Sacred but not holy: Awe, spectacle, and the heritage gaze in Danish religious heritage contexts


  • Oscar Salemink University of Copenhagen
  • Rasmus Rask Poulsen University of Copenhagen
  • Sofie Isager Ahl University of Copenhagen


World Heritage, religious heritage, sacred, holy, Denmark


Based on an ideal-typical distinction between the holy and the sacred, this paper considers the effects of the heritagization of religious spaces in the three Danish World Heritage sites of Jelling, Roskilde and Christiansfeld. Religious sites are often intended as spectacles inspiring religious awe in the religious constituency, but when considered heritage, the site becomes a spectacle for a different public, for whom the sacrality of the place is not necessarily motivated by religious piety. Instead, the church as heritage site may be a sacralized focal point for ontological pride on behalf of another, secular constituency, like the region or nation; or for vicarious nostalgia of a tourist public. The religious congregation itself might even become the object of a heritage gaze on the part of cultural experts and tourists who foreground the “authenticity” of the religious experience in the spatial environment of the place in line with UNESCO principles. In this paper we argue that the overlaying of a heritage gaze over a religious gaze results in the potential hybridization of religion as a category of heritage. This not only hybridizes religious piety but inadvertently frames it as cultural heritage through the secular, immanent frame of heritage.