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St Giles Cathedral (Edinburgh)

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The High Kirk of Edinburgh, St. Giles' Cathedral, is generally regarded as the mother church of Presbyterianism. The Cathedral was officially consecrated by the Bishop of St. Andrews in 1243, however its four massive central pillars date back to approxima

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

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      14.01.2013 17:32
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      One of the best churches in Edinburgh

      ***Location***

      St Giles Church/Cathedral 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.

      ***Reason for my visit***

      Last June we visited Edinburgh for a short time before moving on to Sunderland. The morning we arrived in the city I was in an exploring mood but my husband wasn't feeling to well so he decided to take his time meandering through Princes Street Gardens while I went and had a look at the church. My husband isn't as crazy about churches as I am, they spook him out so I didn't feel bad leaving him on his own in one of Edinburgh's finest parks with the statues of David Livingstone, Adam Black and Alan Ramsay to keep him company.

      ***History time***

      St Giles Church in Edinburgh was named after the patron saint of the city, a hermit who later became an abbot devoting his time to the poor of the city in the early 8th century. Giles died with an arrow in his chest which came from a huntsman trying to kill a female red deer that he was protecting. After his death many hospitals and dwellings that housed the poor and infirm were named after him opening their doors not only to sick people but to beggars and lost souls in the vicinity of Edinburgh and also throughout Scotland.

      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.

      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.

      ***Important Information before viewing the Church***

      The admission to the church is free although it isn't really as you are expected to place a donation of at least £3 in the boxes provided. It seems a funny way of going about it. Why don't the organisers just ask for a donation instead of suggesting one and then they will definitely get the cash off people as they come through the door and the funds can go to the restoration of the building.

      As you enter the main entrance of the church you will notice helpers standing around. These are a group of volunteers who are very knowledgeable about the church and its history, the city of Edinburgh and the services and congregation. Most of them are young and enthusiastic and will take you on a guided tour if you wish to join a group. There are also other volunteers available at the information desk situated in the Thistle Chapel.

      Cameras and web cams are allowed but you have to have a permit which costs £2 and this can be purchased from the information desk.

      I bought a guide book of the church, A4 in size and cost £6. If you are not going with a tour and don't know anything about the church it is a useful purchase.

      ***My tour***

      I didn't want to join a tour group, it isn't me. I like to take my time and wander around to find things out. I didn't actually look at the guide book that much until I was in Sunderland and staying at the at the B&B.

      The main structure of St Giles is Gothic and it is colossal with its vaulted roof, enormous central pillars and the Crown Spire on the tower. I thought the grey exterior made the building look stark and very Presbyterian. Inside, the building has a different outlook, is transformed by bright primary colours, 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.

      Seven windows in the eastern part of the church had to portray a narrative in pictures depicting the Life of Christ; this was the only way such beauty could be accepted as part of the interior of the church. They were created by a local firm called Ballantine and are very spectacular, some of the best stained glass creations I have seen. They are all very lovely but one window that really stands out and one I love very much is the window located in the west and dedicated to Burns. It is called The Burns Window. It is a mixture of abstract designs but you can easily figure out the themes. The window is split into three sections; the dark green is Burn's natural world, something he wrote about often with passion, the centre piece is filled with people, a mixture of colour and all faiths; the top section has an image of a burning sunset intermingled with bright yellow, orange and red. This represents how love can flourish. The designer of this window is Leifur Breidfjördis, a chap from Iceland.

      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.

      The Holy Table which is positioned in the centre of the building and underneath the central tower is very contemporary in style, made from white Italian marble, weighs 9.6 tons including the steps leading up to it. It looks like a giant sized ice box, has no decoration or adornments. The table was designed by Luke Hughes and was given to the church as a gift from Roger A Lindsay, Baron of Craighall. I wasn't enamoured with the design and look of the table at all, it is too stark for a church of this size and beauty. I think a traditional altar with grandiose candlesticks and statues would look much nicer.

      In the Moray Aisle there is a bronze memorial honouring Robert Louis Stevenson which is well sculpted and the statue of John Knox stands in the west end of the church. I like the low relief design of the Stevenson memorial but not too keen on the statue of Knox although it is cleverly made.

