Aberdeen University becomes font for Scotland’s Catholic heritage

Arch Bishop Mario Conti (left) pictured here with Pope Benedict. Picture: Robert Perry
Arch Bishop Mario Conti (left) pictured here with Pope Benedict. Picture: Robert Perry
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TWO priceless collections of manuscripts, books and letters from the archives of the Catholic Church are to be returned to the north-east of Scotland for the first time in more than half a century.

The collections, which include letters from Mary, Queen of Scots, are said to be of “national and international significance” and were last housed together in 1958 at the former Blairs Seminary on the outskirts of Aberdeen.

The archives, covering some of the most turbulent centuries in the history of the Catholic Church, will now be reunited under one roof at Aberdeen University’s new state-of-the-art library.

The main archive, which includes papers from Aberdeenshire and Moray dating back to the 12th century, is currently in the care of Columba House in Edinburgh, where the extensive Scottish Catholic Archive is located.

The university will also become the custodian of the Blairs Library, which has been on loan to the National Library of Scotland since 1974.

The Blairs Library is a valuable collection of 27,000 books and pamphlets dating from 1801. Several of the documents are the only surviving copies.

Many of the artefacts were once hidden at the Catholic Church’s “secret” seminary in Glenlivet on Speyside, which served as a refuge for the training of young students for the Catholic priesthood during the Jacobite rebellion.

Despite attacks by Hanoverian troops following the Battle of Culloden, “Scalan College” survived as a major seat of Catholic teaching in Scotland until the end of the 18th century.

Yesterday Archbishop Mario Conti, president of the Heritage Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said: “At a time when the future location of the pre-restoration archival material belonging to the Scottish Catholic Heritage Collections Trust was under consideration, the offer from Aberdeen University to accept it on loan and display it alongside other appropriate collections was carefully considered and prudently accepted.

“The intention of the trustees was to preserve the material in its integrity and make it available to scholars, students and post-graduate researchers in conditions which ensured both its security and its expert care.”

He added: “The whole Catholic community is indebted to Aberdeen University, itself originally a foundation of the church, for this fruitful outcome.”

A university spokeswoman said: “Catholicism was outlawed following the Scottish Reformation in 1560 and, until the restoration of the hierarchy, Catholics in Scotland were ministered to by an underground network of priests.

“During this period, important documents were preserved and collected in the Scots colleges abroad, which also amassed substantial libraries. Both were brought back to Scotland in the early 19th century.”

Professor Ian Diamond, the university’s principal, said: “We are pleased that these important collections are returning to the north-east. Our state-of-the-art Special Collections Centre is one of the best facilities in Scotland, attracting students, scholars and visitors from across the world.

“The Scottish Catholic Archive and the Blairs Library will complement our existing holdings and returns many of these significant documents to the area in which they originated.”