‘Cultural vandalism’ claims as church breaks up archive

The archive will leave the city's Columba House later this year
The archive will leave the city's Columba House later this year
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SCOTLAND’S Catholic leaders were today accused of “cultural vandalism” after confirming plans to split up a collection of historic documents and move them out of Edinburgh.

Letters from Mary, Queen of Scots, correspondence relating to the Stuarts and the Jacobites and papers dating as far back as the 12th century are among the artefacts currently stored in the Scottish Catholic Archives at Columba House in the New Town, but which are now to be transferred to a new home in Aberdeen.

All the documents from before 1878, when Catholicism was restored as a recognised religion, are to be moved to Aberdeen University Library over the next few months.

The more modern documents in the archives will remain at Columba House in the meantime, but are due to be switched to Glasgow once a new headquarters for the Scottish Catholic bishops conference is established there.

Catholic author and historian Michael Turnbull said the collection should be kept together and stay in Edinburgh, close to other key centres of research.

He said: “This plan is cultural vandalism. It’s a devastating announcement and we will do all we can to resist it.

“The cardinal sin in archival work is to split up an archive and that’s what they are doing.

“It’s splitting up this unique collection which was deliberately located in the place where it can be best used by scholars.

“Columba House is the envy of church archives across the world because it is centralised in Scotland’s capital, close to the National Library of Scotland, the National Archives of Scotland, the National Museum of Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland.”

Mr Turnbull added: “How will cash-strapped students afford the train or bus fares, the overnight accommodation and the time that commuting takes?”

Distinguished academics, such as leading historian Professor Tom Devine of Edinburgh University, have also criticised the break-up of the archive at Columba House in Drummond Place.

Prof Devine said: “An enormous amount of lay and clerical effort has gone into building up the national and international reputation of Columba House.

“The transfer to Aberdeen and Glasgow is seen as inconvenient, given that all other national archives are held in the Capital.”

A Catholic Church spokesman said 27,000 books and pamphlets from another Catholic collection, currently held at the National Library of Scotland, would also be moved to Aberdeen.

He said the church wanted to make sure its historic documents were kept in the best conservation and security conditions possible and the new Aberdeen base had been designed with that in mind.

He added: “It is not unusual for historians and scholars to conduct their studies in different locations. People in England would not think twice about having to consult papers in London and in Oxford.”

The spokesman said the transfer of the pre-1878 collection should be completed by autumn. But he said work had yet to start on converting the premises in Glasgow into a new bishops’ headquarters so there was no date for when the rest of the documents would leave Columba House.

iswanson@edinburghnews.com