The monks of Pluscarden Abbey have launched a bid to raise £4million to bring their medieval haven into the 21st century – and open their doors to women for the first time.
The Benedictine community hopes to restore the fourth and final wing of the building, providing on-site accommodation for female guests.
A new library is also planned for the second floor of the proposed south wing extension, while the existing women’s guest house outside the abbey gates would be converted into a visitors’ centre.
The monks say they hope the massive investment will improve their hospitality – without compromising the seclusion they require for a life of prayer – and have formed a fundraising committee under the chairmanship of the Lord Lieutenant of Moray, Lieutenant Colonel Grenville Johnston.
He said the move to accommodate women was “a historic event” for the group, and urged locals to recognise their foresight by supporting their fundraising challenge.
Father Abbot Anselm Atkinson said: “Our policy hitherto has been that the male guests, whose guest house is part of the abbey building, take their meals with the monks, while the women guests, who are accommodated at some distance from the abbey, prepare meals for themselves.
“We decided that we should find a way of providing meals for our women guests at the abbey. At the same time, we did not want to change our traditional practice of enclosure, part of which is that normally only male guests eat in the monastic refectory.
“We thought the best compromise would be to have a dining room for female guests adjacent to the monastic kitchen, so that from one kitchen we could provide meals for two separate dining areas. In this way our women guests will have easy access to the church and to dining facilities at the abbey like the men have always enjoyed.”
Architect Philip Mercer of AP Associates has been commissioned to oversee the transformation, which will be a smaller version of original restoration drawings drafted by Sir Ian Lindsay, the famous Scottish architect, in 1946.
>Brother Michael de Klerk said every step would have to pass the scrutiny of not only the local planning authorities but also Historic Scotland.
“A preliminary estimate of the current project puts the total cost at about £4million,” he said.
“This may seem a daunting figure, but we can assure you that it seems no less daunting to the monks. We do not have any of the necessary funds.
“However, there are grounds for hope that public funding might be available for a work such as this, which would clearly be of public benefit.
“All contributions to the development fund will be most welcome. Clearly donations will be especially welcome, but we would also like to expand the fundraising committee membership to bring in more skills and ideas.”
Lt Col Grenville Johnston said: “I think that since the monks came back to Pluscarden in 1948 and reestablished the abbey, it has its rightful place as one of the most interesting historical locations in Moray.
“It’s used. It’s a living place. It is a testament to the last 60 years that it has proved to be an attractive place for people to visit and go to it and retreat there.
“What they are planning is to improve the facilities for ladies, which is a historic event.
“I would suggest that shows the foresight of the abbey and the monks, and so on we go with the fundraising.
“It is a world-renowned place, and it will take the generosity of people nationally and internationally to do it. But with determination, generosity and a favouring wind, why not?
“The committee will meet once a month at the abbey. Anyone who can offer help, skills or ideas to support the monks’ efforts is asked to contact Brother Michael on firstname.lastname@example.org.