      ***The Thistle Chapel***

      I recommend a visit to this fantastic chapel, situated near to the information centre and accessed by a smaller, low ceilinged ante-chapel. Once inside the main chapel which is sort of triangular in shape and made up of three rooms, I was drawn to the roof and detail of the stone carvings which form branches leading to a central mass of stone patterns. I couldn't work out what the overlapping pattern was but at a guess I would say thistle heads. Again, there are some super stained glass windows, this time though the designs are representing chivalry and other heraldic scenes.

      Running along the sides of the chapel are stalls for sixteen knights. These are lavishly decorated and have canopies carved with the all the paraphernalia that goes with being a knight, like fancy coats of arms and emblems.

      The chapel was completed in 1911 and was designed by Robert Lorimer.

      ***The shop***

      I did have a look inside the Church shop although I didn't buy anything. You can buy the guide book from here as well as from the information centres and you will find like I did that most of the books, CDs, Videos, ornaments etc. are to do with the life of the church, choir and activities and events that take place in the church. It is well stocked and quite packed inside, not a lot of room to walk about.

      ***Café***

      After visiting the shop I realised that my husband had been on his own quite a long time and thought he might want a bite to eat. I had already eaten a bacon sandwich on the way to the church and it was delicious. I messaged him on my mobile and asked if he wanted to come to the church for an early lunch before we made our way to The Real Mary's King Close and then on to the bus station, I had noticed the café earlier. He said he would have a cup of tea and a cake so off I went to order a coffee for myself and find a table.

      The café is large and pleasant, has a modern feel to it although there is something institutional about it. There is a long list of coffees, the usual ones but not many flavours of tea and I think I noticed that hot chocolate was listed, with a dash of cream. I ordered a small Cappuccino, paid £2.30 and took it over to a table near to the door. As I was waiting, I looked at the food menu and was impressed by the number of dishes on offer. At first glance there seemed to be lots to choose from but then I realised that they were mostly light snacks, soups, salads and cakes. There was a breakfast selection consisting of eggs, bacon sandwich, porridge and a roasted vegetable sandwich or bap as it was called. Bap has to be Scottish for bread roll or is it a Yorkshire word? I don't know as I always use the term sandwich or bread roll.

      Filled jacket potatoes were on offer as well as savoury cheesecake which sounded interesting and the selection of deli-filled rolls looked appetising too with ingredients like beef, vegetable and brie, chicken, bacon and redcurrant and so on.

      When my husband arrived he looked pooped out. I was a bit worried about him so sat him down and went and ordered a pot of tea and a plate of apple pie and cream (his favourite). The tea cost £1.95 and the pie and cream was £3.50. The portion was large, made with shortcrust pastry and filled with real apples. The cream was single and came in a jug. He said the pie was tasty and he enjoyed two cups of tea. I think it was a good idea to invite him to the church café as he seemed to revitalise after his intake of food and drink and looked much better than when he arrived.

      Shop Opening Hours:
      Monday to Saturday - 9am to 5pm
      Sunday - 11am to 5pm

      ***A bit of superstition***

      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.

      ***Recommendation***

      I really do recommend a visit to St Giles Church/Cathedral after a shopping trip on the Royal Mile. Or you can leave out the tour of the shops and go straight to the church. It's fascinating with so much history to take in and some outstanding stained glass windows. 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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      • More +
        01.09.2010 16:02

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        A great tour

        Right next to St giles cathederal is a great Tour Company called Edinburgh Horror Tours,


        Edinburgh Horror Tours
        Tours | Times & Prices | Bookings | Starting Point | Private Tours | Contact Us
        Dare you come get a first-hand experience of the dark side of this city by the original Edinburgh horror tours?

        Our 18th century guides will reveal historical dark secrets and take you to the actual sites where murder, punishments and hangings took place. We have even been known to carry out the odd hanging ourselves, on one of our less fortunate groups...

        We can guarantee mayhem, mystery and nightmares as we go ghost hunting and attempt to reach the spirits of Old Edinburgh.

        Edinburgh's spookiest tour awaits its next victims as we tap in to the recreations of psychic phenomenon, go in search of orbs, ghosts and poltergeist activity, all brought to life by our talented team of guides.

