Argentine village asks Scots to help save historic kirk

IT MAY be just a ruined church to some. But Argentine villagers are battling to save what they believe is one of their country's most historic buildings - a 160-year-old kirk erected by Scottish pioneers.

Built by Scottish stonemasons in the 1850s, "the Scottish Church" is recognised as having huge significance in the South American country and has been accorded "Historic Monument" status.

St John's in Florencio Varela, in the countryside south of Buenos Aires, symbolises the struggle of the early Scots pioneers who helped build the nation. It was last used as a church in 1935 and has since been severely damaged by fire. But residents, backed by the national Scotland in Argentina (SIA) group, have launched a global appeal to restore the church to its former glory.

One local who is behind the plans, and has already organised a variety of fundraising events, including Highland dancing and bagpipe displays, said the building "symbolises" the early Scottish settlers.

Daniel Doronzoro said: "We are very proud of Scotland's contribution to our heritage and the Presbyterian Kirk. It is very symbolic of the struggles of the Scottish settlers who did so much to help build our country. It has been classified as a Historic Monument and there is a lot of local support to save and rebuild a very historic building - one of the oldest in Argentina.

"But given our economy, it is difficult to raise funds and we hope that we can find support in Scotland."

Residents have already won the backing of the Association of Plaza de las Americas, a non-profit association which is focused on the area's cultural development. A spokesman said: "We want to keep alive the memories of many people who came and settled in this city as well as our history."

The groups also hope to tap into the upsurge in interest in Scotland and Scottishness in Argentina. Few official celebrations are now complete without an appearance by the Buenos Aires Scottish Guard.

SIA has traced the story of the Scots settlers back to their arrival from Leith aboard the Symmetry in 1825.

On 27 March, 1854, Saint John Chapel's main cornerstone was placed, and the following February the chapel opened its doors.

In 1955, a group of neighbours founded the association, Amigos de la Capilla Escocesa (Friends of the Scottish Chapel), who tried to protect the chapel as a cultural heritage site. In 1988 the chapel was declared Monumento Histrico Provincial, which secured its future until 2009, when a fire devastated the building.

A spokesman for the Church of Scotland backed the campaign. He said: "The Church of Scotland was unaware of the plight of St John's at Florencio Varela and is saddened to hear that it has fallen into disrepair."However, the Kirk sold its buildings in Argentina in the 1950s and 1960s, and while we are not able to offer any financial support to the people now connected with the building, we offer them our heartfelt prayers and support."

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