A parish church was established in Edinburgh as early as 854. This first church, a modest affair, was probably in use for several centuries before a new one was founded in the 1120s.

The 12th-century church was part of an effort of the Scottish royal family, especially David I (1124-1153), to spread Catholic worship throughout the Scottish lowlands. This church was probably quite small, Norman (Romanesque) in style, like others built at the same time. Few traces of it survive in the present building.

The parish church was formally dedicated by the bishop of St. Andrews in 1243 and subsequently named in honor of St. Giles, a 7th-century French hermit and abbot and the patron saint of Edinburgh. According to legend, Giles was accidentally wounded by a huntsman in pursuit of a hind and he is usually depicted protecting a hind from an arrow which had pierced his own body. A fine relief of this can be seen in the tympanum over the main doors of the Cathedral.

In 1385, a much larger church (early Gothic, pointed arches and simple octagonal pillars) was partially burned. No record has been found of the building of this second church. It was quickly repaired. In 1466, the church was granted collegiate status, and in 1495, the unique crown spire was added.

Many chapels were added in this period, sponsored by the craftsmen’s guilds of Edinburgh, prominent merchants, and nobles. One of the chapels was built to contain a relic of St Giles. By the middle of the 16th century, there were as many as 50 altars in the church.

In 1559, John Knox ('Scotland's Martin Luther') preached his first sermon on the Reformation at the High Kirk of St. Giles. His listeners reported that 'he was so active and vigorous it looked as if he was about to break the pulpit in bits and fly out of it.' Knox was instrumental in spreading the Presbyterian form of Protestantism throughout Scotland.

In 1633, King Charles I appointed Scottish Episcopalbishops and in 1635 William Forbes became the first bishop of the new diocese of Edinburgh. The church of St Giles' thus became a cathedral, as the seat of a bishop. Although it is today a Presbyterian church, which does not have bishops, St. Giles' continues to be referred to as a cathedral.

By 1800, the High Kirk of St. Giles was in a state of disrepair. Extensive restorations were undertaken in the 19th century, significantly altering the appearance of the church. The most important event of recent history occurred in 1996, when a national service was held at St. Giles' upon the return of the Stone of Destiny's return to Scotland.

St. Giles Cathedral combines a dark and brooding stone exterior with surprisingly graceful buttresses. Inside, a major highlight is the Thistle Chapel, designed by Robert Lorimer and finished in 1911. Some decorations have survived from the late medieval period (1385-1560), including heraldic carvings, sections of tombs and memorials, and various religious and non-religious carvings. Recognizable 12th-century remains in the church include a scalloped capital, now built into the wall of St Eloi's Aisle, and a corbel stone featuring a grotesque carved face, built into the wall by the door to the Cathedral shop.

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Founded: 12th century
Category: Religious sites in United Kingdom

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User Reviews

manish temani (3 months ago)
Really good place to visit on your trip to Edinburgh old town. it's free to visit with a donation suggested for £5. Very historic and magnificent building. Right at royal mile and offers amazing picture spots outside and inside the cathedral. During day time there are also many activities going on outside and is quite a vibe.
Simon Robson (5 months ago)
Super cathedral in the middle of a bustling city. Stop and take a moment to come inside and absorb the enormity of the accomplishment from the exquisite building and stain glass, to the beautiful organ (that was playing when we visited). Structural like this give me goosebumps of appreciation and amazement. Sit and meditate or maybe say a prayer for yourself, family or even mankind. Always free to enter (donations always appreciated).
Mark Singh (5 months ago)
What an amazing place to visit and should be on your sightseeing bucket list. It had such a beautiful and calming atmosphere set within such a historic place. Its worth the visit if your ever up here in Edinburgh and strongly recommend it. Its free to get in and you can make a donation if you like.
Jonathan Smith (6 months ago)
Beautiful! I suggest to anyone to come here to view this beautiful cathedral. Whether you are religious or not, it is a sight to see. The stained glass is beautiful and the architecture and artwork. They have a gift shop as well. They suggest a £5 donation for tourists
Katie Conrad (6 months ago)
My group and I wandered around Edinburgh and happened upon this church right as their weekday noon service was starting. It was brief: two Scripture readings, an extended prayer time, with the service wrapping up with The Lord's Prayer. It's a really neat idea to have a brief service in a tourist spot, so all kinds of people can experience this kind of worship service. The interior is beautiful and very peaceful.
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