Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Czech Church Art

One of the most frustrating things about my research into the Archaeological Society trip to South Bohemia is that every time I try to visit a church I find it locked. Being British I expect to walk in and look around or at least go to a nearby house to collect a key. On a walk with a friend I discussed why this was and she told me about the problem the country has with thefts from churches. As a result churches have to be locked up and visitors like myself denied.

Now Ceske Novinny has run an article on the problem which shocked and appalled me. Apparently 90 per cent of religious buildings have been burgled since 1989.

In the article the diocesan heritage preserver to the Prague Archbishopric is quoted as saying "About a half of Gothic and Renaissance works of art and roughly one-third of baroque artefacts have disappeared (from Czech churches) in the past 20 years."

The culprits are often organized gangs linked to specialist foreign art traffickers who take the stolen artefacts across the border to Austria and Germany. The situation has been exacerbated by the relaxation of the border with the creation of the Schengen area. It is a terrible thing that these precious artefacts, which have a religious and cultural value which exceeds their monetary one, managed to survive atheist communism only to fall foul of black market forces under democracy.


Philip Wilkinson said...

It is really sad to learn that so many churches have been broken into, and so many works taken – and of these, many, I would imagine, have been exported, with little chance of recovery.

The situation in Britain is very different. Although it's common for Brits to believe that most parish churches here are kept locked for security reasons, in fact many, many parish churches are unlocked (though policies clearly vary by region and diocese, as revealed here: http://www.digiatlas.org/churchlocking.html). It's common in towns for larger churches to be kept open and manned by volunteers, who both keep an eye on the contents and provide a welcome and information for visitors.

British churches also vary enormously in the number of portable artworks and antiquities they contain. Because of the iconoclasm of the 17th century, many of the smaller churches, though interesting architecturally, contain few removable sculptures or paintings.

c b newham said...

Thanks for the link. However, the site has been updated and the URL for Church Locking should just be http://www.digiatlas.org

I should also point out that church locking in England is influenced at two levels: the parish (or benefice) level and the diocesan level. Sometimes these conflict - a good example being Peterborough where (I am told by several sources) the diocese promotes a policy of access to churches and if churches cannot be opened (because the parishes refuse) they are urged to provide contact details for obtaining a key.


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