The Whithorn Trust has a funding shortfall of £18,500 and will be forced to shut down this summer. If this happens, its museum and visitor centre will also close. The news was announced yesterday at the Trust’s website.
The visitor centre tells the story of Whithorn from its Early Christian beginnings to the time when its medieval priory was a renowned pilgrimage venue. With a history spanning more than 1500 years, Whithorn stands alongside Iona and St Andrews as one of the most important religious sites in Scotland. It began sometime around AD 500, as a monastery and trading centre with links to the Mediterranean. Later, in the seventh century, it was taken over by the Anglo-Saxons and became the headquarters of a Northumbrian bishopric. Throughout the Middle Ages it was a major destination for pilgrims who came to see the shrine of Saint Ninian, the monk who is said to have founded the first monastery.
As well as the visitor centre, the Whithorn Trust has a small museum housing a collection of archaeological finds. Many of these were unearthed during excavations undertaken by the Trust itself. They provide an essential context for the early medieval sculpture displayed in the nearby Priory Museum. By visiting both museums, the visitor obtains a full picture of Whithorn’s story, from Ninian’s time to the pilgrimage era. The Priory Museum, which has the Latinus Stone and other famous monuments, is maintained by Historic Scotland and is not threatened with closure, but the experience of visiting the Priory site and the sculpture will be lessened by the demise of the Whithorn Trust.
If the Trust’s museum closes, its collection of Anglo-Saxon coins and pilgrim artifacts will be placed in storage by the local council or transferred to another museum. They are unlikely to remain at Whithorn, their place of origin. There is no guarantee that they will still be accessible to the public.
Closure of the museum will remove one of Galloway’s main tourist attractions and will inevitably have an impact on the local economy. Galloway, like other rural regions of Southern Scotland, has always had to compete with Edinburgh and the Highlands for a share of the tourism market. Attracting new visitors, and presenting them with interesting places to explore, is surely the way forward. The loss of a museum seems a backward step.
If you feel that the closure of the Whithorn Trust will be a tragedy for Scotland, click the link below and sign the petition.
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