Thoughts on the Wittenberg Judensau

Thoughts on the Wittenberg Judensau

– An opinion from Dr Christopher Young, Heritage Consultant. London, United Kingdom 11 JUN 2019 —

Historic buildings have always changed through time according to the tastes of those who control them and how they are to be used. This is as true of churches as of any other building type; even though the basic purpose of divine worship has been maintained, the way in which that worship is carried out may have changed greatly. Heritage buildings will continue to change in the future. While the primary purpose of intervening in such places is their conservation and sustainable use, other change may sometimes be justified by the resulting public benefits.

Every time a change is proposed, the decision on whether or not to implement it is based implicitly or, increasingly, explicitly on the decision takers’ understanding of the values of the building, and on their judgement of the balance of harm to its significance against any public gain. The more important the heritage values, the higher the barrier should be to changes which adversely affect significance.

Understanding of heritage values depends both on the merits and historical significance of the building itself but also on the zeitgeist of society. Thus over the last half-century it has been increasingly realised that industrial buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries have historical and cultural value which should be conserved. An increasing trend also has been the recognition that heritage places have intangible meanings for different people and communities. We now know that heritage buildings and places are not important just for their architectural or historic merits, but because of what they mean to people. The reaction to the recent fire at Notre Dame in Paris is a clear example of the meanings that buildings can hold for people. Alongside this, there is increasing recognition that rights-based approaches should apply as much to heritage as to any other aspect of human existence, leading to proposals that particular heritage items should be removed or modified because they are offensive to individuals or to whole communities.