Session 10: Churches and Cathedrals, Q&A follow up

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The live Q&A discussion following Session 10 chaired by Lucia Toniolo was full and engaging. The recording can be found on the IIC Congress website. The questions for the panelists exceeded the time allotted for the discussion, however the authors have generously answered the remaining questions below. First are questions for the general group. Following are specific questions regarding each paper, in the order of presentation.

Q: Should church objects within museum collections be included in conversations on repatriation?

Jacopo: I think so, as I said in my presentation, the liturgical furnishings and the mobile works of art present in the churches were conceived for a specific place and with a specific function at the behest of people who over the centuries have invested resources for different reasons, and often out of deep faith. I therefore believe that everything should be done so that these objects can return to their location.

Louise: I think it depends on the circumstances around acquisition. If an item was disposed of without full consultation possibly yes, but some congregations will have disposed of items willingly.

Janet: I agree with Louise. The Church of England has robust legal processes around disposal and loan of items of special interest from churches & cathedrals to museums, so most items will have been given or loaned to museums willingly.

Q: How do we prevent the “Disney-fication” of religious places that have become tourist attractions? How do we balance the needs of a functioning place of worship against the requirements of visitors who often provide much needed income for conservation work?

Tobit: Ensuring that there is an awareness of this risk among the client group and making sure that they are engaged with discussions.

Louise: This is a false dichotomy; visitors are often spiritually curious and have their experience enriched by experiencing worship going on during their visit; equally the congregation are often very interested in (and ignorant of) the history of their building, improved knowledge of which enhances their experience and understanding. The introduction of interpretation should always be balanced around the space and atmosphere of the site. The increased availability of and access to high-quality digital content can help with striking that balance in terms of visual intrusion into spaces, but seeing buildings and their collections as assets to mission is key in this debate.

Jacopo: It is a complex question and I often see that in many places even questionable measures are taken. In the case of the cathedral of Lugano, the economic question does not arise since the financing of the restoration interventions was not covered by income directly linked to tourism. In general, I think that for an ecclesiastical building that is very popular with tourists, those in charge should be able to establish times and spaces for the faithful, perhaps preventing access to tourists during services. I think that even the limitation of the maximum number of visitors, while keeping spaces reserved for prayer, would prevent the internal environment from losing that silence and that sense of peace that makes the visitor aware of the sacredness of the place.

Q: Do you use project management programs (software) when planning and executing complicated long conservation projects?

Tobit: At TCA we use and online PM software called SmartSheet for long term complex projects.

Janet: I use Asana

Louise: I use Basecamp

Q: I would like to know if the panelists had ever experienced any cases in conservation treatment with biodeterioration caused by the lichen colonization?

Jacopo: Yes, of course, obviously on the outside. In the place where I live there are many mountain churches and I very often have to treat stone elements completely covered with lichens, including the endolithic ones.

Normally I intervene first with steam at various pressures and temperatures depending on the conditions of the substrate, then locally, if necessary, with brushes and with limited applications of hydrogen peroxide to neutralize the "roots". In many cases in my opinion, it is very important that the subsequent consolidation is very effective and I have seen that a final treatment with a protective (siloxane, oxalate, etc ..) has a good preventive function.


Questions for Tobit Curteis for East Anglia’s Medieval Rood Screens: Conserving Sensitive Painted Artworks in Uncontrolled Church Environments (co-authors Lucy Wrapson and Janet Berry)

Q: Should it be impossible for the church environment to be improved, are there currently proposals to remove the screens from their current location for off-site preservation and/or storage?

A: Having studied numerous medieval churches in the UK, the internal environment of a typical and well maintained medieval church in the UK is comparatively predictable. Although not of museum standards this is generally reasonable for the conservation of the Screen (the screens have often been in place for more than 500 years and although damaged are often in reasonable condition).

Q: Where does the project stand now? Are there opportunities for conservators to become involved in the future of the surveying and preservation of churches? 

A: There are currently discussions about long term structure and funding. If the project does develop the intention is certainly to have both educations and wider professional involvement.

Q: A Dphil opportunity was recently announced - may be of interest to early careers conservators. Is there any further information available?

A: (Lucy Wrapson) To answer your question on the DPhil, The Hamilton Kerr Institute is currently advertising a funded AHRC doctoral partnership opportunity with Oxford University ( The title is Paint and Culture in Medieval England and the emphasis is on using existing cross-sections taken from medieval objects to learn more widely about late medieval painting. These cross-sections originate both in the Hamilton Kerr's collections and also in those of conservators' archives held at the HKI. The HKI has a long-standing specialism in English medieval art and this opportunity couples that with the expertise of Oxford University's history of art department in placing the technical in a wider cultural context.


Questions for Poul Klenz Larsen for Climatic Protection of Historic Vaults with Limeperlite Mortar

Q: Given the porosity of the lime-perlite mortar, could Poul say a bit more about the diffusion and evaporation rates when using this mortar? 

