Light before the Storm, St. Giles Cathedral
Historic St. Giles Cathedral
Edinburgh, Scotland, August 2008
The High Kirk of Edinburgh and the Mother church of Presbyterianism
I spent half a day at this lovely place. It was during Festival, although you would not know it as the church inside was quiet. It was wonderful to stand in a place that had been hallowed ground for over 900 years.
Who was St. Giles?
St Giles was a 7th century hermit and abbot who lived in France. His patronage of the church was probably due to ancient ties between Scotland and France. He is usually depicted protecting a hind from an arrow that had pierced his own body,
After his death in the early 8th century, hospitals and safe houses were established throughout England and Scotland and dedicated to him. They were used for cripples, beggars and lepers and located within easy reach of the impoverished and the infirm.
History of St. Giles Church/Cathedral
St Giles’ was founded in the 1120s when the Scottish royal family made strenuous efforts to spread Catholic Christianity throughout the Scottish lowlands.
This early church was probably quite small and Norman (i.e. Romanesque, with rounded arches and elaborate carving) in style. Few traces of it survive in the present building.
In 1385, a much larger church (early Gothic, pointed arches and simple octagonal pillars) was partially burned. It was quickly repaired.
Over the next 150 years many chapels were added. These included chapels set up by the craftsmen’s guilds of Edinburgh, chapels endowed by prominent merchants and nobles, and a chapel for a relic of St Giles. By the middle of the 16th century, there were around fifty altars in the church.
In 1633, King Charles I appointed Scottish Episcopal bishops in Scotland and in 1635 William Forbes became the first bishop of the new diocese of Edinburgh. Since then St. Giles has been called a Cathedral (note: a cathedra is a bishops seat, and the place where the bishops seat is located is called a Cathedral).
St. Giles has been through several restorations to replace roof, stone and glass. The stain glass windows date from the 19th and 20th centuries, with none of the original glass surviving.