation and the National Architect Order have responded to this unfortunate situation. Their huge task requires coordination with the communities, restoration work, and communication and advocacy. Despite extremely modest means, emergency work has been performed on 20 churches over the past four years. Many others await intervention, and it is obvious that the list of 60 churches in need will remain a long list for a long time, because when a church is restored, another one is added to the list. All this work has given significant fruitful results and we are now being contacted by other groups for advice and reports on our experience.

Our efforts are aimed at advocacy and assistance but also have an educational purpose. For each church saved, we publish a description of the work, an inventory of the objects, and information about links with the communities and the volunteers who have assisted us. It wouldn’t have been possible to accomplish what we have done without the voluntary service, a wonderful project which joins the participants together and gives a real pride of human and patrimonial consequence, these two being very much related to each other in our mind. Indeed, heritage is closely linked to the history of human beings as a basis of identity; in the case of churches, the spirituality attached gives an additional dimension and a high symbolic strength for the continuity of their destiny. These matters have to be repaired, as the communist society has deeply hurt the population and its culture, by creating huge painful and deep ruptures that are still apparent today.

Last year, World Monuments Fund added the churches to the World Monuments Watch, a list of sites in danger around the world. The Pro Patrimonio Foundation, the National Architect Order, and its partners in the countryside are extremely proud that the architectural and cultural value of the wooden churches has been recognized by WMF. This recognition is proof that we are not wasting our breath and contributes to making these churches better known throughout the world. We hope that this yea, Europa Nostra will add the churches to the 7 Most Endangered list. In addition to facilitating the carrying out of the restoration of these wooden churches, it will also put that heritage in the limelight to make it known all over Europe. This heritage must be rescued, and we need the generosity of all.