Thursday, 27 June 2013

Heritage of the Diocese of Beja

The Historical and Artistic Heritage Department of the Diocese of Beja, in Portuguese Departamento do Património Histórico e Artístico da Diocese de Beja (DPHA), gathers a group of volunteers with different backgrounds on various areas of the cultural heritage.

Igreja de Espírito Santo

It is responsible for the safeguard and care of the historical churches of the southern Alentejo, in Southern Portugal, operating in a 12 300 km2 area – the less populated of this country, but rich in religious monuments from the paleochristian period to the present.
DPHA began its work in 1984, facing a complex situation: thefts of works of sacred art and illegal transactions with antiquarians were taking place; over a hundred churches, especially rural shrines, had been abandoned; in wealthier villages, unqualified local restorers had been depreciating retables, sculptures, canvas and mural paintings, organs, etc., with acrylic glues and paints, striking colours, plastic additions.

Chapel in Alentejo, Southern Portugal

Under the direction of Professor José António Falcão, DPHA launched a modern inventory of the cultural heritage of this area, which includes a computerised database. It also created a counselling service covering from preventive conservation to technical and law matters, as a support to parishes.


Co-operating with local authorities, it has been providing training courses to priests and volunteers; protection committees were created in the main monuments, some of which had been kept closed for long, and above all a network of museums has been created.

Sacred art exhibitions have proven to be public successes, such as “Between Heaven and Earth”, “The Shapes of the Spirit” or “The Invention of the World”. More than 50 historic churches and 1000 works of art were restored or preserved according to high scientific standards.

Church, Castle and Sky in Beja

25 years later, the population of Southern Portugal and visitors to the region benefit from a much more favourable environment for the safeguard and display of their religious heritage. DPHA is now known, respected, and followed as a role authority in national territory and it co-operates with similar institutions in countries abroad, such as Spain, Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, and Brazil.

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