Welcome to St Giles' Cathedral

St Giles' Cathedral is the historic City Church of Edinburgh with its famed crown spire on the Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, it is Presbyterianism's Mother Church and contains the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle (Scotland's chivalric company of knights headed by the Queen).

The High Kirk of Edinburgh, St. Giles' Cathedral, is generally regarded as the mother church of Presbyterianism. The Cathedral was officially consecrated by the Bishop of St. Andrews in 1243, however its four massive central pillars date back to approximately 1120. The 'kerk werk'(old dialect for 'construction')of St. Giles was largely funded by Merchant Guilds, ship-dues and fines.

St. Giles The church was named after St. Giles, a saint popular throughout France, in support of the Auld Alliance of Scotland and France against England; their common and much hated enemy. After the Reformation, John Knox became St. Giles' first minister

St. Giles' Cathedral represents centuries of Scottish history. It is an imposing Gothic building with many historic memorials and monuments.

There has been a parish church in Edinburgh since around the year 854. It was linked to Lindisfarne (Holy Isle), where St. Columba's monks had first brought the Gospel from Iona. In the 12th Century, a church, dedicated to Saint Giles, was built on the present site. Giles was a popular saint in the Middle Ages. He was the patron saint of cripples and lepers, and his reputation spread through France and England to Scotland, partly as a result of the Crusades. In 1385, St. Giles' was burnt during the border quarrels in which much of the Lothians suffered. The four massive pillars in the center of the church are possibly all that is left of the original scructure. The church was rebuild and "thekit with stane" (Thatched with stone). Building work continued almost without a break until the early 16th Century.

In 1460 the church was given an armbone of Saint Giles as a relic. This relic was kept in the church with much honor until the Reformation. In 1467 a Papal Bull designated St. Giles' as a Collegiate Church. The enlarging and enriching of the church continued. Various guilds, such as the masons and hammermen (metalworkers) built and dedicated chapels. The Hammermen hung "the Blue Blanket" in their chapel. It was an old flag carried inthe Holy Land by Scots Crusaders, and later said to have been carried at Flodden. The Guilds took it from St. Giles' at the Reformation and keep it still.

The first stirrings of the Protestant Church in Scotland were centered on the university town of St. Andrews. It was there that John Knox first began preaching. He spent twenty years in exile in England and on the Continent until the Protestant movement gained popular support. In 1555 Knox returned secretly from Geneva and lodged in High Street. For nearly a year, he went about Scotland, preaching and giving the Lord's Supper by Common Cup and Common Bread.

During the late 1550s popular feeling against the established church grew. In 1557 a statue of Saint Giles was stolen from the church and never recovered. Later that year another statue of the saint was mobbed during the annual Saint Giles Day procession.

In 1558, John Knox wrote of petitions then before the Scottish Parliament.
In 1559 Knox preached in Perth, and following his sermon the church was stripped in a riot. A group of Protestant nobles, known as the Lords of the Congregation, rallied around Knox as he travelled towards Edinburgh. Mary de Guise, Scotland's Queen Regent, agreed to allow him to enter the capital, after the Lords of the Congretation promised that no violence would follow. On July 1, 1559, Knox preached for the first time in St. Giles', but within a month the Reformers were driven out of St. Giles' and the priests returned and re-consecrated the church.

The last mass was said in St. Giles' on March 31, 1560. That night the reformers broke into the church and the work of altering the interior began. It took over a year to remove the altars and change the furnishings. Internal walls were built, helping to ensure that the congregaton sould see and hear the minister, and allowing parts of the chjurch to be used for community purposes. The last of these walls was not removed until 1883.

Mary Queen of Scots returned from France in the summer of 1561. She never attended worship in St. Giles', but disputed with Knox over matters of faith and government at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Knox had an interview with Queen Mary in September 1561 during which he lectured her on religious liberty. The events of Queen Mary's troubled reign were played out with St. Giles' as a backdrop. The plans for both her second and third marriages were anounced there, and accusations of Bothwell's involvement in Lord Darnley's murder were pinned to the church door.

When Queen Mary abdicated in 1567, James Stewart, the Earl of Moray and her illegitimate half-brother was chosen as Regent for her son James VI. Moray was one of the Lords of the congregation and a friend of Knox. Knox had officiated at Moray's wedding in St. Giles' in 1561. In 1570 Moray was assassinated by a supported of Mary, and Knox preached at the funeral service. Moray was buried on the south side of the church where a restored version of his tomb still stands. Her party fought on. Once cannon were mounted on the roof of St. Giles' to fire on the castle. Knox was exiled to St. Andrews, but brought back in 1572, a dying man. He is buried in the graveyard behind St. Giles'.

Knox was in poor health by the time of Moray's funeral, and spent most of his time at St. Andrews. He returned shortly before his death to install his successor and to preach for a final time. He asked to be buried in an old burial area behind St. Giles'. This area now forms part of Parliament Close.

As an adult, King James VI became convinced of a monarch's right of authority over the Church. This belief was not lessened by his accession to the throne of England. His son, King Charles I, attempted to impose bishops upon Scotland, and gave St. Giles' cathedral status. The first Episcopalian service was read in St. Giles' in 1637. Legend has it that in St. Giles' a riot began when a stool was thrown at the Dean by a woman called Jenny Geddes.

