The nave remained the parish church until the present church was built in 1822. The older structure became a ruin, and the surrounding land – once the site of the cloister and church crossing – was, until recently, used as a graveyard.
Excavations and a programme of restoration, undertaken by William Galloway, began in the 1880s, under the direction of the 3rd Marquess of Bute. The work focused on the east end, and rescued features found during the construction of the road to the parish church – including the Latinus stone.
In 1886-7, Whithorn was visited by General Augustus Pitt Rivers, the first Inspector of Ancient Monuments.
In 1908 His Majesty’s Office of Works was made guardian of the ruins. The old school house at the gate to the churchyard became a museum housing the crosses and inscriptions found in and around Whithorn. In 2005, the carved stone collection was redisplayed by Historic Scotland in the museum.
Excavations directed by C.A. Ralegh Radford in 1949–53 confirmed that the building found by the crypt was the remains of an earlier church. A few years later, excavations revealed the graves of bishops and priors from the 1200s and 1300s.
Later excavations by Chris Tabraham in 1972 and 1975, and by Peter Hill in the 1980s and 1990s have revealed buildings and graves from Whithorn’s long history. Hill’s excavations focused on the ‘glebe field’ – the gentle southern slope leading up the hillside – and produced a wealth of finds. Many are displayed in the Whithorn Story Visitor Centre.
The Whithorn Trust was formed in 1986, to interpret Whithorn’s archaeology and history for the public through an information centre and exhibition. The Trust developed the Whithorn Story exhibition, in which visitors can see a selection of the finds from archaeological excavations at the site over the years.
Royal visits have recalled the glories of Whithorn’s past. The Queen’s visit to Whithorn in 1951, while she was still Princess Elizabeth, was the first royal visit to Whithorn since Mary Queen of Scots made a pilgrimage here in 1563. Prince Charles followed in 2000, and received a guided tour of the museum and visitor centre. The long and sacred history of the priory continues to attract pilgrims today, and will hopefully continue to do so for another thousand years.