Letters: Church should invest in archive’s unique home

STEPHEN McGinty’s excellent piece (News, 4 March) touches upon the Scottish Catholic Bishops’ anticipated sale of Columba House in Edinburgh, the home of the Scottish Catholic Archives.

Columba House at 16 Drummond Place, Edinburgh, was a gift of the Columba Trust (set up by the family of the Marquess of Bute) to the Bishops of Scotland. I spent some years at school with Freddy Crichton-Stuart, chairman of the Columba Trust, and I know he was strongly opposed to the Heritage Commission’s plans to sell Columba House and divide its contents between Glasgow and Aberdeen. Freddy was on the point of meeting the Scottish Bishops to express his opposition to the sale of Columba House when he sadly died.

Columba House, the only one of the Scottish Church’s dicasteries (departments) remaining in Edinburgh, is the envy of church archives across the world because it is centralised in Scotland’s capital, close to the Scottish Parliament, the National Library of Scotland, the National Archives of Scotland, the National Museum of Scotland, the National Galleries of Scotland and, with significant ecumenical benefits, near the place where the annual General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is held and the headquarters of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

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These are synergies deliberately put in place in the 1950s by four eminent Scottish historians, Mgr David McRoberts, Fr James Anderson, Dr John Durkan and Dr Leslie Macfarlane, with the backing of the Bishops of Scotland. The distinguished historian, Mgr Charles Burns, who spent years as a member of staff at the Vatican Secret Archives in Rome, assisted the move from Aberdeen to Edinburgh and is the last living member of that team.

Today, the Scottish Catholic Archives is a thriving and internationally renowned focus for scholars because of its collections, its provision and the fact that a researcher can, within 20 minutes, walk between these major national institutions.

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I am in no way opposed to the construction of an episcopal headquarters in Glasgow. However, the location of the Scottish Catholic Archives is another matter. For approximately £250,000 Columba House could be upgraded to achieve the “state of the art” facilities that appear so attractive to the Scottish Bishops. There would be enough space for at least another 20 years of acquisition and also for the inclusion of the Archives of the Archdiocese of Glasgow which have, over many years, resisted integration with those of the other dioceses in favour of splendid isolation.

Michael T R B Turnbull,

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Longniddry, East Lothian