A LEADING historian has begged Cardinal Keith O'Brien to reconsider "frankly appalling" plans to relocate two priceless collections of manuscripts, books and letters from the archives of the Catholic Church in Scotland.

The collections, which are of international significance, are to be relocated to Aberdeen University from their current locations in Edinburgh.

Archbishop Mario Conti, president of the Heritage Commission of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, said the decision would preserve the integrity of the collections, while making them available to scholars, students and researchers in a safe location.

But Dr Jenny Wormald, chairwoman of the Society for Scottish Medieval and Renaissance Studies and an honorary fellow in history at Edinburgh University, said the scholarly world would be "irrevocably impoverished" by the decision.

Ms Wormald said no serious academic case for the proposal had been presented and it was "quite impossible to overstate the society's horror" at the plan.

In a letter to Cardinal O'Brien, Britain's most senior Catholic, she said: "The idea of dividing the archives up and sending them off to two quite different parts of the country, is frankly appalling. The scholarly world would be irrevocably impoverished."

The row centres on plans to move the main historical archive, which includes papers dating back to the 12th century as well as letters from Mary Queen of Scots, from Columba House, in Edinburgh, where the Scottish Catholic Archive is located.

Aberdeen University will also become the custodian of the Blairs Library, which has been on loan to the National Library of Scotland, in Edinburgh, since 1974, but which will also be moved. Later, post-1878 records will eventually be housed in a new episcopal headquarters, currently being constructed at Pollokshields, in Glasgow.

Ms Wormald said the archives were a "crucial part of our national heritage" and said the move would have a significant impact on the study of Scotland's past. She said: "An ecclesiastical historian in Glasgow would have to go to Aberdeen to work on Glasgow's medieval registers and 18th century transcripts of Glasgow charters. And, of course, having travelled from Glasgow to Aberdeen, he would also have to go to Edinburgh, because he would still need to work in the archives and library.

"If one extends this, it becomes all too easy to see the effect on impoverished research students."

Addressing Cardinal O'Brien directly, she added: "I would beg Your Eminence not to be beguiled by arguments that scholars who up until now work in Edinburgh would simply transfer themselves to south-side Glasgow and the university of Aberdeen. They would not."

In a letter raising concerns about the move, Tom Devine, senior research professor in history at Edinburgh University, said it could interfere with scholarship. "Both scholars and members of the public think the breaking-up of the archives is regrettable," he said.

Archbishop Conti said: "The intention of the trustees was to preserve the material in its integrity and make it available to scholars, students and postgraduate researchers in conditions which ensured both its security and its expert care."

Professor Ian Diamond, principal of Aberdeen University, said: "We are pleased these important collections are returning to the north-east. Our state-of-the-art Special Collections Centre is one of the best facilities in Scotland, attracting students, scholars and visitors from across the world."