History in the Making

4 Reasons To Visit St. Giles’ Cathedral, Travel Thursday

When I travel, I spend a lot of my time trying to soak up the culture and history of wherever I am; I think that experiencing other cultures is a great way to broaden your perspective and make you think about the world in a different way. It’s also a great way to see some beautiful buildings! I always go out of my way to see cathedrals and abbeys, even though I don’t practice anything. It is always fascinating to see what is important to people and what they put their energy into, and the people of the past often put their time, money, and resources into religious buildings. 

Enter: St Giles’ Cathedral- a quiet but gorgeous cathedral tucked away on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh! Technically the High Kirk of St Giles, this cathedral is the heart of the Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian church. It may not have the size and grandeur of Westminster Abbey or York Minster, but it still has a quiet beauty that is well worth a stop on your way through Edinburgh. The Scottish people, government, and church have a gripping and long-lasting history, and St. Giles is the perfect way to experience them all!

St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh

Although I love Dublin and London dearly, Edinburgh is a gorgeous city that is rich with history and not nearly so busy or bustling as it’s English and Irish counterparts. We were only in the city for two days, so we decided to focus on the Royal Mile as the Cathedral, Holyrood, and Edinburgh Castle were all high on our list. (Next trip, I promise I will branch out further!!) I was able to see it in early March, meaning that winter was still visiting Edinburgh. As a Canadian, I was thrilled when it began to snow, although many other tourists looked less than impressed. St. Giles’ is right in the heart of the city and with a spare hour, you can see a truly beautiful cathedral that has quite the storied past! So, why should you visit?

St Giles Cathedral Exterior 1
St Giles Cathedral Exterior details
St Giles Cathedral Courtyard
St Giles Cathedral Interior details
The Details
St Giles’ isn’t a particularly ornate cathedral, but that in no way means that it is a plain building. It’s quietly beautiful, and the detailing in the stonework still something to behold. It’s slightly more difficult to see in the interior, but that’s true of most cathedrals as light wasn’t the primary focus in the high middle ages when these structures were being built. Taking your time to wander about, you will notice the craftsmanship and work that went into the cathedral! (You will also notice Holy Blood Aisle, in honour of Mary, Queen of Scots’ half brother who served as regent.)
st Giles Cathedral Interior Stained Glass
St Giles Cathedral stained glass window 2
St Giles Cathedral Stains glass window horse
The Stained Glass
The stained glass is as beautiful as you would expect it to be- although they don’t provide much light through into the cathedral, they do offer beautiful pieces of art that are particularly incredible given that the Presbyterian church has historically been known for “four walls and sermon” rather than a decorative setting. Most of the glass dates back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and because they are later windows, they mostly depict saints and their Lives rather than Biblical stories as older windows would have.
St Giles Cathedral Montrose memorial
st Giles Cathedral Argyll memorial 2
St Giles Cathedral Great War Memorial
St Giles Cathedral Chloroform memorial
This cathedral happens to be lousy with memorials. The two notable memorials are those of the Marquises of Argyll and Montrose from the mid seventeenth century- as far as memorials go, they are quite lavish. Not only is it the standard tomb with effigy atop, they are both complete structures that dome over. To be honest, I had no idea at the time why they warranted such a tomb but as I’m sure we could all guess, they were both leading figures in a war (the War of the Three Kingdoms, if you are curious to know which specifically). However, in addition to these guys, there are also memorials all over the cathedral for different people, many of whom died in battle. The Great War is particularly represented! Also, my favourite memorial/shout out was for James Young Simpson’s discovery of chloroform….
St Giles Cathedral Thistle Chapel ceiling
St Giles Cathedral Thistle Chapel seat detail
St Giles Cathedral thistle Chapel detail
The Thistle Chapel
The Thistle Chapel is one of the most interesting chapels that I have been to, and that includes the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace. The Chapel is home to The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, aka Scotland’s leading order of chivalry. It consists of seventeen members, the sovereign and sixteen knights and ladies of the order (with members of the British Royal Family being “extra” members), and is the second highest order in the United Kingdom in order of precedence. Each current member of the order has a stall in the chapel, complete with their heraldic devices and mantle displayed. When a member passes away, everything is removed aside from the stall plate- this means that you can trace all of the members of the order back to 1911 when it was built by following the stall plates! It is a quiet but impressive room, mostly due to the ceiling of thistles!

What is your favourite cathedral? 

Until tomorrow,
The Historian!
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