A: Please see the following chart:




Thermal conductivity

(W/m K)

Capillary suction

(kg/m2 √s)

Water vapour permeability

 (kg x10-12/m s Pa)

Perlite mortar










Mineral wool






Q: As you have another layer richer in lime at the top, did you test your insulating mortar separately but also with this additional layer?

A: Only in the measurements on site.

Q: Does thermophoresis happen at hotter temperatures while the soiling surface remains cold? Could you please explain?

A: Very fine particles are easier kept in motion in warm air than in colder air. They loosen and uplift at a cold surface and deposit there, leading to soiling over time. Keeping the surface temperature close to the air temperature prevents this (to some extent).

Q: If the water is absorbed, does it not drain through to a pooling point where it meets the brick?

A: Only in the case of a constant supply of water from above – ex. If the roof is leaking rain. A short episode of water supply – ex. Condensation that drips from the roof tiles – gets absorbed and released again by evaporation

Q: Do you anticipate expanding your testing protocol to churches with lime painting, frescos, or other forms of interior decoration in the future?

A: Yes, we hope so.

Q: What is your digital preservation strategy to ensure your monitoring data (RH, Temperature, etc) remain accessible to researchers and/or conservators in the future?

A: All data are stored as plain text files in a data repository at the National Museums server with regular backup.


Questions for Jocopo Gilardi for Change and Continuity: Material and Ethical Issues in the Restoration of Wall Paintings in the Cathedral of Saint Lawrence, Switzerland (co-author Elisabeth Manship)

Q: What is the material for the restoration of Wall Paintings in the Cathedral of Saint Lawrence, Switzerland?

A: It is a long list also because it deals with paintings from different eras (from the eighth to the twentieth century) made with different techniques: fresco, fresco with additions in tempera, mezzofresco, organic tempera, lime painting, etc.

In general, as I explained in the presentation, we have adopted the least invasive systems possible also due to the strong presence of very soluble salts. The consolidation was carried out mainly with nanolime in alcohol at various concentrations, locally to fix some old gypsum-based fills we used calcium caseinate. The cleaning was carried out mainly with Whishab sponges (Akapad) of various hardness, but in some cases, the laser was used on residues of lime-based paints. The gilding on the wall has been treated with neutral or slightly acid emulsions.

Q: Over the 10 years that this incredible restoration took place, was the cathedral closed to the public? If so, was the community engaged throughout?

A: The whole program of work was agreed directly with the bishop and his office. During the preliminary works (roof, drainage, gutters, etc.) the church remained open and in operation. During the first phase of the intervention in the interior a covered walkway equipped with some windows was built (which allowed to see how the work was carried on) that put in communication the main entrance with a side chapel which was isolated from the nave where faithful could access freely and where some masses were held. Major masses on Sundays and holidays were moved to a church not far away. In any case it was necessary to close the whole church for a period of two years and therefore all the ecclesiastical activity was moved to the nearby church of S. Rocco.

However, we tried to involve the population by regularly explaining in the media how the work was going on and organizing guided tours.


Questions for Janet Berry for Conservation for Mission: Conservation of Historic Interiors in the Church of England (co-authors Louise Hampson and Adam Klups)

Q: Do you think that a conservation programme more aligned to a national authority and framework would result in a more proactive approach to heritage within the Church of England?

A: (Janet) The national regulatory frameworks are already in place, and I manage a national conservation grants programme for churches, so we have both the carrot and stick to both encourage and enforce good practice nationally. However, as so many presentations in this conference have shown, local ownership of projects is necessary for their long-term success, particularly when they involve maintenance and preventive conservation. The key is to improve communication around the benefits of conservation for mission at local level using the existing national frameworks, to build up a more collaborative approach.

Q: Do you think that prior conservation interventions that have resulted in the removal of objects either from daily usage or from the church collection entirely has made congregations reluctant to request help? Is there a lack of trust or alienation between the congregations and conservation professionals and can this be overcome by better outreach and education of communities?

A: (Louise Hampson) Yes, I think there is a real problem in communication. Congregations often fear that asking for help will result in things being taken out of their hands, or being landed with a hugely/unaffordably costly proposal which leaves an object in limbo being neither able to fix it nor use it. The conversation needs recalibrating with much greater weight given to the local use of and value placed on an item. I think the 'better education in communities' typifies the problem - it is MUTUAL education which is required! It is not enough to suggest that congregations are simply ignorant and need 'educating', they have much to teach the profession about objects in use and continuing the story of an object, not ending it.

Janet: I think it is the messaging as well as the interventions that have led to the dissociation of parishioners from their objects. As an example, the ‘do not touch’ messaging has led in some cases to objects not being dusted for fear of using the wrong materials. I agree with Louise that education on all sides is needed, so that the context for the conservation is better understood and communicated.


Compiled by:
Stephanie Guidera is a third year Graduate Fellow in Art Conservation at SUNY Buffalo State College