        So why not join us on the Royal Mile, outside the Fringe Society office (see map) where the Deacon will take you on a nerve wrecking tour through the streets and closes of Old Edinburgh. An experience so chilling and sinister you will never know what is waiting just around the corner. The lucky ones will reach their destination at the most haunted graveyard in Britain, Greyfriars Cemetery. You can just imagine what lies in wait for you all...
        www.edinburghhorroroturs.co.uk

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        23.10.2009 03:34

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        Very interesting page about St. Giles cathedral and the history of presbyterianism. Does anyone know if John Knox had a nickname and if so, what it was?Thanks.

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        10.06.2009 14:15
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        The home of presbyterianism in a beautiful building in the centre of Edinburgh city.

        St Giles' Cathedral is known as the High Kirk of Scotland. It is situated on the Royal Mile, in the very centre of the city.

        The building itself can be seen from most places in the city and forms part of the skyline from all of the best vantage points with its golden cockerel being visible at all times.

        The cathedral has undergone a huge amount of renovation in the last few years which has brought about a few new stained glass windows - they are beautiful - and most recently new lighting. The lighting was much needed as the unusual design of the cathedral makes natural light a little scarce.

        There are several large pillars in the centre of the cathedral that makes visibility quite difficult during the services. For example, the choir stalls are set back and are almost impossible to see from the congregation seats. There are very few places in the cathedral where one can see both the minister and the choir. Having said that, the cathedral itself is a huge tourist attraction and at almost any time of the year, one will find tourists from all over the world looking around the cathedral.

        The organ was replaced a few years ago and it is grand and clear when it is played. The master of music is an accomplished organ player and it is a delight to attend the cathedral during one of the many music concerts held at the cathedral. The choir, which sings at all services at the cathedral, are by no means a world-renowned choir but they are very accomplished. For me, the choir is the weakest part of the cathedral package. I often find the repertoire to be too strained and forced. The choir has a lot of older members - musical though they are - and sometimes the music that is chosen for performance would suit a younger choir more and I wish they would choose something that would suit the choir that they have rather than the choir that they want.

        The minister at the moment is Gilleasbuig Macmillan and if one is lucky enough to have the time to attend a service with one of his sermons, one will not be disappointed. His voice has a highlands lilt to it and his intellect shines through whenever he speaks. The cathedral is presbyterian in nature as one might expect from the High Kirk of Scotland and indeed it is regarded by many as the home of presbyterianism.

        Attached to the cathedral, there is the usual tourist shop, selling souvenirs/ books etc as one might expect so one is able to take away a reminder of the cathedral so that one can relive the memories whenever one wants.

        I personally find the cathedral to be a wonderful place. I have been there countless times and I still find something new every time I go. I recommend it to everyone and, given its central location and domineering building, tourists cannot fail to notice the cathedral. It is free to go in and look around and it is open all day, every day - except when there is a service going on.

