Scotland's Roman Catholic bishops have agreed the oldest material in the Scottish Catholic Archives, based at Drummond Place in the New Town, should be given on long-term loan to Aberdeen University. It is understood the rest of the archive is likely to be transferred to Glasgow. Now a petition has been launched in a bid to persuade the bishops to rethink the plan and keep the material together in Edinburgh.
The archives – which hold records dating back to 1177AD – hit the headlines a few weeks ago when a man admitted impersonating a post-graduate history student to gain access to the premises and stealing 288 items worth 26,400. Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard Oliver Fallon, of Coombe Lane, London, ripped out pages and hid documents inside his notebook, which he then smuggled out at the end of the day.
The Catholic church's heritage commission is expected to announce the loan of material to Aberdeen soon, although premises to house the archive there will not be built until at least 2012.
Catholic author Michael Turnbull said: "Catholic historians are extremely aggrieved and annoyed. The collection will be split up. All the minutes of the Catholic Young Men's Society, which include the early description of how Hibs came into being at St Patrick's in the Cowgate, may go to Aberdeen or Glasgow."
Leading Scottish historian Professor Tom Devine of Edinburgh University said the archives were important not just for church history but for Scottish history as a whole. He called on the bishops to discuss the issue before making a final decision.
Gilbert Markus, of the Scottish Catholic Historical Association, has begun a petition calling for a rethink. He said: "The Scottish Catholic Archives are an integral part of a well-networked research community in Edinburgh – the National Archives are here, the National Library of Scotland is here and Edinburgh University library has an important collection."
Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic church, confirmed the bishops had agreed earlier this year to send a large proportion of the archive material to Aberdeen University on long-term loan.
He said Columba House in Drummond Place was never designed to store archive material and the new building in Aberdeen would have "state of the art" storage facilities. He said no decision had been made on whether to transfer the remainder of the archive to Glasgow.