St Peter's Seminary
St Peter's Seminary was commissioned by the Archbishop of Glasgow in 1958 and completed in 1966. The A-listed remains lie in the woods behind the village of Cardross, in the area of the golf club.
The design was the product of two young architects, Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan, employed by Glasgow based firm of Gillespie, Kidd & Coia.
St Peter's closed in 1980, having served as a teaching college for the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, in the time taken to build and commission the facility, teaching methods and beliefs were to change within the Church, and the building was effectively obsolete and doomed before completion. It was also to suffer as a result of the Scottish climate, and the accommodation was said to be impossible to heat or keep warm, probably a casualty of the 1970s oil crisis. The building was also criticised for damp and fungus in some areas, but the architects counter this claim, believing the gutters were not cleaned or regularly maintained by the owners (looking for an excuse to offload it).
In use for only 14 years, it was a sanctuary where trainee priests could live, study and worship secure from the outside world, but completed at a time when Vatican II decreed that priests should be schooled in the community. Built to serve more than 100 trainees, it seldom held more than 50, and ended its days as the home of a drug rehabilitation project.
The building has lain derelict and abandoned since it was closed, and has been subject the effects of the weather and repeated vandalism. It also provides a haven for junkies.
Understandably, due to its size, there have been no takers for the building, funds for its maintenance, or plans put into place to re-use the site. Unfortunately, this also means that while many interested and well-meaning parties debate the site's future, it continues to disintegrate and decay, lessening the chances of its preservation. For example, the Twentieth Century Society abandoned a scheduled site visit on Health & Safety grounds.
In January 2007, a team of architects was appointed to assess St Peter's Seminary, and propose how it could be returned to its original state. Avanti Architects were awarded a six-month, £70,000 contract to carry out their appraisal, which will consider how the restoration work and continued maintenance of the building could be funded.
In June 2007, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) placed St Peter's on its register of buildings at risk. Dedicated over the past 40 years to the preservation of endangered cultural sites around the world, the WMF has worked both minor and major miracles, in shoring up and resurrecting important buildings at more than 450 sites in more than 80 countries.
In December 2010, the BBC series Films of Scotland included a film called Light and Space, by Murray Grigor, who had filmed a documentary about the seminary while it was still in use. Grigor had returned to the seminary in 2009, and made a shot-for-shot remake, contrasting the destruction of the building with its former glory. While filming the celebration of a mass in the original, he made the mistake of shouting 'Cut' towards the end of the ceremony, to the annoyance of the priest. left the altar. This left him with the problem of completing his filming, as he did not want to approach the priest he had interrupted, and assumed he would not have been best pleased. The scene was completed by one of the crew who agreed to wear the vestments and perform the final walk past. However, Grigor said he had to pay dearly for the part, and agree to his impromptu actor wearing his football club's strip beneath, as he was a Ranger's supporter - as was the rest of the crew.
The film is notable for the quality of its sweeping shots and camera work, and it was also revealed that the grips - persons responsible for moving the camera during shooting - had travelled up from London the night before filming at St Peter's - having just completed work on Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.
In August 2013, the Helensburgh Advertiser carried an article indicating that plans to transform the remains were underway
Over the past few years, the NVA - nacionale vitae activa - has been carrying out surveys and work to breathe new life into the 144-acre site, which boasts a range of old buildings, a walled garden and St Peter's Seminary.
It has an ongoing 20-year masterplan to develop the site, and by 2016/17 hopes are for new community facilities and performance and exhibition space are on target.
Angus Farquhar, creative director for the NVA, said they are the estate's 'last chance' to restore it.
He added: "We think we are the right people to come up with the solution, it's been a long time coming. The plans we are putting forward are the last chance for the site."
The Archdiocese of Glasgow's plans were withdrawn earlier this month as time had elapsed on the applications and are separate to the NVA's project. Planning permission was granted in June for the restoration and transformation of the site.
NVA created an online research hub for The Invisible College, in partnership with the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Strathclyde.
Short film marks 10 month countdown
In January 2014, the BBC presented a short film with the artist Angus Farquhar walking through the site on an overcast and wet winter day, describing the plans and noting that the site could only be expected to last for another 10 months, when the finances for the plans would be confirmed or not, after which it would be deemed to have become so dangerous after decades of neglect and decay that it would have to be razed.
New book published in 2016
A new hardback book St Peter’s, Birth, Death and Renewal was released in 2016 by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), including a full contextual story with modern developments to bring readers up to date with developments at the site. Released on 30 November at £30 from bookshops and online.
In the text, Diane Watters, an architectural historian at HES, looks at the history of the seminary and traces the story of how the building became one of Scotland’s most troubled and celebrated buildings. Angus Farquhar, creative director of Glasgow based NVA (NVA is an acronym of ‘nacionale vita activa’, expressing the Ancient Greek ideal of a lively democracy, where actions and words shared among equals bring new thinking into the world) recounts how his independent arts organisation came to play the key role in the renewal of St Peter’s through the globally publicised Hinterland event.
1 ⇑ Cardross seminary plans are on track | This Week | News | Helensburgh Advertiser Retrieved September 01, 2013.
3 ⇑ St Peter's Seminary: Turning a 1960s ruin into art Retrieved January 19, 2015.
4 ⇑ New book to tell story of iconic local building (From Helensburgh Advertiser) Retrieved January 09, 2017.
- Local site dedicated to the seminary Dead link. January 2011.
- Risky Buildings entry
- The Twentieth Century Society entry
- The Twentieth Century Society > Casework > St Peter's Seminary, Cardross Retrieved January 10, 2011.
- Images of St Peter's (Flickr!)
- Virtual restoration
- Buildings at Risk Register entry
- The Scotsman, Temple to ruined dreams, April 16, 2003
- Glasgow Architecture entry
- Images from 2003
- The Guardian, The building that God forgot, June 25, 2007
- Space and Light on Yahoo! Video Retrieved January 09, 2011.
- Observer. Building history Retrieved January 10, 2011.
- St Peter's Seminary - Telegraph Retrieved January 10, 2011.
- St Peter's prayer for salvation - Telegraph Retrieved January 10, 2011.
- Historic Scotland - News - St Peter's Seminary Avanti report. February 2008 Retrieved January 10, 2011.
- Abandoned Roman Catholic seminary once hailed as a building of 'world significance' left covered in graffiti and rubbish | Daily Mail Online Retrieved November 17, 2014.
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