Paisley Abbey's UNESCO bid continues with plans for festival in the pipeline

Depute session clerk David Davidson, Manager Linda Barrett and Rev Jim Gibson in front of new banners unveiled at the Abbey
Depute session clerk David Davidson, manager Linda Barrett and Rev Jim Gibson in front of new banners unveiled at the Abbey -Credit:Andrew Neil

Paisley Abbey staff and volunteers have been busy developing a range of new ideas as their UNESCO World Heritage bid continues.

There are plans in the pipework for an annual festival called Founders Day, showcasing the history of the iconic building right in the heart of the town.

And the impressive tower, which has 197 steps leading to the top, will be open more frequently for Buddies and visitors alike to enjoy the spectacular view from the apex.

The tower has been limited to opening during other local events such as Sma’ Shot Day and Doors Open Day.

The Paisley Daily Express reported last year that the Abbey team and the rest of the European Federation of Cluniac Sites, churches, monasteries and abbeys built in the Middle Ages, are working towards World Heritage List status.

There are currently 1,199 World Heritage status properties in the world, 33 of them are in the UK, and just six of those in Scotland.

“We welcome visitors from far and near, many from overseas, especially North America and Europe,” said the Abbey’s Minister, Jim Gibson.

“They are amazed by the history, art, and architecture.

“Often it’s one of our great musical events that attracted them. Or the shop and café.

“And you know, we are a church! Many come to worship at one of our services, or simply drop in for a few quiet minutes, safe from the madness of the world outside.”

And with their bid to be an internationally recognised historic site, Rev Gibson is keen for locals to make the most of the Abbey too.

He said: “It’s astonishing how many times we hear people say that they’ve lived in Paisley all their lives, but this is the first time they’ve been in the Abbey. Almost all say they’ll come back, and many do.

“They can’t believe what they’ve been missing right here on their doorstep!”

As well as the festival plans and the increased opening of the tower, the Cloister Café is having an upgrade with the installation of a new coffee machine and some redecoration.

Welcoming banners outside, which showcase the intricate designs on the Abbey’s stained glass windows have been erected while new signs and displays are being introduced to the church and exhibitions will be installed.

One of these will form a part of the European-wide programme of events entitled “Cluny Makes Europe”.

This year is the thirtieth anniversary of the creation of the Federation of European Cluniac Sites that includes Paisley Abbey.

For more than two hundred years before building work even began at Paisley, the French abbey of Cluny in Burgundy had been at the centre of the most successful religious order in Europe.

It was second only to the pope in Rome in spiritual authority, and the driving force of the most far-reaching religious reform movement of the Middle Ages.

Nearly 1,000 monastic houses were subject to Cluny’s authority. The church at the hub of this mighty reformed Benedictine order became the largest ever built.

Independent of lay supervision and the jurisdiction of local bishops, Cluny rarely allowed its daughter priories to appoint an Abbot and assume the attendant increase in status. Paisley however was an exception, becoming an abbey in 1245.

During its lifetime, the federation has grown in stature and recognition as representative of the importance of the order of Cluny in European cultural history.

To celebrate its thirtieth anniversary this year, the federation is asking Cluny sites to propose a cultural project to be included in the programme of events.

Applicants were asked to identify individual characteristics that relate to their place in the network and their relationship to other Cluniac buildings.

Taking the idea of “Paisley Abbey, the Cluny of the North” as its theme, the Abbey’s project has been selected.

“This will be a wonderful opportunity for the Abbey to develop its visitor appeal, especially in the increasingly important sphere of European cultural tourism,” said Abbey manager Linda Barrett.

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