Sitting on the Royal Mile which runs from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood, St Giles Cathedral is one of the most beautiful stone buildings in Edinburgh, its distinctive crown steeple being one of the Edinburgh skyline’s most prominent features. The Church of Scotland’s principal place of worship, it is also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh as well as the ‘Mother Church of Presbyterianism’ and has stood on the site for over 900 years. Because of the size and prominence of St Giles, many people wrongly assume that it is a cathedral. In fact, St Giles has been a cathedral in its past but only for two short periods in the 17th century, 1635 – 1638 and 1661 – 1689 thanks to the brief ascendancy of episcopalianism backed by the Crown.
The church is dedicated to St Giles who as well as being the patron saint of Edinburgh is also the patron saint of lepers and cripples. The church was founded in or around 1124 by either King Alexander I who died that year or by his brother who succeeded him, King David I. As to who St Giles was, according to legend he was a seventh century Greek hermit who resided in the wild forests near Nimes in the south of France. Shunning human company, deer were his only companions. Shot accidentally by the King of the Visigoths whilst out hunting, his piousness impressed the king who persuaded him to become the abbot of a monastery . Thanks to his good work, he was later canonised after his death, becoming the patron saint of the lame, lepers and cripples.
The beautiful stone church you see today is not the same as the one that stood in 1124 although it is said that the four huge stone pillars date from this period, although there is little evidence to say whether this is entirely true. The original church on the site was badly affected by a fire in 1385 and was rebuilt in subsequent years. Over the years, the other parts of the church have been added to, most famously in 1490 when the lantern tower was added. A close look at the stonework of the building reveals the tremendous skill of these craftsmen, a skill that thankfully has been passed down to modern stonemasons such as ourselves at Morningside Masonry.
The most interesting bits of stonework at St Giles include a scalloped capital from the 12th century that is now built in the wall of St Eloi’s Aisle and a corbel stone that features a grotesque carved face and now resides in the wall by the door of the building’s shop. It is thought that this is from approximately the 12 century too. These aren’t the only features of interest though and by exploring the church you will find amazing heraldic carvings, tombs, memorials and carvings striking symbolic pictures on them.
St Giles is a fascinating place to visit and it is open daily to visitors except 25 and and 26 December and 1 and 2 January. It is free to enter but there is a suggested donation of £3.00 per person.
Did you know that Morningside Masonry are one of the leading Edinburgh stonemasons around? If you need some stone work restoring, get in touch with us today. We also provide lime pointing, Church stone repairs, chimney repairs and wall repairs.