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DIOCESE DE BEJA

The Historical and Artistic Heritage Department of Beja Diocese’s (DPHA) gathers a group of volunteers and a small staff with different backgrounds on various areas of the cultural heritage. It is responsible for the safeguard, care and public valorisation of the historical churches of Beja Diocese’s, operating in a 12 300 km2 area – the less populated in the South of Portugal, but rich in religious monuments since the paleochristian period.

DPHA began its work in 1984, facing a complex situation: thefts of works of sacred art and illegal transactions with antiquarians were taking place; over a hundred churches, especially rural shrines, had been abandoned; in wealthier villages, unqualified local restorers had been depreciating retables, sculptures, canvas and mural paintings, organs, etc., with acrylic glues and paints, striking colours, plastic additions...

Icono del Festival 2009

Founded in the 5th century, it is the country’s second biggest diocese, joining the district of Beja and the area situated in in its South, the district of Setubal (municipalities of Grâdola, Santiago do Cacém and Sines).
An area of about 12,300 km2, which corresponds to 7.5% of the country’s total area.
Here, there is a huge heritage ensemble, which is formed by more than five hundred buildings, where it is important to highlight ancient monasteries and convents, collegiate churches of military orders (Santiago, Avis and Hospital or Malta), parish churches and country sanctuaries, many of them totally related to the Way to Santiago and to the ancient seasonal migration of livestock ways which linked Portugal and Spain.

Diocese of Beja’s Department of Historic-artistic Heritage (DPHADB)

The DPHA (Department of historic-artistic heritage) started in 1984, in a difficult moment for the preservation of the regional heritage.
There were still consequences of difficult moments for Alentejo. In those parishes where there was great difficulty people who did not doubt to sell works of art illegally, as a financial source. The unexistence of an inventory made difficult the recovery of the disappeared pieces.
Moreover, there were works with a little criteria of preservation in historic monuments, which do not provide altar-pieces, painting and images due to the so-called “liturgy actualization”. The personal property on the one hand, suffered from the attacks of “santeiros”, with pseudo-restorations, repainting with plastic paints, change of ancient pieces for modern ones, etc.
Created by episcopal decree, the DPHA took the functions of coordination and care of the religions cultural properties in the diocese’s area. Formed essentially by volunteer collaborators, this service had as a priority objective the elaboration of the inventory, from a scientific point of view, of the region’s historic churches (and respective collections).
As the inventory was being grown, it was checked that the region boasted a great amount of extraordinary sacred art but which was not known enough, even by the local communities. Some of the principal monuments were closed due to the lack of safety conditions. Many others had started to go down, overall the outlying chapels and rural hermits.
In some locations, they were still deleted, for example during the clean and then annual cremation of unuseful things which was a custom in churches works with an evident heritage.

Activities and associations.

