Archdiocese of Toronto Archives develops heritage program

  • June 5, 2007
{mosimage}TORONTO - The archdiocese of Toronto has approved a new cultural heritage program, one of the first of its kind in North America.
The late Pope John Paul II established the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church in 1993. One of its first priorities was to encourage all dioceses to inventory and catalogue its cultural heritage — sacred objects, furnishings, works of art — and to use it as a tool for education and evangelization.

While the archdiocese has approved the program in theory, the details are still being worked out. The program will be a wing of the archives department overseen by Marc Lerman, director of archives.

“After being here for 20 years I realized we don’t have archives of our sacred objects,” said Lerman.

{sidebar id=2}Lerman recently hired Andrea D’Angelo on a six-month contract as cultural heritage program co-ordinator to design the program. Together they will present a proposal to the archdiocesan finance council in the fall for approval of a full-time program starting in January.

“It’s very exciting to be a part of something so new and doesn’t exist yet,” said D’Angelo, who holds a bachelor of arts in architectural studies from the University of Toronto.

“Art is a reflection of different communities. It’s an expression of their faith. Just by doing an inventory shows we respect it,” said D’Angelo, adding that an artist considering donating their artwork wants reassurance it will be looked after and appreciated.

Lerman said there is a very practical consideration for this program. In the case of theft, accidents, natural disaster or parish renovations catalogued items will be more easily identifiable.

“Before St. Michael’s Cathedral started to undergo renovations they needed to do an inventory for insurance purposes,” said Lerman. “Had they already known (what they had) they would have saved money.”

Currently there are no records of which relics lay underneath each parish altar, no track record of sacred objects that have been displaced to another diocese or facts about the objects such as which artist designed a certain stained glass window.

D’Angelo hasn’t worked out the best way to catalogue the items yet, but she hopes to recruit volunteers to help her catalogue some of the more than 200 parishes in the archdiocese.

She said she will begin with whichever churches have the most interesting objects with the greatest value. Other considerations are older parishes and enthusiastic parishes.

But Lerman added it’s important to catalogue objects in new churches as well, otherwise 200 years from now they’ll have the same problem as today — struggling to identify objects in older parishes.

“It’s like a family going through its photo album, 200 years later you don’t remember who’s so and so,” said Lerman.

The other component to the program is to use sacred objects for education and evangelization.

“Talking about statues and stained glass windows is how we can tell our story,” said Lerman.

Once objects have been catalogued Lerman hopes to report the findings to parishioners by publishing pamphlets. Giving classroom presentations is another idea.

“I would love to leave (behind) a museum, even just a large room,” said Lerman, who also imagines giving walking historical tours of parishes.

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