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        14.05.2001 19:46
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        ~ ~ Saint Giles Cathedral, which stands on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh at the junction of the George IV Bridge and The Mound, is the main church in the Scottish capital. It is renowned as having been the mother church of the Presbyterian religion, the famous Scottish religious reformer John Knox being consecrated as its first minister shortly after the Reformation. ~ ~ It is quite literally steeped in history, and a visit here will tell the visitor much about the religious and political background of not just Edinburgh, but indeed the whole of Scotland. The Bishop of St. Andrews officially consecrated it in 1243, but its four central pillars predate this by over 100 years, and date back to around 1120. Its name relates to the “Auld Alliance” of Scotland and France against their common historical enemy, the English, St. Giles being a popular and revered saint of the period throughout France. ~ ~ During the Middle Ages the church was actually burnt to the ground (1385), but due to the generosity of Edinburgh’s merchants, and to heavy tithes levied on foreign ships using Edinburgh’s port (Leith), it was very quickly rebuilt again. Many altars were added to its interior during the 15th and 16th centuries, again mostly due to donations from Edinburgh’s merchants and gentry, including a special chapel to house relics of St. Giles himself, so that by the middle of the 16th century there were around fifty different altars in the church. ~ ~ It was at this time that the Reformation took place throughout Europe, and the Church in Scotland broke ties with the Roman Catholic faith, and “reformed” both the worship and the laws of the faith in Scotland. Scotland leaned heavily towards the Calvinist doctrine in this regard, due for the most part to the influence and preaching of John Knox, the Kirk’s first Presbyterian minister, whose own house is hardly a stone’s throw from the
        front door of the Cathedral, and is itself a huge tourist attraction in the city. ~ ~ After the Reformation, the then Queen, Mary Queen of Scots, (a devout Catholic) never again attended a service in the church, although it is rumoured that she may have attended Parliaments held in its precincts around the time. Her successor to the Scottish throne was her half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, (who was a close personal friend of John Knox) and who was interred in the church after his assassination in 1570, part of his tomb still existing today in an area of the church called the Holy Blood aisle. ~ ~ St. Giles didn’t actually become a Cathedral until 1633, when Charles I decided to take the Scottish church under his control, and appointed English bishops. This led to a riot in 1637, when a local woman by the name of Jenny Geddes verbally abused and threw a stool at the minister who was preaching, accusing him of “saying Mass in her ear”. As a result of this riot, and further outspoken opposition to the “English/Roman” rituals, the “National Covenant” was drawn up in 1638, which formally opposed the King’s annexation of the cathedral into the English way of worship. This Covenant was ratified by the General Assembley of the Scottish Church five years later, in 1643, and after much bitter wrangling, that actually led to the execution of the Marquis of Montrose, the leader of Charles I's forces in Scotland, the cathedral became a true symbol of the Presbyterian faith in Scotland. ~ ~ The exterior of the old Cathedral was marred a little in 1829, when an architect by the name of William Burn was commissioned to reface the old stonework, which destroyed a lot of the old “Gothic” symbolism. The interior is far more authentic though, and one of the most beautiful chapels is the “Thistle Chapel”, built as recently as 1911 by Sir Robert Lo
        rimer. This chapel commemorates the Order of the Thistle, which is one of the most ancient heraldic orders in the whole of Europe, and it is noted in particular for its many magnificent ornate woodcarvings. There are numerous other memorials to famous Scots in the Cathedral, including one for the renowned Edinburgh born author Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 94), who wrote the famous novel “Kidnapped”. ~ ~ Parliament Square and Parliament House, situated at the rear of the Cathedral, was the seat of Government for Scotland for generations, before the Scottish Parliament was finally dissolved in March, 1707, when the Act of Union between Scotland and England came into force. The fellow on the horse in the middle of the Square is Charles II, nicknamed the “Merry Monarch”. It is crafted in solid lead, and is reputed to be the oldest equestrian statue in the whole of Britain. For years, the Square was the graveyard of the Church, and John Knox was buried here, although the exact location of his grave is no longer known. ~ ~ Parliament House is now the home of the Court of Session, the main Law Courts, Scotland having retained her own set of laws even after the Act of Union with England. Be sure to pay a visit to Parliament Hall, which has a most interesting hammer-beam roof, which was built without the use of a solitary nail! At the south end of the Hall there is a large stained-glass window, which depicts the inauguration of the Court of Session by King James V in 1532, and which was made in Munich in 1868. Of the many statues and busts around the walls, there is one of the famous novelist Sir Walter Scott, who was a principal clerk of the Court from 1806 to 1830. The Signet Library is also within the Parliament House building. Its magnificently decorated upper library, built by William Stark in 1822, makes it one of Edinburgh’s finest examples of fine architecture. ~ ~
        One of Edinburgh’s premier football teams, Heart of Midlothian, actually took their name from a heart-shaped pattern of stones in the roadway a few yards from the main door of St Giles. These stones are actually a reminder of a very grim part of Scottish history, for they mark the entrance to the Old Tolbooth, the forbidding prison that stood here for more than 400 years, until it was finally demolished in 1817, and where most public executions took place in olden times. ~ ~ If history and old style architecture are your thing, be sure to visit one of Scotland’s most famous churches, Saint Giles Cathedral, next time you come to the Scottish capital.

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