Campaign prays new archbishop will call halt to archive move

Campaigners fighting to save a unique collection of historic church documents held in the Capital are to lobby the new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow for a change of heart on plans to split up and relocate the archive.

Philip Tartaglia, who has been Bishop of Paisley since 2005, was appointed yesterday to the second most powerful position in the Scottish Catholic hierarchy.

He succeeds Archbishop Mario Conti, who has been seen as the driving force behind the plans to close the Scottish Catholic Archives in Edinburgh, sending the oldest, pre-1878 papers to Aberdeen and more modern material to proposed new Catholic headquarters in Glasgow.

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The archive, currently housed at Columba House in the New Town, includes letters from Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as an account of how Hibs came to be formed.

Catholic historian Michael Turnbull, one of those campaigning to save the archives, said Archbishop Tartaglia’s appointment offered an opportunity to put the plans on hold.

He said: “He was part of the conference of bishops which took the original decision, but he has now become Archbishop, he has a wider responsibility.

“We are hoping they will call a pause to what is happening, allow some time for consideration and listen to people.”

The latest move comes after four members of the heritage commission which advises the Scottish Catholic bishops resigned in protest at the church’s apparent determination to press on with the plan.

The four – including Professor Ian Campbell of Edinburgh University and Lady Catherine Gill, wife of Scotland’s most senior judge – said: “Repeated attempts by ourselves and other members of the commission to question the wisdom and necessity of closing the present seat of the archives, Columba House, in Edinburgh and to split its collections between Aberdeen University Library and the projected new headquarters for the Bishops’ Conference in Glasgow have been stonewalled.

“Free debate at commission meetings has been stifled and relevant documents not tabled.

“We are no longer prepared to have our names associated with an ill-conceived scheme which will cause incalculable damage and is unjustified.”

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An online petition against the move has attracted more than 400 signatures. Those calling for a rethink include Athol Murray, Keeper of the Records of Scotland from 1985-90. He said: “The Scottish Catholic Archives are of international, not just national significance and it is vital that they should be kept intact in the care of a qualified archivist and in a location where they are accessible and freely available to researchers.”

But Scottish Catholic church spokesman Peter Kearney said nothing had changed since the original decision was made in 2008. “There have been years of deliberation and debate on this. We have accepted the offer from Aberdeen University, who have built a new library and are specialising in this period of Scottish history. Moreover, they have offered to digitise the material, so people will be able to access it online.”

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The archives span 800 years of Scottish and European history, from royal records to church registers, photographs and film, maps and plans. The documents include:

n Papers dating as far back as the 12th century.

n Letters from Mary, Queen of Scots.

n Correspondence relating to the Stuarts and the Jacobites.

n Records of the Scots Colleges of Paris, Douai, Madrid and Rome dating from the 1600s.

n Documents describing how extreme Protestants disrupted the Eucharistic Congress at Edinburgh in 1935 and how the people of the city reacted.

n All the minutes of the Catholic Young Men’s Society, which include the description of how Hibs came into being at St Patrick’s in the Cowgate.