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Frontpage News 2011 170 year old prison chapel restored by inmates

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170 year old prison chapel restored by inmates

A team of painters and prison inmates have jointly restored a 170 year old chapel that had been hidden for over 50 years in the Balassagyarmat prison. The unique Norway Grants project is presented in the newly launched book “Fresco Feather of the Goldenbird”.

The book “Fresco Feather of the Goldenbird” describes how the chapel built in the 1840s in Balassagyarmat prison and penitentiary in Hungary was hidden for nearly 50 years before a team of artists, architects and prison inmates came together to renovate the chapel with support from the Norway Grants.
Led by the Hungarian fresco painter, Lencses Zsolt, the team combined a special wall painting training with fresco-therapy, and after 18 months the old stained walls were converted into beautiful frescos.

"This book is a record of the project, our expertise, and the lessons that we - the project team - gave and in turn learnt. It is also a record of our personal feelings and experiences. When we first entered the prison we had fears and anxieties, but during the course of the project, our impression of the prisoners evolved into one of fellow colleagues", says the author, Éva Lilla Kronauer.


The main goal of the project was to involve the 70 prison inmates in the renovation of the chapel to provide them with a technical education within wall painting and frescos. The project applied Fresco-therapy (the power of art in social development theory) that can help increase the inmates’ employment opportunities after their release.

"Some are planning to work with the obtained knowledge and degree in the future, and one of the former inmates is already making a living today using the knowledge he attained through the project", explains Kronauer.

Although the renovation of the chapel is over, the training and the fresco-therapy still continues.

In 2009, a similar training program was established in the Penitentiary Institute and Prison in Márianosztra.

Photo: Guri Merete Smenes