Timothy Verdon is Director of the Office of Sacred Art and Church Cultural Heritage for the Florentine Archdiocese and also Director of the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. Verdon, an art historian formed at Yale University and a Roman Catholic priest, canon of Florence Cathedral, has been a Consultant to the Vatican Commission for Sacred Art and a Fellow of the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies (Florence). He is the author of numerous books and articles on sacred art, and for 20 years was president of Ars et Fides, a Federation of Volunteer Guide Associations in Historic Churches.
Note: this interview is in English, the language of the international congress in October 2016.
He expects that the conference can call attention to the question itself (How to increase religious heritage tourism in a changing society?), which is not clearly perceived outside the limited circle of church goers and clergymen and -women responsible for churches. The conference has to articulate the problem in terms that have to do with broad societal values, not only with the narrower values of religious people.
In his opinion, to create the right balance between religious use and tourism, tourists have to be helped to understand that what they see as the beauty of churches is inseparably linked to their original function, and that, as a consequence, that beauty can be fully appreciated only when the original function is respected. Tourists have to be brought to want to see churches during religious functions, and to visit them, even outside the times of functions, in a spirit of respect and ‘imaginative reconstruction’.
‘Generally, all those responsible for churches must work to explain, in broad societal and anthropological terms, what such buildings offered in the past and can still offer today to the world in which all, believers and non-believers, live. We have to work to help people recognize these buildings as symbolic centers of our historical value system and thus of our highest identity.’
Timothy Verdon will give a keynote speech on Thursday 6 October called ‘Religious Heritage Tourism in an Art City: Florence and the Challenge of Communicating Meaning’.