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Profanation or profanation (from profane , the associated verb is profanieren) is the desecration or degradation of a sacred (material or immaterial) object. Most often, sacred buildings such as churches, mosques, synagogues and temples are referred to as profanation. Occasionally this means the deliberate devaluation by people with a different religion or belief , but the thoughtless use of holy words is also considered profanation.

Desecration of Catholic sacred buildings

A profanation or desecration in terms of the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church needed if the church use of a church building is completed, for example due to demolition or conversion. It is thus the counterpart to church consecration . In terms of state church law, profanation in Germany has the effect of de-dedication .

A desecration is decided by the responsible bishop . It usually takes place during a last Holy Mass in the church concerned. Any relics in the church must be removed. After the profanation, the church is no longer regarded as a sacred space for worship, but as an ordinary building. This can thus be torn down or used for another purpose without violating church customs or laws, as the building has lost its consecration or blessing through the profanation. After the rededication, however, the building should not serve any “unworthy purpose”.

In Germany, the profanation of church buildings is not only carried out in the area of ​​the Catholic Church. However, extensive documentation is available for the Catholic Church, so that the following collection is limited to this church for the time being.

The St. Michael Church in Flensburg - Weiche , profaned in 2005 , has been visibly falling apart since its closure. (Photo 2011)

Catholic canon law

The Catholic Church right differentiated between the need ordination or blessing a church ( Kirchweihe , can. 1217 CIC ) and the necessary ordination of a fixed altar ( Can. 1237 §1 CIC ). Both ( can. 1238 §2 CIC ) require a separate profanation, which is carried out exclusively and effectively by a decree of the Ordinary (Church) ( can. 1212 CIC and can. 1222 CIC ) and therefore does not require any liturgical act. In the case of a church, the local bishop must first hear the council of priests (without being obliged to obey its vote) and obtain the consent of those who “legitimately claim rights to the church” ( can. 1222 §2 CIC ), which in Germany concerns the church council (not the parish council ) or a patron . Since there is no need for a ritual for church profanation, the Roman authorities have no interest in regulating such rituals worldwide.

Rituals and ideas about their effects

The profanation by the decree of the local bishop is in contrast to the celebration of the church consecration and altar consecration . In addition, the liturgical texts of the altar consecration speak of an eternal dedication of the facility for worship. The complex system of, above all, unwritten rules and customs for behavior in church rooms and the use of the same stages the sanctity of the room as withdrawn from human arbitrariness. Since the late 16th century, the attempt has therefore been made to accompany or carry out the profanation of a church through rituals. These attempts were never included in the liturgical books intended for the entire Catholic Church and are therefore only handed down or further developed as diocesan liturgies until today .


Antiquity and the early Middle Ages do not have a proper church profanation. Most of the elements of the rite of consecration did not develop until the High Middle Ages . Contradiction to the idea that a church would be consecrated by the first use in accordance with its dedication is preserved in Letter 66 from Synesius of Cyrene . He points out the problem that, on the basis of this idea, by celebrating a Holy Mass, any location could be turned into a church - and thus church property. Statutory acts would therefore have to be available for dedications. In this respect, the liturgy corresponds to the oldest Christian conceptions about the establishment and redemption of the sanctity of spaces.

The Byzantine patriarch Kallinikos refused to carry out a ritual for church profanation against the emperor Justinian II in 693/94. The emperor wanted to demolish a church in order to build a fountain and a pedestal for one of the circus parties . The Patriarch first stated: “We have a prayer for building a church. But our tradition does not know a prayer for the destruction of a church ”. At the urging of the emperor, however, he said: “Glory to God who endures everything, now and forever and in all times to come. Amen". The text continues: “And when they heard this, they destroyed the church and built the well.” The patriarch refused to invent a profanation liturgy, but could not escape the situation. His doxology is interpreted as a substitute for it.

