How our AGM’s have evolved

Group photo from AGM 2014 in Barcelona, Spain
A personal retrospective on the past Annual General Meetings and their evolution over the years.

To celebrate ASCE 20th anniversary, I thought it would be nice to look back at all our past AGM’s. Also, I hope to make you aware of the key personalities in our history.

ASCE has done a great deal more than host AGM’s. This perspective will allow us a look back at how we have grown into the organisation we are today. An association which has adapted to meet the needs of our members and the increased threats to cemetery heritage.

AGM 2001: Bologna, Italy

Mauro Felicori, the first ASCE president In 2001 our founder and first president, Mauro Felicori was a manager at Bologna Certosa when he had the idea of a European wide “club” of cemeteries, as he called it.

From the beginning he felt it was important that the club should meet once a year at the end of the summer. On the 10th November 2001 the first AGM took place in Bologna, attended by around 30 delegates from 8 countries. It took place over a single day and there were no presentations. Understandably the time was taken up formulating a governing document and electing a steering group and president. That governing document stated the following aims;
  1. To encourage experience and best practice.
  2. To work together on common projects.
  3. To awaken the national and European Institutions on the importance of cemeteries in the European heritage.
  4. To encourage the attention of the Universities.
  5. To promote the necessary legal innovations.
  6. To draw attention to the media and tourist publishing.
  7. To use new technologies more and better.
Our aims have remained much the same to this day, although there is now a greater emphasis on the care and protection of cemeteries.

The first AGM closed with a tour of the Certosa Monumental Cemetery and the element of a cemetery tour has continued to this day. Key figures at that first AGM were Anders Norsell from Stockholm, who was to take an increasing role in the management of ASCE in the coming years. Maria Luisa Yzaguirre made her first appearance and she would go onto to become our president in 2007. The most important figure and very much the initial guiding light for ASCE was Mauro Felicori, who was elected as our first president.

AGM 2002: Vilnius, Lithuania

A group photo from the AGM 2002

In 2002 Vilnius in Lithuania hosted the second AGM and around 30 delegates attended. Presentations were given to the delegates on the theme of, “European Cemeteries, History, Research and Restoration”. The focus was very much on the academic and this reflected the importance that Mauro Felicori attached to establishing our association as a valid academic body, with peer review of papers presented.

AGM 2003: Barcelona, Spain

In 2003 ASCE went to Barcelona, courtesy of Jordi Valmaña, general manager of CBSA, the managing company for Barcelona cemeteries. Jordi’s keen support and the backing of CBSA has been invaluable to ASCE. However, records of this AGM are thin and sadly even the theme was not recorded. We do know that the number of delegates attending had increased to around 45.

AGM 2004: Genoa, Italy

The AGM 2004 in Genoa, Italy In 2004 ASCE returned to Italy and Genoa Commune hosted the AGM with incredible generosity. One of the venues was also used by the G8 summit! Attendance had increased to over 50 delegates with 16 countries represented. It was my first AGM and I remember sitting in awe of the baroque decor. To match the surroundings the programme was ambitious and for the first time extended to three days.

A group photo from the AGM 2004Thursday was a half day formal AGM and on the Friday the programme started at 8.30 in the morning and finished at 18.30 with 19 speakers, no less! Fifteen of the presentations were academic, although four were pragmatic including one entitled, “The scanning of sculpture using laser techniques”. Amongst the speakers was Prof. Javier Rodríguez Barberán from Seville, who would later serve on our scientific committee for some years. Also present for the first time was Martin Ernerth from Berlin, who serves on the steering group today.

On the third day was a half day tour of the magnificent Staglieno cemetery. Another enhancement was the introduction of a gala dinner on Friday. At Genoa it was suitably ambitious and was held on a roof top overlooked by a flood lit medieval tower. A lot of the presentations were not in English and the hosts introduced translation services for the first time. Not put off in the least by the staggering standards set by Genoa, Martin Ernerth offered to host the next AGM.

AGM 2005: Berlin, Germany

In 2005 the Berlin AGM was significant as it was hosted by volunteers who represented the significant churchyards and cemeteries of Berlin. Also supporting the event were the Friends of Stahnsdorf, managed by Olaf Ihlefeldt, who is still part of the management of ASCE today. The event included a visit to the very rural Stahnsdhorf cemetery where Friedrich Alfred Krupp’s grave was the biggest I have ever seen, half an acre no less!

An election of officers took place and Mauro Felicori was re-elected president. For the first time a steering group was also elected. The programme was for the first time largely pragmatic with presentations looking at the differing cemetery cases of each country.

For the first time there was a workshop to take conclusions forward. Also it was the first attendance of Gunnar Wik from Bergen, Norway, who provided firm guidance on the steering group for a number of years. Finally, for the first time a printed record of the largely pragmatic presentations was made. Possibly this was prompted by the first attendance of Julie Rugg, the English academic who would take a position on the scientific committee. Also attending for the first time was our current president Lidija Pliberšek.

