on November 13, 2012
St Giles Church in Edinburgh was named after the patron saint of Edinburgh, a well liked saint, who devoted time to the poor of the city especially people who suffered from leprosy and were unable to walk. The church is referred to as St Giles Cathedral but historically it was only classed as a cathedral for short periods of time. In 1633 the building was called a cathedral and kept the grand title for five years and again in 1661 until 1689. The building also had another name, the High Kirk of Edinburgh. It is Edinburgh’s most important church and was influential in the formation of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. St Giles is located on the Royal Mile, a cobbled street, one of the most famous streets in UK and sometimes called the High Street, Lawnmarket or Castlehill. This is the main route from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.Way back in the 12th century a small chapel stood on the same spot and then towards the end of the 16th century a building was constructed that had stone walls dividing the area into three separate churches. The walls were dismantled in 1633 and then erected again in 1639. Throughout the following years the walls were rearranged so many times until they were eventually abandoned in 1882. The Old Tolbooth and luckenbooths (small shops) used to stand in front of the church hiding the exterior of the building which was in very bad condition. In 1817 they were taken down and William Burn started work on transforming the building into the church as we know it now.The ornate chapel called the Thistle Chapel situated in the south east of the building was added in 1911.The main structure of St Giles is colossal with its vaulted roof and enormous central pillars. The grey exterior makes the building look stark and very Presbyterian. Inside, the building has a different outlook, is transformed by bright primary colors highlighted from daylight shining behind the stained glass windows. I love stained glass and often think a church without stained windows is rather drab. These windows were added in the late 19th century as Presbyterians preferred plain glass and were not too keen on furnishings and fittings that were frivolous. Each window had to portray a story in pictures from the Bible; this was the only way such beauty could be accepted as part of the interior of the church.Like in other churches in Edinburgh the seats are made from wood and there are rows and rows packed closely together. They look very uncomfortable and if I was a member of St Giles who worshipped here, I would certainly take my own cushion with me. I should think sitting on one of these chairs during a very long sermon would make my bottom numb. To the west of the church on Parliament Square where the former tollbooth used to be sits a heart shaped stone on the pavement. It is called the Heart of Midlothian. Apparently, we were told that if we spat on the stone we would be lucky in life and be allowed to return to the city safely. I didn’t spit on the stone and neither did my husband but then neither of us believe in superstitions. A rather vulgar superstition but there you go.I recommend a visit to St Giles Church/Cathedral after a shopping trip on the Royal Mile. If you are interested in social history then after a visit to the church you can take a look at The Real Mary King’s Close which is opposite the church beneath the city chambers.
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