A prominent feature of the Edinburgh skyline, St. Giles' Cathedral or the High Kirk of Edinburgh is a Church of Scotland place of worship decorating the midpoint of the Royal Mile with its distinctive traditional Scottish crown steeple. The church has been one of Edinburgh's religious focal points for approximately 900 years. Today it is sometimes regarded as the mother church of Presbyterianism.
St. Giles was only a cathedral in its formal sense (ie. the seat of a bishop) for two periods during the 17th century (1635-38 and 1661-1689), when episcopalianism, backed by the Crown, briefly gained ascendancy within the Kirk (see Bishops' Wars). In the mediaeval period, prior to the Reformation, Edinburgh had no cathedral as the royal burgh was part of the Diocese of St Andrews, under the Bishop of St Andrews whose episcopal seat was St Andrew's Cathedral. For most of its post-Reformation history the Church of Scotland has not had bishops, diocese, or cathedrals. As such, the use of the term Cathedral today carries no practical meaning. The "high kirk" title is older, being attested well before the building's brief stint as a cathedral.
It is the Church of Scotland parish church for part of Edinburgh's Old Town. Five services are held every Sunday, as well as daily services and special services for state and civic occasions. The current Minister (since 1973) of St. Giles' is the Very Reverend Dr Gilleasbuig Macmillan.
of the cathedral]] As the name implies, it is dedicated to St. Giles, who was the patron saint of cripples and lepers and a very popular saint in the Middle Ages. The oldest parts of the building are four massive central pillars, often said to date from 1124, although there is very little evidence to this effect. In 1385 the building suffered a fire and was rebuilt in the subsequent years. Much of the current interior dates from this period. Over the years many chapels, referred to as 'aisles', were added, greatly enlarging the church and leaving it rather irregular in plan. In 1466 St Giles was established as a collegiate church. In response to this raising of status, the lantern tower was added around 1490, and the chancel ceiling raised, vaulted and a clear storey installed. By the middle of the 16th century (before the Reformation) there were about fifty altars in the church.
St. Giles has both some of the best stained glass windows in Scotland, dating from the 19th and 20th centuries (none survives from the medieval period). The most well-known windows include the: Victorian Windows, Burne-Jones Window, North Window, and the Burns Window. The Victorian windows were commissioned by Sir William Chambers, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, who spearheaded the (extremely intrusive) restoration of St. Giles in 1872. Until this time St. Giles had, since shortly after the Reformation, consisted of several churches within the main edifice, divided by walls and with galleries inserted into the vaults. The restoration reunified the church into a single space. Tragically, an obsession with a barren 'symmetry' led to the actual demolition of parts of the kirk (notably on the south side, where a number of chapels had been added piecemeal during the late Middle Ages). The exterior of the building, except for the tower and crown spire, was refaced in bland grey sandstone ashlar and standardised 'Gothic' ornament alien to Scottish medieval architecture, which paid scant heed to the original, strikingly individual, appearance of the church. Much of the unique character and historic interest of St. Giles (undisputably one of Scotland's most important - and prominent - historic buildings) were thus recklessly destroyed in a 'restoration' chiefly notable for combining ignorance with arrogance. The contrast with a recent (late 20th century) sensitive restoration of the crown spire, which included the regilding of various pinnacles and ornaments, could not be more marked.
Happily, the interior of the church retains more of its ancient character, including a wealth of carved ornament, though the walls and vaults have been only partially replastered. The dark stone rubble of the 'scraped' parts of the walls, which were never meant to be seen by the medieval builders, makes the inside needlessly dark (detestably so on overcast days). The cost of the stained glass windows was underwritten by the Lord Provost and other donors. The Edinburgh firm of Ballantine & Son was commissioned for the work. The windows form a continuous narrative over seven windows starting in the north east corner and finishing on the north-west side. One of the last windows of this plan depicts St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, holding his cross with, on either side of him, St. Columba and King David (erroneously labeled St. David). St. Andrew wears a flowing peacock-blue cassock and his features are modeled after prominent Edinburgh physician James Jamieson. Unusually, this window was funded by a grateful patient who insisted that St. Andrew bore the features of the good doctor. Below St. Andrew are depicted St. Giles, with his hind, and St. Cuthbert. The dedication beneath the St. Andrew window states: James Jamieson Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh and Elder of the Kirk, born 1841, in Bowden, and died 1903.
The Thistle Chapel (1911, by Robert Lorimer) is the chapel of The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Scotland's foremost Order of Chivalry. It is a small, but exquisite, chapel with carved and painted fittings of extraordinary detail. The Order, which was founded by James VII in 1687, consists of the monarch and 16 knights. The knights are the personal appointment of the crown, and are normally Scots who have made a significant contribution to national or international affairs. Knights have included Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Lord Mackay of Clashfern and Sir Fitzroy MacLean.
, the Great Montrose, is buried in St. Giles'.]] On Sunday 23 July 1637 efforts by King Charles I to impose Anglican services on the Church of Scotland led to the Book of Common Prayer revised for Scottish use being introduced in St Giles'. Rioting in opposition began when the Dean of Edinburgh, John Hannah, began to read from the new Book of Prayer, legendarily initiated by the market-woman or street-seller Jenny Geddes throwing her stool at his head. The disturbances led to the National Covenant and hence the Bishops' Wars; the first part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which included the English Civil War. In the late 17th century a carillon was made for the cathedral by James Meikle. On the day in 1707 that the Treaty of Union was signed to merge the Parliament of Scotland with the Parliament of England and create the Kingdom of Great Britain, the carilloner in St Giles rang the bells in the tune Why should I be so sad on my wedding day?
Its many monuments and memorials, as well as its sheer size and location, have made it a very popular tourist attraction, drawing special notice during the annual Edinburgh Festival, which centres on the Royal Mile. Notable monuments include those to James Graham, Marquess of Montrose (1612-50), his enemy Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll (1607-61) and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) and, in a frame, a copy of the National Covenant of 1638. The Protestant Reformer, John Knox, was also buried in the church yard, though no grave survives.