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With Glasgow commemorating its 500th anniversary as an archdiocese, and a Museum of Religion scheduled for opening in 1993, Sara Villiers looks at the problems of displaying religious artefacts in a city still divided by faith.

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t is rare for any major religious event in Glasgow to escape controversy and dissent. Glasgow remains a city that for religious conflict is only outdone by the likes of Belfast or Beirut.

So when the restoration project for Glasgow Cathedral ran out of funds and Glasgow District Council stepped into the breach and bought the building originally intended as a Visitors’ Centre, their subsequent decision to open a Museum of Religion may have been an obvious solution, but it was also contentious. The project has already fanned the embers of smouldering sectarian grievances but the council has pressed bravely on and the Museum of Religion is scheduled to open in February ’93. It will be the first of its kind in the UK and to the Museum and Galleries Department’s knowledge the world.

‘There is a Museum of Religion and Atheism in Leningrad,‘ says Mark O’Neill, Glasgow’s Keeper of History. ‘But it’s quite unlike this. A Christian art gallery would have been the obvious thing but we wanted to do something a bit different. We looked at our collections and felt that non-Christian faiths were not well represented.’

To redress this the Museum will be multi-denominational and while it will be impossible to document every religion in the world, the main strands will be represented: Christianity, Judaism and Islamic religions. Surely it will be difficult to affect a balanced portrayal?

‘Balance? Well, balance is pretty boring,’ says O’Neill impishly. ‘We are addressing a lot 0f difficult issues like the Holy Wars, the Holocaust and even the Celtic and Rangers question. We hope to avoid needless offence but we don’t expect to avoid controversy. But there has been almost universal enthusiasm from the religious groups in the crty.’

That enthusiasm has been somewhat muted from the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, aka the ‘Wee Frees’, who have

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10The List 17— 30 July 1992