Scottish Archdiocese Dumps Brutalist Seminary

News: World News
by Jules Gomes  •  •  July 27, 2020   

'A huge albatross around our neck'

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GLASGOW, Scotland ( - A decaying diocesan seminary built the year after Vatican II in the modernist architectural style of Brutalism has found a caretaker 40 years after it was deconsecrated and abandoned.

Saint Peter's Seminary in Cardross, Scotland, which the Glasgow archdiocese described as "a huge albatross around our neck," was handed over to the Kilmahew Education Trust on Friday, free of charge.

St. Peter's seminary (1967) with the stepped cell blocks

"This is a good day for the archdiocese, for the local area and, I hope, for the wider Scottish community," Glasgow archbishop Philip Tartaglia said. He added, "I wish the new owners every success as they develop the site."

"We would literally give it away for nothing, but we can't find anyone to take it off our hands," archdiocesan director of communications Ronnie Convery had previously told BBC Scotland, lamenting the 40-year exile of the seminary, which was built in 1966.

"We are literally struck, it is an impossible position. We can't sell it, we can't give it away, we can't demolish it. We are in a Catch-22 situation," he explained.

"Nothing so eloquently symbolizes the optimism and errors of the Catholic Church in the 1960s than the ruins of the hideous St. Peter's Seminary in Scotland," Dr. Joseph Shaw, fellow of the prestigious Royal Society of Arts, told Church Militant.

Shaw quipped that Brutalism, a functionalist style of architecture characterized by the use of steel and concrete in massive blocks, represents the "abandonment of the entire tradition of Christian architecture in favor of something which would have been more at home in the Soviet Union."

Nothing so eloquently symbolizes the optimism and errors of the Catholic Church in the 1960s than the ruins of the hideous St. Peter's Seminary in Scotland.

"Vocations had been booming but this was fated not to continue as the Church cut off access to the sources of theology, liturgy and spirituality, as it so visibly did with the sources of Catholic art and architecture," Shaw noted, acknowledging the ugliness of the architectural styles associated with the 1950s and 1960s.

"Repudiating the past ultimately undermines the future of the Church," the Oxford scholar of medieval philosophy warned.

Shaw elaborated on the tragic capitulation of the Catholic Church to modernism following Vatican II:

Modernist architecture, with its denial of craftsmanship, human scale and decoration, is fundamentally at odds with the Catholic worldview. The Church does not have a single architectural style, embracing Byzantine, Classical and Gothic, but she does believe in raising the heart and mind to God, not crushing the spirit or exalting mechanical brutality and power.

Archbishop Tartaglia blamed the seminary's deconsecration in 1980 on "changing requirements in priestly education, a drop in the number of seminarians and difficulties in maintaining the fabric of the building."

Repudiating the past ultimately undermines the future of the Church.
Wotruba Church, Vienna, Austria

In 1992, the seminary designed by architects Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein for the Scottish architectural firm Gillespie, Kidd and Coia was listed as a "Category A" building by Historic Scotland.

Despite its A-list status, the building was further ruined by fire, rain and vandalism — occasionally attracting Brutalist aficionados and architecture students.

Shaw drew Church Militant's attention to other "failed" examples of Brutalist architecture used by Catholic institutions.

Prinknash Abbey, a Brutalist Benedictine monastery in the Vale of Gloucester in the diocese of Clifton, England, was abandoned by the monks in 2008 and sold for conversion into luxury apartments.

Another example of Brutalism combined with Cubism is the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, more popularly known as the "Wotruba Church," on the outskirts of Vienna.

Built in the mid-1970s, the church's form has no obvious symmetry or clear organization. A total of 152 concrete blocks, ranging from 0.84 to 64 cubic meters and from 1.8 to 141 tons, hold one another up in a random, chaotic, abstract way.

"People too often fail to appreciate the role of beauty in religion," writes Damon Linker. Linker holds that "the core of the Church's problem isn't personal immorality, or institutional corruption, or hypocrisy. The core of the problem is ugliness."

In 2009, Scotus College, Scotland's last Catholic seminary, closed. Since then, Scottish seminarians have been trained in England or Rome.

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