Wooden Church of Urși Village restoration project, the big winner of the European Heritage Awards 2021

The restoration project of the Wooden Church of Urși Village in Valcea county, Romania is the big winner of the 2021 European Heritage/ Europa Nostra Awards.

This wooden church, found in the cemetery of the small village of Urși, has been carefully restored with the close involvement of many partners including the local community. “This is the outcome of an exemplary interdisciplinary conservation of a painted wooden church in a rural setting. Made from materials from its surrounding landscape, it is of outstanding value and beauty”, the Jury said.

Built during 1757 and 1784, the wooden church survived a fire in 1838 and then it was abandoned. Rediscovered in 2007, it started to undergo renovation works every summer up to 2020.

The main partners involved in its restoration were the Pro Patrimonio Foundation, the Art Conservation and Restoration Department of the National Arts University of Bucharest, the ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization, the National Institute of Physics and Nuclear Engineering “IRASM”, the National Chamber of Romanian Architects, Asociația 37 and the owner of the church, the Romanian Orthodox Church.

The project would not have been possible without the voluntary work of Urși’s community, who provided food, accommodation, access to electricity, labour and transportation, as well as the in-kind work from national and international volunteers who helped with the conservation works. The funding for the project was provided by the International Music and Art Foundation, the World Monuments Fund, the Headley Trust, Holcim Romania, online crowdfunding and the European Investment Bank Institute along with several private donors.

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The Wooden Church of Urși Village, dedicated to the Annunciation and the Archangel Michael, was built between 1757 and 1784. Though it survived a fire in 1838, after which it was repaired and decorated with frescoes, the church was later abandoned following the construction of a new church in the village. On its rediscovery in 2007, the church lay without a foundation and was at risk of collapse while its shingle roof was in urgent need of repair. The frescoes, painted in the Post-Byzantine tradition with Western influences and of remarkable artistic value, faced serious decay. In 2009, the church of Urși was included in the “60 Wooden Churches programme” in Romania by the Pro Patrimonio Foundation, and thus later nominated to the 7 Most Endangered programme 2014.

From 2009 to 2020, the restoration works took place each summer following months of fundraising efforts in the preceding year. The Jury found the restoration quality to be commendable: “This is an example of vulnerable architecture and an endangered monument that has been restored fully in accordance with conservation principles, with the original elements closely examined and reintegrated wherever possible. Sustainability was also central to the project, with trees planted to provide materials for future restoration work”.

The restoration site itself was an open one, functioning as an educational space to raise awareness about the value of the church, its wooden construction technique, the fresco technique and the content of the mural iconography, icons and iconostasis.

The conservation of the Wooden Church of Urși took place in a remote area, with limited resources and with the close involvement of local society. Over the course of the project, many opportunities for the exchange of knowledge were created. The project also led to a deeper local understanding of the value of the heritage and a sense of stewardship among the local community. This is an exemplary approach to the conservation of vulnerable buildings such as this one”, the Jury stated.

The winners of the 2021 European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards, Europe’s top honour in the field, were celebrated this afternoon with a high-profile ceremony held at the headquarters of the Giorgio Cini Foundation in Venice. During the ceremony, the four Grand Prix laureates and the Public Choice Award winner, selected from among this year’s 24 winning achievements from 18 European countries, were announced. Due to the safety precautions against COVID-19, the European Heritage Awards Ceremony 2021 was held for some 220 attendees, but was followed live by hundreds of heritage professionals, volunteers, lovers and supporters from across Europe and beyond. The ceremony is among the highlights of the European Cultural Heritage Summit 2021 that is taking place from 21-24 September in the World Heritage City of Venice.

Besides the wooden church of Ursi Village, the other three laureates were:

FIBRANET – FIBRes in ANcient European Textiles (Denmark / Greece), an innovative research project that provides new knowledge about the degradation of ancient fibres, informing both archaeological practice and providing crucial knowledge for Europeans as we look for solutions for dealing with the waste produced by the fashion and textile industries;

the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage (Cyprus), established in 2008 by the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders under the auspices of the United Nations, who has successfully restored over 70 monuments, using cultural heritage as a powerful tool for reconciliation and peaceful cooperation;

the The Invention of a Guilty Party, Trento (Italy), an exemplary exhibition that shows the relevance of a historical case of anti-Semitism to contemporary conversations around discrimination and intolerance in today’s Europe, stimulating critical reflection on the power of propaganda and fake news.

The Grand Prix laureates, chosen by the Board of Europa Nostra on recommendation by an independent jury of experts, will receive €10,000 each.

I warmly congratulate the impressive winners of the European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards 2021 for their success and remarkable contributions to our Europe of Culture. The far-reaching impact of the winners illustrate the invaluable contribution of Europe’s cultural heritage to our society, economy and the environment. At a moment when Europe is determined to build back better, these success stories are a true inspiration and a powerful example of what we, as Europeans, can achieve together despite the challenges we are faced with. I hope these Awards will help your excellent projects thrive and play an even more important role in the recovery of our Europe,” said Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.

In a congratulatory message, David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, stated: “I would like to congratulate the 24 winners of the European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards 2021. Each of you has made a contribution to the protection, enhancement and promotion of our rich cultural heritage and to the common building of Europe’s future. The European Green Deal, our external relations, the future of Europe naturally pass through our identity. So, let me express my appreciation and thanks for your commitment.”

It has been an immense joy to meet our Award winners in the iconic monastic complex of the Giorgio Cini Foundation on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Each one of our winners compellingly demonstrates the potential of our shared cultural heritage to help build a more resilient, more inclusive and more beautiful Europe. On behalf of the large Europa Nostra family, I wholeheartedly congratulate our laureates for being the proud recipients of Europe’s top honour in the heritage field. May these Awards be stepping stones to upscale your success and inspire heritage professionals and enthusiasts in Europe and beyond,” stated Prof. Dr. Hermann Parzinger, Executive President of Europa Nostra.

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