Step by step the DPHA started to change the description we are describing acting from different perspectives. In order to raise parish communities, it organized different formation activities which became really popular, in collaboration with Portuguese Preservation and Restoration Institute and the Federal Police; it created a technical advisement group, it encouraged the creation of local watching commissions in each church which were opened to the public regularly; it also helped cultural itineraries which link the monuments by geographical and thematic areas; it created a diocesan museum network with Seven points (Santiago do Cacém, Cuba, Castro Verde, Moura, Beja). It was also in charge of the organization of the diocesan Archive and the Library of Beja’s seminar.
With regard to the role which the cultural registration played there are 471 real properties and 192,765 personal and intangible properties. Parallell, a diocesan legislative tool was passed, according to the Cannon Law, under the title of Regulation of the Intervention in Beja Diocese’s Cultural Heritage, which came officially into effect.
There are protocols in these and other fields in collaboration with the Portuguese Institute of Architectural and Archaeological Heritage (1999), the Portuguese Institute of Preservation and Collaboration (2000) and the Portuguese Museum Institute (2001), the first ones.
There are also protocols like the local councils and associations of Local Development of all area’s municipalities, Alentejo’s Tourism, the Polytechnic Institute of Beja and the National Authority of Civil Protection.
Another important field has been the promotion of Sacred Art exhibitions. This period started in 1990 with the exhibition “Ars Sacra”, which was a great regional success. It showed the importance of the organizations of exhibitions in the appropriate scientific and museum frame, corresponding to one of the principal duties of the DPHA. Among other initiatives created in this period it is important to highlight ”As Vozes do Silêncio”. Imaginária Barroca da Diocese de Beja, organized in 1997 in the Church of Matriz de Mértola, with the particularity of using the wings of a building that was opened during this initiative.
In 1998, the exhibition “Entre o Céu e a Terra - Arte Sacra da Diocese of Beja” had a higher repercussion. It was opened to the public in Beja, in São Francisco Hotel, and was then presented in Lisbon, in the National Mausoleum, in 2000-2001, getting the Award Prof. Reynaldo dos Santos for the best temporal exhibition of 2000 and the award “Associação Portuguesa de Museología” for the best catalogue 1999-2001.
The internationalization was also an early worry, and was started with the exhibition Rosa Mystica - Mariendarstellungen aus dem Südlichen Portugal, in Regensburg’s Cathedral Museum, in Germany in 1999-2000, with a bilingual catalogue published by the publisher Schnell und Steiner.
The next exhibitions were Le Forma dello Spirito - Arte Sacra del Sud del Portogallo, on display in the Church of Santo António dos Portugueses, in Rome in 2003 about the High Sponsorship of the Pontifical Commission of the Church’s Cultural Properties whose catalogue was published by the Portoghese di Sant’Antonio Institute, with the collaboration of Professor Luciana Stegnagno Picchio, form the University of Rome, this exhibition was then presented in Lisbon, in the Art Gallery Rei D. Luís, in Ajuda’s National Palace, about the title “As Formas de Espírito - Arte Sacra da Diocese de Beja” (2004-2005).
In 2008 the DPHA organized by invitation of the Portuguese Pavillion in the Expo of Zaragoza 2008, the exhibition “Un Río de Agua Pura - Arte Sacro del Sur de Portugal”, which was the only initiative in the official Programme of the Expo, taking place out of Ranillas Campus. it was held in three museums of Borja-Zaragoza: San Miguel archaeologic Museum, Museum of the Colegiate Church and Aguilar Palace. The Spanish catalogue was publishes by the Excellency Provincial Council of Zaragoza Borjas’s Centre for Study.
However, the exhibition Portugal Eternel-Patrimoine de la Région de l’Alentejo has recently taken place in d’Art Religieux de Fourvière Museum, in Lyon (Francia).
With regard to the national territory, the DPHA has organized exhibitions annually, among which it’s important to mention “A Invenção do Mundo - Arte Sacra da Diocese de Beja”, in Faro’s Episcopal Palace, by invitation from the Ministry of Culture in 2005, “No Caminho sob as Estrelas - Santiago e a Peregrinaçao a Compostela; in the church of Matriz de Santiago do Cacém, in 2007, in an association lake Xunta de Galicia (Autonomous Government) and the Municipality of Santiago do Cacém, which counted on the help of Calouste Gulbenkian; “O Coraçao da Terra - Aspectos da Ruralidade na Arte Europeia (Séculos XVII - XX)”, in the Escudeiros Art Gallery, in Beja in 2008-2009; and “Atmosferas, Perssoas, Narrtivas. Um Relance sobrea a Arte do Occidente (Séculos XVII- XX) [itinerant].

The DPHA has promoted a series of scientific meetings, among which it is important to mention: “Protecçao dos Bens Culturais em situaçőes de Emergência”, Beja, 1998, with the collaboration with the international Federation of Cultural Property Protection Association; “1st National conference of Church Museums”, Lisbon, Ajuda Palace [integrated in the exhibition “As formas do Espírito”], 2004; International Congress “Tesouros da Igreja, Tesouros da Europa”, Beja, 2006, with the collaboration of EuropæThesauri - Sacred Art Museums and Treasures Association; “2nd National Conference of the Church Museum”, Santiago do Cacém, [integrated in the exhibition “No caminho sob as Estrelas - Santiago e a Pergrinaçaő a Compostela”, 2007.

Encouragement

Ended the recovery of a significant ensemble of monuments, some of which will receive new museum tasks (or will have a treasure at the service of the public) the DPHA developed associations for an encouragement project under the title”Alive Monuments”, whose subject is the organization of cultural activities in historical churches. The essential reference of this project is the Festival “Lands without Shadow of Sacred Music of Baixo Alentejo”, started in 2004 and which marks the region’s season of classical music through a high artistic level, following a guiding topic year by year and allowing to draw a “little history of Music”. Conferences, platforms and guided visits complete the musical programme in a relaxing atmosphere.

These activities play an important role in an area which does not hide their fascination by music. This is why they can be taken to historical churches with the objective of being beneficiary works which are part of a system of regular opening to the public which has a more special significant even, allowing to enjoy spaces together with significant acoustic conditions. A reflexion proposal about the sense of the Sacred Arts in modern life, especially there where the real local taste permits it. On associating a high quality repertoire to the unique atmosphere of Alentejo’s religious monuments, the Festival Lands without Shadow commits itself for an international offer which provides projects of young national performers.

The festival is starting the sixth edition in January 2010, being always full of people in the activities organized. For 6 years, the project has been on display in eighteen historical churches in the area. The project “Alive Monuments” included a great number of didactic and promoting activities, among which it is important to highlight the holding of thematic days and the European Heritage Conference. The DPHA has also carried out activities which allow the link of the Alive Science Programme with the religions cultural heritage, mainly by means of the collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Lisbon University.