AGM 2006: Verona, Italy

The Monumental Cemetery of Verona, ItalyIn 2006 ASCE returned to Italy to Verona and despite the attractive venue only 59 delegates attended. However, the AGM had 34 speakers! To this day that is the most packed programme we have had and in order for it to happen the programme extended to the whole of Thursday as it does to this day. Verona also marked the high tide of academic presentations as all but one was academic with titles such as, “Metamorphism and the maiden in Liberty funeral sculpture”.

At the programme finish time the speakers were still going strong but not so the translators who walked out at 18.30, complaining: “Too many speaks”. Gunnar Wik then started the "English only" argument which was to eventually win out. Despite my nationality I think that is a little sad, as each language has its own beauty and added to the atmosphere of the AGM’s.

AGM 2007: Stavanger and Sandnes, Norway

In 2007 we headed north to Stavanger in Norway and it became clear which way the wind blew for the Scandinavian countries with almost a complete turnaround in the programme content. As we looked at the problems of cemetery management and emerging trends, the speakers were not academics but landscape architects and cemetery managers. The AGM saw a further expansion as it ran to the end of Saturday for the first time and most AGM’s that followed have run all of Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 

An election was held, Mauro Felicori’s six years as president came to an end and he was replaced by Maria Luisa Yzaguirre from Barcelona. There were only 14 presentations as the organisers took us to several cemeteries and as we travelled, we seemed to be either on a bridge or in a tunnel in this mountainous coastal country.

AGM 2008: Birkenhead, England

John Moffat with Maria Luisa Yzaguirre, Jean Pateman and Guenola GroudNo traveling for me in 2008 when the Friends of Flaybrick hosted the AGM at Birkenhead with the cooperation of Wirral Borough Council. A factor in the success of an AGM is whether it is easy to access. In our case, we were very much off centre in Europe. Never the less we succeeded in getting 98 delegates from 16 countries

I decided to go after the speakers. I wanted to produce an AGM which was devoted to the role of volunteers in the care and restoration of cemeteries. I also had responsibility for catering were knowing your numbers is key to reducing costs. The day before the conference started, I met Maria Luisa Yzaguirre and drove her around the key locations. On the way we passed the railway station in Liverpool and I was horrified to see three delegates from one of the Balkan countries who had made no attempt whatsoever to register!

Andreea Pop has said that a consideration of a successful conference is whether it gives lasting benefits to the host. Well in our case it certainly did as the standards of grounds maintenance were raised dramatically prior to the AGM and have remained so ever since.

AGM 2009: Granada, Spain

In 2009, 99 delegates from 15 countries enjoyed the splendour of the AGM in Granada. The delegates where given presentations on cemetery tourism and culture. Amongst the speakers were Ian Hussein, Director of the Commonwealth grave Commission, Northern Europe. We also had Pascal-Hervé Daniel, Director of Paris Cemeteries, who made clear that he did not want any more tourists at Père Lachaise Cemetery, adding that he had 16 requests to film in 2008 in the previous 12 months. Interestingly, he had just introduced laser beam alarm systems for key memorials. Daniel served on our steering group for a number of years and I remember sitting next to him when an expected important dignitary walked in, Daniel said, “Ah, la grand fromage.” Since Daniel left our association, Lidija Pliberšek has worked constantly to bring Père Lachaise back into ASCE.

I clearly remember the gala dinner, our tables ringed an open courtyard with two guitarists in the middle playing the Rodriguez guitar concerto. Above us the walls of the Alhambra were lit up by a full moon - really magical. If that was not enough, the following evening we enjoyed a nocturnal tour of the Alhambra and its splendid gardens.

AGM 2010: Cagliari, Italy

The AGM 2010 in Cagliari, ItalyIn 2010 we returned to Italy on the island of Sardinia and its capital Cagliari. Attendance set a new record with 137 delegates from 17 countries. However not all the delegates were inside listening to presentations. The Scandinavians had suffered terrible weather that year and spent a lot of time on the terrace soaking up the sun which they had hardly seen that year. They had an added bonus as the touristic element of the programme included a tour of the beaches!

Presentations were 100% pragmatic including a presentation from Žale on new cemetery software. Delegates were also introduced to Augmented Reality, which would play a part in the future of mobile cemetery guides, such as Artour. Another key aspect was that three hours were devoted to the launch of the European Cemetery Route project.

AGM 2011: Vienna, Austria

The 2011 saw us in Vienna at an AGM focused on the Central Cemetery, the staggeringly large main cemetery of Vienna. This year saw another election and we said goodbye to Maria Luisa Yzaguirre. She withdrew completely from ASCE but had for some time given guidance and advice to Lidija Pliberšek who was elected as our new president. A total of 115 delegates from 16 countries heard 14 presentations equally balanced between academic and pragmatic with the delegates able to hear them in German and Spanish as well as English.

