BY No Author | May 20 2011 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Church woven into fabric of our nation

— First Minister stresses importance of Catholic Church to Scotland at Italian cloister garden opening

Scotland’s First Minister has said that Church involvement in major national events highlights ‘the importance of the Catholic Church in Scotland, as indeed the wonderful visit by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI last year showed the importance of Scotland to the Catholic Church.’

Mr Salmond made this comment during his address at the opening of the Italian cloister garden and memorial at the renovated St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow on Monday evening after Archbishop Mario Conti had thanked, in Italian and English, both those attending the event and those who had supported the project.

The archbishop spoke of regret and the need for ‘reconciliation and healing’ for the sudden loss of ‘husbands, fathers, brothers and friends’ on the Arandora Star—honoured in the new garden—even if it had previously been ‘painful’ or ‘politically inconvenient’ to do so.

“This was a tragedy that was not to remain forgotten,” the archbishop said before adding that the garden and monument to the victims of the liner sunk during the Second World War was ‘itself a further contribution by the Italian community to the beauty’ of Glasgow.

Opening service

Archbishop Conti welcomed the First Minister to Monday’s service before a capacity cathedral congregation in which the Scots-Italian community was strongly represented. They were joined by Nigel Baker, the British Ambassador to the Holy See designate, Italian Consul General Gabriele de Bottini Papadia, the Lady Provost of Glasgow and Sir Rocco Forte of the Forte Charitable Trust, the principal project sponsor.

Archbishop Conti spoke of one honoured guest and his family in particular, Rando Bertoia. The 91-year-old is the only living internee survivor of the Arandora Star tragedy that is commemorated in the central monument of the cloister garden.

Mayors of the towns from which most Scots Italians hail—Barga and Pistoia in Tuscany and Picinisco and Filignano in the Lazio region south of Rome—also attended the service. Musicians from Milan provided musical accompaniment during the service and Glasgow Italian opera singer Luigi Corvi sang Schubert’s Ave Maria before the garden was blessed.


The cloister garden and memorial to the lives lost in the sinking of the Arandora Star during the Second World War was a project—begun by Archbishop Conti—which Mr Salmond helped launch on the 70th anniversary of the disaster, three years ago this month.

Around 100 Scots-Italians died aboard the liner that was sunk while carrying mainly Italian civilians who had been deemed ‘enemy aliens’ in 1940. Their names are inscribed on a marble plaque in the garden and the iconic silver mirrored central monument is also in their honour.  It is the largest monument to the disaster anywhere in the world.

“The central monument is an interactive installation, built next to a 200-year-old olive tree gifted by the people of Tuscany, which encourages us to reflect on the great mysteries of life, death and resurrection,” Archbishop Conti said. “What people will see and experience on a visit to the garden is a result of the generosity of today’s Scots-Italian community who raised the funds to create the installation.”

Mr Salmond said that he was ‘delighted to attend the opening of the cloister garden.’

“This oasis of peace and contemplation at St Andrew’s Cathedral is a magnificent tribute to those who tragically lost their lives aboard the Arandora Star during the Second World War and to the part the Scots-Italian community plays in the rich tartan fabric of our nation,” he added.

Councillor Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, who attended the service added: “I believe by working together that Glasgow has ended up with a fantastic new city space for locals and visitors alike to enjoy.”


Before Mgr Christopher McElroy—the administrator of St Andrew’s Cathedral—moved on to the solemn Liturgy of the blessing, Ronnie Convery chairman of the Italian Garden Appeal Committee, introduced a series of speakers, including the Lady Provost of Glasgow, who said the city was ‘proud’ to be associated with the project, and the Italian Consul General, who highlighted Scotland and Italy’s thriving bonds.

Roman Architect Maria Giulia Chiarini Testa, who designed the cloister garden, spoke of her inspiration for an ‘interactive’ experience in which the visitor would feel some of the bewilderment and confusion of the victims of the Arandora Star tragedy and their families. She also expressed her thanks for the support she received in seeing her vision for the ‘living memorial’ through to fruition.

During the Liturgy, author M Serena Balestracci read in Italian from her seminal work Arandora Star. Dall’oblio alla memoria—From oblivion to memory. Leandro Franchi then read the moving passage—on lives lost and saved—again in English.

At the conclusion of the service, Archbishop Conti led invited guests out the side of the cathedral and into the garden for the actual blessing with water from the newly re-opened cathedral’s Carrara marble Baptismal font.

— The cathedral cloister garden will be open to the public every day from 8am until 6pm


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