Almost 5000 people have signed a petition to save a visitor centre at a key Scottish Catholic shrine.

The Diocese of Motherwell announced last week that it plans to close the Pilgrimage Centre at Carfin Grotto, North Lanarkshire - Scotland’s national shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes.

The diocese claims it is no longer “economically viable” to continue operating the site, which hosts a gift shop and cafe.

However, many have expressed their sadness at the decision and an online petition to stop the closure has attracted thousands of signatures and messages of support for the centre and its staff.

One supporter wrote: “I think it’s a shame this centre is even being considered for closure. It is a welcoming hub to everyone in the area and visitors from far and wide.”

Another wrote: “We’re the richest Church in the world and somewhere as important as this centre can’t get a helping hand to keep it open for the community and people visiting the centre? It’s a disgrace.”

While another added: “It provides a much needed service to pilgrims from across Scotland who visit the grotto and surely it should be supported from the wider Catholic community and other archdiocese.”

In a letter to The Herald, a former head teacher of local Taylor High School - named after Canon Thomas Taylor who founded the grotto - also called on the The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland to take action to prevent the closure.

Richard Lynas, who helped to raise funds for the opening of the pilgrimage centre during his time at the school, wrote: “I am not privy to the issues or the financial pressures that have presumably contributed to the sad decision.

“But whatever the pressure, it is to be hoped that the Bishops Conference of Scotland and, indeed, Scotland’s Catholics in general will be willing to rally round and contribute to the saving of a facility of which they can be so justly proud.”

However, a spokesman for the Diocese of Motherwell hit back at those speaking out against the closure, saying that if they had offered more support to the centre, the outcome may have been different.

The spokesman said: “It was with great sadness that the Diocese of Motherwell took the decision to close the pilgrimage centre. The staff have been dedicated and professional and the centre has been a wonderful resource, but far too few people have visited it and spent enough to make it economically viable.

“The Pilgrimage Centre has been run as a Limited Company with its own Board of Directors. Unfortunately, as its losses show no sign of improving, it continues to cost the Diocese a substantial amount of money.

“If all those commenting on this difficult situation had themselves spent regularly on the goods and services offered by the centre and encouraged others to do the same, its future may have been different. Ultimately the diocese has a responsibility to all its parishes and it simply cannot justify the continued substantial subsidies.”