AGM 2012: Maribor, Slovenia

In 2012, AGM was held in Maribor, Slovenia and despite the fine location only 60 delegates attended. One of the missing delegates was myself, so I am afraid my record of the event is not good. However, I can tell you that the programme was largely pragmatic and for the first time Dušan Vrban spoke to the AGM about the technical possibilities for the future.


AGM 2013: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

ASCE president Lidija Pliberšek speaking at the AGM 2011 in Amsterdan, the Netherlands

2013 saw us in Amsterdam, thanks to the generous support of the Facultatieve Company, long -time supporters of ASCE. The programme examined current changes in the cemetery environment with Dr. Julie Rugg speaking on the changing landscape of death and Wim van Midwoud looking at the need for harmony between cremation and burials.

AGM 2014: Barcelona, Spain

In 2014 ASCE returned to Barcelona and our most successful AGM ever with 150 delegates attending. A mix of cemetery managers and academics examined the themes of, "Remembrance, memory and heritage". The delegates enjoyed the unique atmosphere of a night time tour of Poblenou Cemetery accompanied by live classical music.

AGM 2015: Bucharest, Romania

In 2015 we went further east than ever before in the city of Bucharest. The AGM was close to not taking place due to considerable political changes and it was only thanks to the efforts of Andreea Pop that we were able to enjoy the entirely pragmatic AGM without disruption. The theme was, “Foreigners in Significant Cemeteries” so it was particularly appropriate to hear a presentation from Julia Bolton Holloway (born in London), resplendent in her nuns habit, speaking on the Non Catholic Cemetery of Florence which she manages.

AGM 2016: Dublin, Ireland

Visit of the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, Ireland
I was closely involved in the organisation of the speakers programme for the AGM 2016, hosted by the Glasnevin Cemetery Trust. That year marked the centenary of the Easter Uprising and I proposed a theme of “Conflict, Interpretation, Memorialisation = Reconciliation”. George McCullough and Mervyn Colville, the trust managers, bravely took on this theme.

The AGM was largely academic and succeeded in achieving balance in the face of political sensitivities, as the Trust always has done at Glasnevin. Attendance was good and significantly one of the delegates was Richard Moylan, president of the Green-Wood Cemetery in New York. For the first time there was significant commercial input towards the costs of the event with a partnership with the Eco Legacy company.

AGM 2017: Athens, Greece

In 2017, ASCE went to Greece for the first time for an AGM in Athens. Sadly, this was another miss for me but the delegates enjoyed a strongly academic programme with the appropriate theme of “Ancient Greek Art and European Funerary Art”. The lead organiser for the event was Professor Evangelia Georgitsoyanni who worked hard to ensure that for the first time the presentations were published in a printed document.

AGM 2018: Innsbruck, Austria

Group photo from the AGM 2018 in Innsbruck, Austria

In 2018 ASCE returned to Austria in the city of Innsbruck. The programme was largely academic but there was a presentation, “Adding Value to Cemeteries with Mapping”, achieved with 360 degree videoing. There were 23 speakers but Alexander Legniti made sure that the programme ran to time by installing traffic lights in front of the speakers!

AGM 2019: Ghent, Belgium

Photo from the AGM 2019 in Ghent, Belgium

For the first time Belgium hosted the AGM in the city of Ghent in 2019. A very strong partnership of no less than 8 organisation including ASCE and three years of planning resulted in our most successful AGM ever with 163 delegates from 19 countries attending. It was also the longest, with the event having commencing at 4pm on the Wednesday and finishing on Saturday afternoon. Also, a new development was the inclusion of post conference drinks on the Friday night.

Delegates heard presentations on the theme of, “Heritage cemeteries in the 21st century, Use, Reuse and Shared Use”. For the first time our AGM was enhanced with poster sessions with a total of 20 on display.

We visited Laeken Cemetery, with its stunning backdrop and for the first time visited a cemetery sculptor’s workshop. At St. Amandsberg Cemetery we were able to see restorers at work using epoxy resins to fix shattered stones. We also learned how the coast of restoration was met by sponsorship.

AGM 2020: Vienna, Austria

Sadly, after this triumph in 2019, in 2020 our AGM was all but wiped out by Covid and reduced to just a short formal AGM held online, hosted by Vienna.

AGM and Conference 2021

We are now about to come to a full 20 year circle with a dynamic return from Covid and a triple pronged resurgence! For those of you who are able to travel, an AGM will take place for the first time in Hungary on the 16th to the 18th September thanks to our new partners, The National Heritage Institute in Budapest. Delegates will be able to experience the full splendours of this historic city thanks to a cemetery, museum and touristic programme. They will also be able to participate in the process of the formal AGM and enjoy a gala dinner whilst cruising the Danube. For those not able to make it to Budapest there will be the possibility of participating online.

Finally, an online Conference will be hosted by Highgate on the 11th and 12th of November. The theme will be, “Cemetourism – cemeteries with a story to tell”. As I sit on the editorial board, I can assure you that the speakers will be wide ranging and pragmatic, aiming to help you to enhance your cemetery visitor experience.

John Moffat
UK Steering Group member

You can access the original article HERE.