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Last Updated: Friday, 4 January 2008, 03:26 GMT
Town on trail of pilgrim progress
Whithorn Priory - Undiscovered Scotland
Whithorn has Christian links going back to 397 AD
The site of the first Christian church established in Scotland is studying the possibility of becoming a "centre of modern pilgrimage".

St Ninian founded a church in Whithorn, Dumfries and Galloway, in 397 AD.

Now a range of groups hope to build on these links to increase visitor numbers and help regenerate the town.

Last year the bones of six bishops buried at Whithorn Priory more than 600 years ago were identified using new hi-tech methods.

'Cradle of Christianity'

A report to Dumfries and Galloway Council's Wigtown Area Committee has suggested there could be financial benefits in reviving the town's historic status.

"Whithorn flourished as a pilgrimage destination throughout the middle ages and down to the Reformation, which effectively ended pilgrimages," it said.

Skull of Bishop Henry
The remains of six bishops were identified in Whithorn last year

"In modern times, despite being the cradle of Scottish Christianity, it has never recovered its appeal and has been eclipsed by better known destinations such as Iona."

During a period of archaeological excavation in the 1980s visitor numbers peaked at 30,000-a-year, but have since dropped to just 10,000 in 2007.

However, a number of initiatives have been undertaken to try to reverse that trend.

These include a Medieval Fair and the St Ninian's Festival.

'Religious market'

Consultants have also been hired by the Whithorn Trust to look at the way forward for the town.

"The project's main aim is to confirm sustainable means of increasing trading income and includes identification and assessment of markets, including the religious market and the potential for pilgrimage," said the council report.

"It might be that the modern pilgrimage approach will give way to a stronger emphasis on cultural tourism."

However, it said the area's "unique but nationally unappreciated position" in the history of Christianity was one which might help wider regeneration.

SEE ALSO
Ancient secrets emerge from grave
16 Dec 07 |  South of Scotland
Cash for Christian heritage plans
18 Apr 06 |  Scotland

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