Ritualized destruction

Since the Middle Ages , sources of canon law testify that with a certain degree of destruction of a church building (and altar) its character as a sacred space is wiped out. Up to the present day, stylized acts of minimal destruction can be found in rituals for church building, such as damaging the altar substructure with a hammer or turning over candles and candlesticks, which is common today. According to Working Aid 175 of the German Bishops' Conference, the altar plate should not be damaged or profaned, but rather salvaged and kept for a renewed use in accordance with the purpose.

Reverse execution of sanctification rituals

Different historical rituals attest to the opinion that the reverse execution of rituals, under certain conditions, wipes out their earlier effects. Among the rituals at church consecration , the transfer of relics and their installation in the altar of a new church are of high importance. To this day, relics, statues and other "healing objects" (Working Aid 175) are removed from the church in order to create and depict the desecration of a building. The ritualized washing of parts of the building (to remove the places where the building or the altar was anointed with chrism ) has not caught on.

Ritual in the present

The rites in the church profanation emphasize the following three design elements.

Staging the promulgation of the act

Even if a Holy Mass is celebrated on the occasion of the profanation , the public reading of the episcopal decree with which the church is profaned is an element of the rite. This can also be done in the presence of the bishop himself. The reading of the decree stages the removal of holiness as a legal act of the competent authority.

Ritualized desecration by removing sacred things

The diocesan proposals to Kirchenprofanierungsliturgien and work using the German Bishops' Conference recommended the implementation of a procession with the Blessed Sacrament , relics and holy images from the deconsecrated church possible in a nearby another church where the former members of the old parish place in the future a new spiritual home should.

Profane churches in Germany (according to dioceses)

Only those dioceses are included in the list for which the linked articles contain largely complete overviews of the profane churches.

Protestant church

In the Protestant Church , no distinction is made between sacred, consecrated and profane spaces. As houses of God , rooms used for church purposes are a visible sign of God's presence in the world, for example when the congregation gathers for worship. In principle, they should be accessible to the general public and are under special state protection in Germany, for example under Section 166 of the Criminal Code or as a cultural monument .

The deedication of land and buildings used by the church are regulated by the individual Protestant regional churches through laws and ordinances. The sources of law are generally available on the Internet, for example the principles for de-dedication of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland .

The respective church parish leadership decides on the construction, use, administration, demolition or sale of buildings owned by a Protestant community , whose resolutions and declarations generally require a church supervisory approval by the respective church leadership to be effective.

Desecration of statues

In addition to buildings and places, statues can also be subjected to profanation by removing them from their original sacred context or / and changing them through plastic processing and thus giving them a profane identity:

  • In 392, after the violent destruction of the Serapeion and other cult buildings, statues were profaned in Alexandria , unless they were Christianized.
  • In Basel , the statue of the Blessed Mother Mary , who was the city's patroness before the Reformation, was converted into a Justitia (with sword and scales) in 1608 .
  • During the French Revolution , church statues were profaned by reworking, for example by carving a statue of the Virgin Mary into a Napoleon or a Benedict figure into a Minerva .
  • Statues are also profaned if they are removed from their original context in a church or temple and transferred to a museum or private collection.
  • Destruction by smashing or burning can also be viewed as a radical act of profanation.

Statues can escape profanation when a building is profaned by being transferred to another sacred building, as has happened more recently with the profanation of Catholic churches.


In the Jewish faith, a synagogue is seen as a meeting place, place for prayer or scripture study. By inserting the Torah scrolls and attaching the mezuzah , a building becomes a synagogue. By removing the objects, a synagogue is profaned. Usually this happens when the church gets too small.

