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£2.5 million pilgrimage boost to Scottish economy

Cross-party politicians join Church in supporting calls for a pilgrimage revival in Scotland — By Peter Diamond and Ryan McDougall

Pilgrimage routes in Scotland are set to bring a £2.5 million boost to the economy, the Scottish Parliament heard on June 11.

The figures were revealed as cross-party politicians backed a pilgrimage revival in Scotland that the Catholic Church said will ‘bring people closer to God,’ and ‘generate substantial economic and social benefits to towns and communities.’

On Tuesday, Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser lodged a motion in parliament recognising the economic and health benefits to Scotland from The Way of St Andrews and the ‘wider role of pilgrimage in our society and its important economic aspects.’

 

St Andrews

The Way of St Andrews is promoted by a lay Roman Catholic organisation, which is committed to reviving the ancient tradition of pilgrimages to St Andrews, once one of three largest pilgrimage destinations in Christendom.

The Way encompasses six long-distance routes to St Andrews: the St Margaret’s Way starting in Edinburgh, the St Duthac’s Way from Aberdeen, the St Columba’s Way from Iona, St Wilfred’s Way from Hexham, St Ninian’s Way from Carlisle, and the Ladywell Way from Motherwell.

There are also four shorter routes: The Rosslyn Chapel Way starting from Edinburgh, St Margaret’s Elbow starting from Earlsferry, St Andrews Circuit, a tour of St Andrews, and St Margaret’s Loop starting from North Queensferry.’’

 

Parliament’s support

Mr Fraser’s motion in the Scottish Parliament drew cross-party support from both MSPs and MPs.

“Pilgrimage has long been an aspect of Christian life and devotion,” Mr Fraser said. “With the Reformation, pilgrimage went out of fashion, particularly in Scotland.

“But in recent times there has been a revival of interest in pilgrimage, and this has been coupled with the development of long distance walks or pilgrim trails over the last 20 years. For example, the John Muir Way, which opened in 2014, now attracts more than 300,000 users a year.”

Mr Fraser provided the SCO with research estimating that the current economic benefit from the pilgrim routes is approximately £1.5 milllion, rising to £2.5 million in five years time. The figures are based in part on a 2014 feasibility study by Fife Council into the creation of a Fife Pilgrim Way.

That pilgrimage route is to be officially launched in Dunfermline on July 5, and is poised to help raise public awareness of achievements of The Way of St Andrews to date, and serve as a major boost for the local economy in Fife.

 

Whithorn

Dr Philippa Whitford, MP for Central Ayrshire, supported the pilgrimage revival and revealed her own experiences of pilgrimage came through a parish youth ministry she set up with her husband in 2006.

“We wanted to connect our young people to the religious tradition and culture of their home country,” she told the SCO.

“We took them on several occasions to Whithorn. Dr Whitford added: “On the Sunday we would make our pilgrimage on foot from the town to St Ninian’s Cave on the beach at Whithorn, where we would celebrate Mass.

“Experiencing prayerful liturgy on a beach with the wind blowing and the waves crashing in the background helped our youth members look at the Mass in a different way and helped create a special bond among the members.

“As St Ninian is often overlooked it was great to be able to introduce our youth group to one of their local saints and explain the history of how he brought Christianity to Southern Scotland as early as 397 AD.”

 

Way of St Andrews

Speaking in parliament, Central Scotland MSP Elaine Smith revealed that a group of Catholic women from North Lanarkshire played a key role in reviving The Way of St Andrews.

“The way of St Andrews was revived earlier in the decade, but I understand that its history goes back over 1,000 years to when kings and princes made regular pilgrimages to pray where the relics of St Andrew were held,” she said.

“The pilgrimage declined through wars and ended during the Reformation. Its revival in 2012 involved 50 pilgrims, including a group of Catholic women from North Lanarkshire.

“Since then, it has continued to attract many more participants. The revival of the way of St Andrews brings with it many benefits for Scotland, including, as we know, increased tourism and investment in communities that the routes pass through.”

 

Tourism

Fiona Hyslop, secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs, backed the pilgrimage revival on behalf of the Scottish Government.

“I am very pleased that we have good cross-party support for faith tourism and our long-distance routes,” she said, adding that pilgrimages are an important part of Scotland’s tourism sector.

Welcoming the revival, a spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said: “People today are fascinated by the idea of pilgrimage, of travelling to a holy place or a site associated by a holy person.

“Pilgrimage helps us to step out of the routine of daily life in which we can easily become stuck, and by taking part in a physical journey our spiritual life can begin to move forward too.

“Many thousands of Catholics take part in pilgrimages every year, both at home and overseas, often accompanied by their Bishops, priests and local church groups.

“As well as bringing people closer to God, pilgrimages are a special means of bearing witness. They also generate substantial economic and social benefits to towns and communities across the country, which helps preserve sacred places and traditions for future generations.”

 

Popularity

A Galloway priest also gave his backing to the revival stating that St Ninian’s Cave in his diocese has had a ‘big influx’ in recent years.

St Ninian’s way is a 250 mile pilgrimage from Carlisle to South Queensferry. Dedicated to the 4th century saint, one of the main sites of the pilgrimage is St Ninian’s cave in Whithorn.

Fr William McFadden, parish priest of St Martin and St Ninian’s Church, said Whithorn is ‘a very popular place for pilgrimages and is often attended by individuals and groups,’ adding that with the nearby St Ninian’s Cave, a ‘big influx’ of pilgrims often visit the town.

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