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Reviews of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh - Travel Guide

Standing in Parliament Square adjacent to the Royal mile is St Giles Cathedral. The Kirk is especially bonded to John Knox. He was the minister here from 1559 to 1572. He preached an uncompromising Calvinist message, launching the Scottish Reformation of the church. St Giles is also referred to as the High Kirk of Edinburgh. It has been watching over Edinburgh spiritually for over 900 years. It was a major political, cultural and religious centre of Edinburgh for most of the Middle Ages.

History of the Building - Architecture

The original building dates back to at least the early part of the 12th century. The the four massive central pillars lay testament to this age's architectural fashion. It suffered disaster in 1385 when it was burnt to the ground but, it was quickly rebuilt. As with many historic cathedrals and changing architectural styles of the time, new chapels in different styles were added over the next 150 years or so. Local rumour has it that one of the chapels is set aside for the remains of St. Giles himself. A sthe number of the chapels and altars grew, they would quickly number 50 by the end of the 16th century.

Minister John Knox - Scottish Presbyterianism

Its most famous minister was one John Knox. He was born in 1506. He eventually arrived in the city of Edinburgh in 1559. He was one of the Marian exiles. These exiles were forced to flee to the European continent as religious refugees due to the religious persecution initiated by Mary of Guise. She was a pro-French, Catholic regent of Scotland. He helped reform the worship and administration of faith moving Scotland towards Presbyterianism. He died in 1572 having achieved his main goal in life of establishing a uniquely Scottish religion.

Many Uses for a Religious Building

Some of the changes he made at St. Giles include dividing the interior into many rooms and allowing the building to be used as a fire station and a school, for instance, over the next 300 years, such. Interestingly, the Scottish guillotine known as the Maiden was housed here as well as a prison for 'harlots.'

Finally a Cathedral but Many Scottish Conflicts

Charles I finally appointed a bishop in 1633 making St. Giles a cathedral. However Conflicts arose out of the Scottish Reformation delaying debates about church government. But, in 1638, the National Covenant was signed which signalled opposition to the king's plans to church reform. When civil war broke out in England, they supported Cromwell and even gave up Charles I to Cromwell after he had surrendered to them. More politicking ensued after they persuaded Charles II to sign the covenant in 1650 and decided to defy Cromwell who soon defeated Charles II and forced the Scots to unite with England. The Act of Union in 1707 preserved the independence of the Church of Scotland.

Many of the Highland based Scottish clans (tribes) chose to support the House of Stuart instead of the House of Hanover when Queen Anne died in 1714. This terrible revolt was eventually crushed. The Highlanders rose again in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Yet again they failed at the battle of Culloden Moor in 1746. Severe repression followed to stem future rebellions and this only abated in 1782.

Effects on the Cathedral

Unfortunately, the troubles of the 18th century pushed the cathedral into a state of disrepair. Some repairs were made in 1829 but they were quite minor. William Chambers, a Scottish publisher, who served as lord provost of Edinburgh from 1865 to 1869, was keenly interested in preserving the architectural history of Edinburgh and used his own money to fund restoration work on St. Giles's Cathedral as part of a plan to restore the old city. In 1879, he sketched the cathedral's history.

The restoration included cleaning the building and removing old galleries. New stained glass windows were added, such as the Victorian windows, an example of which is the Life of Christ cycle, and the Burne-Jones window showing the crossing of the Jordan.

These renovations were very successful as the cathedral regained its lost reputation, so much so that a new chapel, Thistle, was added in 1911. Robert Lorimer designed it in a very particular Scottish style with angels playing bagpipes. This chapel is related to the Order of the Thistle, which is Scotland's highest order of chivalry instituted by James II in 1687. A new addition is the Burns window in 1985 showing themes from the poetry of Robert Burns.
Read more at St Giles Cathedral official site

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