These initiatives are targeted to the public in general, but they pay special attention to children and young people, and to young or old disabled people. From this point of view, the DPHA has made a great effort in creating special facilities for the disabled in the diocese’s monuments and museums, in addition to the ordinary information, audio and braille facilities.

The DPHA has also ensured own publishing or joint publishing with 42 books and published monographs. Moreover, there is also a bulletin and the fortnight collaborations in the newspaper News of Beja, where it provides with a section title Pedra Angular (Angular Stone).

Awards and Prizes

In 2005 the European Union awarded the DPHA with the Prize “Europa Nostra” for the preservation of the Cultural Heritage”. In 2009 the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation gave it the “Basque Prize Vil’Alva for the preservation of the Heritage”. The Ministry of Culture awarded it with the “Cultural Medal of Merit”. In 2001, the Municipal Chambre of Beja gave it “Municipal Medal of Merit”.

The DPHA integrates the National Council of the Church’s Cultural Properties (Portugese Episcopal Conferences), the Associação Portuguesa dos Museus da Igreja Católica, the Europæ Thesauri - Associação de Tesouros e Museus de Arte Sacra (of which it is the founder menber) and the Associação de Desenvolvimento Regional Portas do Território (founded by the Diocese of Beja and by the Municipal Chamber of Beja).

There are 2 monuments, the Church Matriz de Santiago do Cacém (National Monument) and the Church Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres, in Beja, Personal Property of Publich Interest which were chosen by His Excellency the President of the Republic, Proffesor Doutor Aníbal Cavacoo Silva, to open the Route of Heritage in July 2007.

Team

The current team of the DHPA, essentially formed by volunteers with an appropriate technical formation, counts on 12 members, including two curators, one restorer-curator, one historian, two architects, one engineer, one lawyer, one photographer, one liturgist, one painter, one sculptor, and two honorary members. It counts on seven paid collaborators, related to the Museum Network, and 189 volunteers, most of them scattered throughout the diocesan area. These are associated through the Angular Stone-Associação dos Amigo dos Monumentos da Diocese de Beja.

CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE: 1.1.Internationalization

It is essential to fight against the preconceived thought which says that Alentejo’s cultural heritage is an outlying reality. In order to do that, it must become as visible as possible.
The internationalization meant a very important measure. This is why we are making a great effort in doing two initiatives per year: one in the country, more targeted to overseas visitors, and another one abroad.
Objetives:
■1st term ╽Fátima - Exhibition in the Museum of Sacred Art (next to the temple), on the occasion of the visit of His Holiness the Pope Benedicto XVI (13 May) and extended to the end of summer.
Objective: Promoting Alentejo by means of an exhibition and complemented activities as the keep point for religious tourism which will receive a significant boost thanks to the Pope’s visit.╽Association: Tourism of Alentejo, E.R.T., Municipalities.
■2nd term╽Galicia, where the Holy Year takes place - Exhibition in Santiago de Compostela and Pontevedra.
Objective: Promoting Alentejo in Galicia on the occasion of the Holy Year 2010 (number expected of visitors: 8 millions); encouraging Alentejo’s segments along the Way to Santiago. ╽Association: Regional Agency of Tourist Promotion on Alentejo, Municipalities, GAL, Camőes Institute, Tourism of Portugal.

CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE:1.2.QREN. Recovery of essentially important monuments.

In order to receive more visitors in Alentejo, it is essential to have great recovered heritage references suitable to receive visitors.
The current stopped “dossiers”, with serious prejudice, are the following ones:
■ Church Matrix of Métola (ancient Mosque) [National Monument State-owned]- the association done until now has not reached the expected results due to the lack of national investment. It is essential to finish the candidature and pass it. The building is in its extreme situation.
■ Royal Basilic of Castro Verde [Personal Property of Public Interest] Candidature which was not passed in the First time. The Church runs the risk of losing cultural elements.
Objective: passing the reclassification candidatures of the monuments and their integration in cultural itineraries. ╽Association: Ministry of Culture, Municipalities.

CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE:1.3. Dinamization. Attracting now public, linking accessibility with opening.

The heritage meant a tool. not an end. It is essential to relate it to an innovative strategy of development: joining “destinations” through “routes”, opening the monuments which are usually closed out of mass timetables and crating a dynamic.
Necessary Initiatives:
■ Creating a SEASON IN BAIXO ALENTEJO which acts as a bridge between Natural Heritage and Cultural Heritage from Contemporary Art and New Technologies.
Objective: Inviting those who usually drive along the A2 to wander for some hours and explore the area, revitalising secondary places, in order to show a competitive and avant-garde Alentejo. ╽Association:Institute of Nature Preservation and Biodiversity, Ministry of Culture, APS, EDIA, Municipalities, Agricultural Credit.

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