Govan church gets cash so it can properly show off its unique collection of medieval stones
IT'S origins can be traced back to the Dark Ages, but now Govan Old Parish Church could be given a new lease of life as major tourist attraction.
Funding has been secured to develop the historic South Side church to help it gain global recognition.
The significance of Govan Old has been compared to that of the communities of Iona, Whithorn and St Andrews.
The site is the oldest known Christian settlement on the River Clyde and has an ancient burial ground dating back to the 5th century.
Its collection of 31 early medieval stones, including the Govan Sarcophagus, is unparalleled in Scotland and it is believed there has been continuing Christian worship on the site for at least 1500 years.
Now Govan Old Management Group has secured around £170,000 to redisplay the stones and carry out improvements to the church's entrance.
The bulk of the money will be spent on making the unique stones a focal point of the church.
Around £120,000, from agencies including Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund, will be spent on displaying the stones and a further £50,000 used to carry out improvement work.
The collection of early medieval grave stones, carved in the 9th to 11th centuries to commemorate the power of those who ruled the Kingdom of Strathclyde, will be given pride of place on a revamped display.
The project will bring significant improvements to the display and interpretation of the collection while increasing visitor numbers and public awareness.
Pat Cassidy, of Govan Old Management Group, said: "We want to turn the church into an important city tourist attraction.
"It is 250 metres from the Riverside Museum, which received 1 million visitors in just six months, and if we can even attract a small proportion of that it would make a huge difference.
"Our first phase is to redisplay the stones, which seem to be one of Glasgow's best kept secrets. We want them to be viewed by the same people who would visit the likes of Iona, Whithorn and St Andrews.
"We also want to have the story of the stones retold so that people viewing them can have a full insight into them."
Around £50,000 has also been secured from Glasgow City Council's Land and Environmental Services department which will go towards improvements to the front of the church.
An exciting long term vision for the A listed church, built in 1884-8 and occupies the site of at least three previous churches, is to make it a viable business and tourist attraction as well as continuing to be a place of worship.
Pat added: "Cities across Europe, such as Rome, Paris and Brussels, have places of worship which also attract a vast amount of tourists and we would love to see that here.
"Our long term business plan includes utilising a 3000 sq ft lower ground level area, which could provide a commercial rental. We are also looking at creating a new venue on the site for events which could ultimately provide an income. However, that would depend on securing land near the church."
It is also hoped that a former public right of way which runs along the rear of the building could be gifted to the church, as it would provide a link to the new Govan pontoon.
Talks are currently ongoing with the city council in securing the walkway.
Pat added: "This would be a major step forward for us as it would allow a continuous link from the Riverside museum, across the ferry and along to the church.
"In the last few days alone we have had tourists from Russia, America, Australia and New Zealand signing the visitors' book, and if we can put our plans in place then there is no reason why Govan Old can't become a world wide attraction."
Govan Old minister, Rev Dr Moyna McGlynn, said it was terrific that the church could be recognised on a wider scale.
Rev McGlynn said: "The church has always had its place as the oldest site of worship in Strathclyde, dating back 1500 years, but it is wonderful the church will be given recognition and is something for the whole community to take confidence in.
"There are great opportunities, but it is important that these happen within the context of the church. There is no doubt there is a highly significant history which should be preserved."
Pat Cassidy and Rev Dr Moyna McGlynn next to the sarcophagus in Old Govan Parish Church.Pictures: Jamie Simpson
By DEBORAH ANDERSON