The National Covenant (1638) was drawn up as a formal rejection of royal interference in the Church. A copy of the Covenant is displayed in St. Giles' to this day.The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, meeting in a section of St. Giles' in 1643, drew up the Solemn League and Covenant - a more radical alliance with Oliver Cromwell during the religious disputes of the Civil War. The people of Scotland were of divided sentiments during this time, and St. Giles saw executions from both sides. The head of the Marquis of Montrose, a Royalist Covenanter, was displayed outside the church for eleven years, from 1650 to 1661, until it was replaced by that of his rival Argyll. Both men are commemorated in the church today.

King Charles II named St. Giles' a cathedral for a second time, and it was not until the reign of William II and Mary III that both the Presbyterian and Episcopalian systems were able to coexist in peace.

St. Giles' - The Holy Table in the Thistle Chapel: Scotland's great order of chivalry is the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle. King James VII (II) revived this order in 1687 and intended to use the Abbey of Holyrood as its chapel. That chapel was destroyed, and so in the early 20th Century a new chapel was built at St. Giles'.

St. Giles - Thistle Chapel - seats and arms of members of Order of the Thistle: The Sovereign's Stall bears a carving of the Royal Arms. The Knights' stalls, ranged around the walls, display the arms of past and present members of the order.

St Giles' Cathedral lies on Edinburgh's Royal Mile about two thirds of the way up from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to Edinburgh Castle. For the better part of a thousand years St Giles' has been at the physical and spiritual heart of Scotland's capital city and many key moments in history have been played out in or around it.

Although founded in about 1130, St Giles' central role in Edinburgh's life has subjected it to more change than seen in most churches. As a result, most of the exterior dates back to a remodelling in the years to 1833. And the interior you see today comes from a restoration completed in 1883.

Despite its name, St Giles' Cathedral is not a cathedral. The title gives an idea of its magnificent scale, but was only strictly correct for two short periods when Bishops served in the Scottish Church, from 1633-8 and from 1661-89.

A visit to St Giles' is a fascinating experience. In part this is due to its unusual layout. On the face of it you find all the elements you'd normally expect to find in a Scottish church. The western part comprises a nave, and to its east is the choir or chancel. Where the two meet is the crossing, supporting the tower, while to the north and south of the crossing are transepts.

What's unexpected are the proportions of the different elements. The nave and chancel are about the same length, so the crossing and the tower are in the centre of the church rather than, as you might expect, towards its eastern end. And the transepts are no longer than the aisles of the nave and chancel are wide. This gives a very broad rectangular space in which the transepts are not particularly dominant.

Although the shape and the large scale of St Giles' would suggest a great sense of space, the many rows of columns and the lower level of the vault above the crossing break up the interior, limiting the vistas and giving the sense of a series of separate but interconnected areas.

The final step in gaining an understanding of the layout of St Giles' Cathedral is in realising that since the 1980s the focus of the entire church has been under the central crossing, where you now find the Holy Table. Since then the seating in the chancel has faced to the west rather than, as you'd more normally expect and as it did before, to the east.

The origins of St Giles' date back to about 1130 when a parish church was built to serve Edinburgh during the reign of King David I. The church was originally granted to the Lazarites, and its dedication was to St Giles as the patron saint of lepers. Over the years a building that probably started as a simple nave and chancel grew aisles along each side, plus transepts and a tower over the crossing.

In 1385 English troops under King Richard II sacked Edinburgh and set fire to St Giles' (see our Historical Timeline). The damage was quickly made good and over the following centuries St Giles' Cathedral grew organically: an aisle added on here, a chapel there. The main external change came in about 1500 when the tower was heightened and the stone crown added to its top.

By this time St Giles had become a collegiate church, one served by a college of canons whose role was to service the many chapels and altars in the church and pray for the souls of rich patrons and their families.

The Reformation, the storm of change that swept across the Church in Scotland in 1560, was ignited by a sermon preached in St Giles' by John Knox on 29 June 1559. Knox went on to become Minister of St Giles' and his statue now stands in the nave. By 1581 St Giles' served three different Reformed congregations, and internal walls were built to separate the areas they used. Other parts of the church were used for a variety of purposes, including storage space for Edinburgh's guillotine, the Maiden. Except during the short periods when it was formally designated a cathedral in the 1600s, St Giles' spent much of the following 250 years divided by internal walls. In 1684 the crown on top of the tower was repaired, but otherwise the late 1600s and the 1700s were a period of stagnation and decay. By 1800 St Giles' Cathedral was in poor condition. It had by now been divided internally to form four separate churches, plus a meeting house for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, a police office and a fire engine house. Externally, little of the church could be seen because the Old and New Tolbooths had been built immediately to the west, and because of a series of lock-up shops or luckenbooths built close to or actually leaning against the north side of the church. Between 1807 and 1833 St Giles' was first cleared of surrounding buildings and then given what amounted to a new exterior, during which most of the ad hoc chapels added over previous centuries were also removed. The interior space was simplified to form just three churches. It took a major restoration of the interior between 1871 and 1883 to finally removed the post-Reformation internal walls and returned the church to the more unified, if still complex, space you see today. There were three significant changes to St Giles' in the 1900s. Between 1909 and 1911 a chapel for the Knights of the Thistle was added at the south east corner of the church. The Thistle Chapel measures just 37ft by 18ft but is extremely richly decorated. In the 1980s, the focus of St Giles' was moved from the east end of the chancel to the crossing under the tower. And in 1992 the truly magnificent organ occupying the south transept was installed, complete with its 4,000 pipes.
St. Giles has its own website at http://www.stgilescathedral.org.uk/

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