The Paisley Abbey team is seeking to put the town on the map by applying for World Heritage status
Paisley Abbey has a special place in the hearts of Buddies – and it can now be raised in the eyes of the rest of the world too amid a bid to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The famous religious building is part of a European consortium of 109 Cluniac sites – churches, abbeys and abbeys built in the Middle Ages – which serve to achieve important status.
There are currently 1,199 World Heritage sites in the world, 33 of which are in the United Kingdom, and only six of which are in Scotland.
If the bid is successful, Paisley will be put on the map as a site of great historical interest, which could attract more tourists as a result.
It is hoped that the abbey, along with other sites, will create a ‘cultural route’ of international importance to Cluniac places across Europe.
For more than 200 years before building work began at Paisley, the French Abbey of Cluny in Burgundy was the center of the most successful religious order in Europe.
It was second only to the Pope in Rome in terms of spiritual authority, and the driving force of the most comprehensive religious reform movement of the Middle Ages.
Nearly 1,000 monastic houses were subject to Cluny’s jurisdiction. The church, at the heart of this powerful reformed Benedictine order, became the largest church ever built.
Regardless of the secular supervision and jurisdiction of local bishops, Cluny rarely allowed his daughter’s priorities to appoint an abbot and assume the attendant increase in status. However, Paisley was an exception, becoming a monastery in 1245.
In 2005, the Council of Europe recognized the network of sites of the Cluniac Consortium as a “Great Cultural Route” due to its pan-European dimension and the key role played by Cluny in shaping European identity. The Union respects this principle by cooperating with projects at the local, regional and international levels.
These projects aim to reconnect Cluniac sites in Europe, raise awareness of Cluny’s history, and promote and promote Cluniac heritage. As part of this work, the Federation seeks to have its sites added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
To date, 109 sites from eight countries have expressed their commitment to be included in the bidding process. Paisley Abbey is one such candidate site.
Abbey Minister Jim Gibson told the Paisley Daily Express: “This is not a vanity project. This is a real opportunity to bring something very special to the city of Paisley, and of course to the region and our country as a whole.”
“Every stone in our ancient sanctuary speaks of our history, but we live in the present. Like those medieval Cluniac monks, we care deeply about the community around us.
Paisley Abbey is open daily to the public and is a popular attraction in the heart of the city.
Visitors already come from far and wide, but it is hoped their numbers will be increased as it is one of the nominated sites in the Cluniac Confederation’s bid for UNESCO World Heritage status.
“This in turn will bring a welcome boost to Paisley and the surrounding area,” Rev Gibson added.
The process is expected to take years to complete. Currently, the Abbey seeks to engage with key partner bodies and organizations at local, regional and national levels in developing the UNESCO offering.
Renfrewshire Council has opened discussions with the team at the Abbey on how they can help.
A Paisley Daily Express spokesperson said: “We are contacting Paisley Abbey to hear more about their planned show and are always keen to support initiatives that support sustainable growth and showcase our heritage.”
History of the monastery…
The foundation of Paisley Abbey in 1163 led to the first colonization of the site that was to become Paisley Abbey by Cluniac monks from Wenlock Priory in Shropshire.
The abbey was intended to be a seat of learning for the young William Wallace in the 13th century. Much of the original building was destroyed by fire on the orders of Edward I of England in 1307 and was restored during the 14th century.
The abbey claims to be the “cradle of the Royal House of Stuart”, after the birth of King Robert II of Scotland.
His pregnant mother Marjorie Bruce (daughter of Robert I of Scotland and wife of Walter Stuart, 6th Steward of Scotland) had a fatal horse-riding accident nearby. She was taken to a monastery where she gave birth to the future king before dying. She was later buried in the monastery.
The abbey is also the final resting place of six of Scotland’s Grand Stewards, the wives of King Robert II, along with King Robert III, whose grave was presented by Queen Victoria in 1888.
The collapse of the central tower in the mid-16th century destroyed the aisles and choir and a wall was built across the east end of the nave.
During the Scottish Reformation in 1560, the priory was dissolved, the monastic buildings were handed over to the Hamilton family and the walled nave became Paisley’s parish church.
The chapels and choir were to remain in ruins until the late 19th and early 20th centuries when they were restored to create one of the finest churches in Scotland.
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