£565k for St Peter’s seminary arts space

NEW life is to be breathed into a former Catholic seminary considered one of the finest modernist buildings in Europe, but currently an abandoned ruin.

The remains of St Peters Seminary. Picture: Stephen Mansfield
The remains of St Peters Seminary. Picture: Stephen Mansfield
The remains of St Peters Seminary. Picture: Stephen Mansfield

NVA, a leading public arts organisation, has been awarded £565,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), in the first phase of a development that will transform St Peter’s Seminary into a unique arts space capable of hosting concerts and theatrical productions.

Its vision is to turn the seminary and surrounding 140-acre site – which incorporates two gorges, the ruins of a medieval castle and a walled garden on the banks of the Firth of Clyde – into a major tourist attraction.

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At the heart of the project will be the refurbishment of the chapel at Cardross near Helensburgh, which is considered a modernist masterpiece and will be used as a secular arts space.

Angus Farquhar, creative director of NVA, said: “The HLF award towards the resuscitation of St Peter’s represents a pivotal moment for the history of 20th-century architecture. The seminary building is held in high regard throughout the world. It has been given the chance of a second life after 25 years of decline.”

The initial award will be used to fund the clearance of asbestos from the site and the development of detailed plans.

It is hoped that this will be followed up by a second-stage grant of £3 million in 2015. NVA also hopes to raise a further £3.5m and will launch a major public campaign early next year.

In the early 1960s, the then Archbishop of Glasgow, James Scanlan, commissioned architectural firm Gillespie, Kidd and Coia to design a seminary.

The architects found inspiration in architect Le Corbusier, who had designed a priory for an order of Dominican monks in a valley near Lyon in France.

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When the building opened in 1966, it was praised for its modernist architectural daring, but while some trainee priests adored the sparse, striking space around the altar, others deplored a building that constantly leaked, whose windows were ill-fitting and which was said to have dreadful acoustics.

The seminary was used for only 13 years before closing in 1980. In the 1980s it was used as a drug rehabilitation unit, before being abandoned and falling into considerable disrepair.

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Since then, multiple attempts have been made to find a suitable use for the property. In 1993, the Secretary of State for Scotland recognised the seminary as being of special architectural importance.

Yesterday, Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “St Peter’s Seminary is a masterpiece of Scottish modern architecture, but after decades of neglect its condition is perilous. The only way we can hope to save this commanding structure is if organisations that can help, work together to identify a viable future.

“The Heritage Lottery Fund has indicated today its willingness to assist in exploring whether a sustainable solution can be found.”

The plans drawn up by NVA have impressed the Archdiocese of Glasgow, which still owns the land and property, and plans to gift it to the organisation if its vision can be realised.

Andy MacMillan, head of the Mackintosh School of Architecture, said: “The Church wanted a traditional building and, though St Peter’s is far from a traditional structure, it carefully respects the traditions of the Church in its liturgies. After such a long period of neglect, it is great to see that there is a chance we might find a future for it.”