A MONASTERY which has served as a spiritual retreat for almost 150 years may be only days away from being forced to close its doors.
St Mary’s Monastery, set on a prominent hill overlooking Perth, has been the sole Scottish outpost of the Roman Catholic Redemptorist Order since the neo-Gothic B-listed building was built in 1865.
The monastery’s trustees, in a “last throw of the dice” to raise the £2 million needed to save the decaying building, have applied to Perth and Kinross Council for an enabling development to build 19 luxury houses in a neighbouring field on Kinnoull Hill.
The land is owned by a charitable trust which is responsible for the operation of St Mary’s Monastery. But, in a major blow for the restoration scheme, council planning chiefs are recommending that the application should be rejected at next Wednesday’s meeting of the authority’s development management committee.
Father Ronnie McAinsh, the provincial superior of the order, warned: “Only by securing positive support can we avert certain closure.
“The problem is extremely acute and we will have to leave if we are not able to raise funds to develop the monastery.”
A planning and enabling statement, submitted to the council by the trustees, has also highlighted the impact a rejection of the application will have on the future of the historic building.
The document bluntly states: “Should planning permission be refused, St Mary’s will close as a retreat and monastery.
“Without significant financial investment to enable the comprehensive refurbishment of the internal fabric of the existing building to make it fit for purpose and prevent further deterioration and decay, the trustees will have to vacate the property.
“This would lead to an uncertain future for this important building
“All funding and fund-raising avenues have been explored and exhausted. The danger is that as each year goes by, the building deteriorates still further and becomes far more difficult and expensive to maintain and operate. It is this spiral of physical and financial decline that must be arrested in order to prevent the loss of the Redemptorists to Perth and the potential significant decay of the listed monastery building. It is effectively crumbling from the inside out.”
In April last year, a previous application, submitted in tandem with private housing developer Cala, was refused on the casting vote of the committee chairman.
The latest application has attracted 482 letters of support and 95 letters of objection.
Nick Brian, the council’s development quality manager, is recommending refusal. He stated in a report to the committee: “Retention of a social and cultural facility of local importance, particularly one with a long association with Perth, is acknowledged. However, I am not satisfied that this gain would outweigh the harm to rural protection and heritage policies that would be caused by the new housing proposal.
“Any conservation benefits which would be realised in this case must be regarded as limited whilst the new housing would materially harm the setting of an important listed building and diminish the value of St Mary’s monastery as a heritage asset.”
• The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer – the Redemptorists – is a missionary society which was founded in 1730 in Italy by St Alphonsus Liguori. The order is committed to preaching of the word of God especially to the poor.
• It became established in missionary communities throughout Europe and monks first arrived in Britain in 1843. St Mary’s was the first monastery to be opened in Scotland since the Reformation.