The largest church in Britain may rise again

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RADICAL PLANS to reconstruct the ruined St Andrews Cathedral in Fife - Europe's biggest church after St Peter's in Rome - will be unveiled tomorrow.

The pounds 200m proposal to resurrect what was once the shrine to Scotland's national saint is part of a new assertiveness among the country's 700,000 Roman Catholics. It would involve an international competition to redesign the cathedral, which was destroyed during the Reformation after being for centuries one of the focal points of Western Christianity.

The plan will be set out by its author, Richard Demarco, during a symposium of invited architects, religious figures and artists. Mr Demarco, one of Scotland's leading theatre directors and co-founder of Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, put foward his proposal after consulting with James MacMillan, the composer who claimed this month that Scotland was riddled with anti-Catholic bigotry.

Mr Demarco said that just as Sir Basil Spence had reconstructed Coventry Cathedral after the Second World War, it was vital to rebuild the Scottish cathedral, which was said to have housed the remains of St Andrew, one of the 12 apostles.

"The monastery at Iona was reconstructed from a ruin at the turn of the century. Now at the end of the century, it is time to heal the wounds that Scots inflicted on themselves by destroying this wondrous building.

"We must remember that the cathedral represents the Scotland that inspired Robert the Bruce to fight at Bannockburn. Its architecture produced the music of Robert Carver, and the poetry of William Dunbar. We cannot build a Scottish Parliament without also rebuilding this great monument. I hope that one day James MacMillan will write the fanfare for its reopening."

Mr Demarco said that the Roman Catholic leader, Archbishop Keith O'Brien of St Andrews and Edinburgh, had encouraged him to pursue his plan to raise money from the lottery, Scotland's churches, councils and the Scottish Arts Council. However, the task would not be easy. The ruins - on the Fife coast close to the Royal and Ancient golf courses - show the building was 355 feet long. There is now little left beyond twin towers linked by a lofty gable wall, which made up the building's 12th-century east front.

Historic Scotland, which is responsible for maintaining the ruin, was non-committal. A spokesman said: "We have no plans to restore the cathedral. Any other plans for restoration work would have to be cleared through the Government."

Mr Demarco said he would write to the leaders of the Scottish Executive and his idea has been backed in principle by the Scottish Conservatives. He said: "I want to generate a national discussion."