Sunday, 14 March 2010

St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

St Giles Cathedral
The Royal Mile

Situated in Parliament Square between Lawnmarket and the High Street, the cathedral of St Giles is only about a quarter of a mile to the East of the castle. As is usually the case with a well established church or cathedral, there are records stating that there was a parish church in Edinburgh as early as 854AD. A dedication to the Bishop of St Andrews is documented as taking place on the 6th of October 1243, with the church being consecrated in the name of St Giles….the patron saint of Edinburgh. A building on this site was founded sometime during the 1120’s, probably by David I, and there are thought to be a few remaining traces of this early structure in the present day cathedral. By 1385, the church was damaged by fire, but it seems that repairs were quickly made.

Above. View of the Cathedral looking West towards Lawnmarket.

In 1559, John Knox was elected a Minister of Edinburgh. He was a reformist and very much anti-Royalist, being well known for his abhorrence of a female monarch. His debates and arguments with and against Mary Queen of Scots are well documented. He was the Minister at St Giles until 1572. During Knox’s minster ship, the church of St Giles was well used by the local population, not just as a church or place of worship. Knox seems to have instigated an early form of community centre, with the church housing a police station, fire station, a school and even a prison for ‘harlots and whores’. The church was even used by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament and Edinburgh Town Council met there too. Because of Knox’s Protestant leanings, Queen Mary probably never attended any services at St Giles, probably preferring to celebrate mass in private at Holyrood House when she was in residence in Edinburgh. She probably, however, attended Parliament when it met at St Giles.

Above. The West end of the Cathedral, looking towards High Street.

In 1633 King Charles I assigned Scottish Episcopal bishops to Scotland, with William Forbes becoming the first Bishop of the Dioceses of Edinburgh. St Giles became Edinburgh’s Cathedral in 1635. It retained is Cathedral status until 1638, and held that title again from 1661 until 1689.

Above. Another view of the West end of the Cathedral.

In 1911, the Thistle Chapel was built, dedicated to those who are endowed as Knights of the Thistle, Scotland’s order of chivalry. In 1977 a major refurbishment project was undertaken, with roof, stone and window repairs taking place. A new organ was installed and the crypts were converted for use as meeting rooms and cafes. Admission to the cathedral today is free, although a donation is requested to pay for the upkeep of the building. Check the official web site for more information.

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