See also


  • Clemens Leonhard, Thomas Schüller (Ed.): Dead in the Church? Legal and liturgical aspects of the profanation of churches and their conversion to columbaria . Pustet, Regensburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-7917-2463-8 .
  • Angelika Büchse, Herbert Fendrich, Philipp E. Reichling (eds.): Churches - use and conversion. Cultural, historical, theological and practical reflections . International symposium on the conversion of churches from 22.-24. September 2010 in Mülheim an der Ruhr. Aschendorff Verlag, Münster 2012, ISBN 978-3-402-12939-5 .
  • Katrin Bauer: Houses of God for sale. Parish mergers, church closings and conversions (=  contributions to popular culture in north-west Germany . No. 117 ). Waxmann, Münster a. a. 2011, ISBN 978-3-8309-2472-2 .
  • Albert Gerhards, Julia Niemann (ed.): St. Ursula in Hürth-Kalscheuren. Parish church - profanation - conversion. Facts and questions . LIT, Berlin a. a. 2009, ISBN 978-3-8258-1911-8 .
  • René Pahud de Mortanges, Jean-Baptiste Zufferey (ed.): Construction and conversion of religious buildings. Le patrimoine réligieux face à l'immobilier et la construction . 1st edition. Schulthess Legal Media, Zurich a. a. 2007, ISBN 978-3-7255-5448-5 (bilingual German and French).
  • Winfried Haunerland: Farewell Party or Transitional Ritual? On the liturgy on the occasion of the profanation of a church . In: Winfried Haunerland (Ed.): Manifestatio ecclesiae. Studies on pontifical and episcopal liturgy . Pustet, Regensburg 2004, ISBN 3-7917-1885-1 , p. 549-566 .
  • Hubertus Halbfas: The future of our church buildings, problems and solutions . Patmos, Ostfildern 2019, ISBN 978-3-8436-1112-1 .
  • Kim de Wildt, Robert JJM Plum: Church reuse . In: Michael Klöcker, Udo Tworuschka (Hrsg.): Handbuch der Religionen . 60th supplementary delivery 2019. Westarp Science, Hohenwarsleben 2019, ISBN 978-3-86617-500-6 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Profanation  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Desecration: Page of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany on the subject
  2. z. B. a decree from the diocese of Trier : -martin-in-remagen /
  3. See Schüller: The conversion of parish churches to Grabeskirchen. Canon law aspects In: Leonhard / Schüller 2012, 273
  4. ^ Pontifical IV. The consecration of the church and the altar. The consecration of oils. Pontifical for the Catholic dioceses of the German-speaking area, published on behalf of the German Bishops' Conferences Trier, pp. 57 and 59
  5. On the profanation of an altar based on texts from the 14th century cf. Zimmerhof 2012, 28. Texts and translations of the sources in Zimmerhof 98–125
  6. Discussion and sources at: Bernard Botte and Heinzgerd Brakmann, article Kirchweihe In: Reallexikon für Antike und Christianentum ( Canon I - Clothing I = Vol. 20), Stuttgart, Hiersemann 2004, ISBN 3-7772-0436-6 , Sp. 1139 -1169
  7. ^ Quote from Leonhard: Profanation ritual or farewell party? In: Leonhard / Schüller 2012, 128 note 5 with reference to the Chronicle of Theophanes for the year 693/694: Edition p. 368 and the translation by Cyril Mango and Roger Scott: The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor. Byzantine and Near Eastern History AD 284-813. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1997, ISBN 0-19-822568-7 , p. 513.
  8. Evangelical Church in the Rhineland: Information on the subject of deedication from 2010 - accessed on December 28, 2018
  9. For the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau, for example, regulated in § 47 of the parish regulations.
  10. Stefan Altekamp , Carmen Marcks-Jacobs , Peter Seiler (eds.): Perspektiven der Spolienforschung 1: Spoliierung and Transposition. de Gruyter, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-11-029105-6 , p. 13 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  11. Stefan Hess : Ideals of rulers and ideal women. Virtue allegories in early modern Basel. In: Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde . Vol. 111 (2011), pp. 115–154, therein pp. 139 ff. ( Digitized version ).
  12. The Great Book of Styles. Vol. 5: Die Romanik, Welz Vermittlerverlag, Mannheim 2005, ISBN 978-3-938622-53-7 , p. 44 ( limited preview in the Google book search).
  13. Madonna moves to St. Paulus. Retrieved December 4, 2019 .
  14. Chajm Guski: Synagogue. July 3, 2012, accessed December 4, 2019 .