You can’t walk down the Royal Mile without spotting the formidable silhouette of St Giles Cathedral, which sits grandly near the Castle end of the High Street. With its beautiful architecture and breathtaking interior, it’s a great place to explore both inside and out, regardless of your religion.
St Giles Cathedral is also known as The High Kirk of Edinburgh, and is the flagship place of worship for the Church of Scotland. Despite being over 900 years old, it still has an active congregation today, and just like many other churches in Scotland, you can join in their weekly service every Sunday.
The History of St Giles Cathedral
St Giles Cathedral dates from the 12th Century, although back then it was a much more modest building than the grand affair you see today.
The building grew over time, although this was stunted temporarily when a fire burned down part of the Cathedral in 1385. However, this was quickly repaired and the architecture flourished beyond the damage of the blaze.
Over the centuries, more and more little chapels and altars were added to the building, and gradually over time the cathedral expanded to one of the most famous churches in Scotland, welcoming around 400,000 visitors every year.
Outside the Cathedral
Outside the Cathedral is West Parliament Square, and perched right in the middle is a statue of Walter Montagu Douglas Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch by sculptor William Birnie Rhind, who has designed a fair few of the great statues in Edinburgh.
Standing in the square, you can get a clear view of the beautiful crown steeple, which was probably added to St Giles around the 15th Century. Near the road, you’ll also see the Heart of Midlothian, and don’t be disgusted or surprised if you see passers-by spitting in it!
Inside the Cathedral
As you walk into the entrance of St Giles, you’ll be struck immediately by its grand and intricate architecture. The style consists mainly of Gothic influence from the 15th century, but this is punctuated by some two hundred memorials to famous Scots from around the 1800’s onwards.
Probably one of the most notable of these memorials is the one of John Knox, which you’ll find near the west door. Knox was a prominent figure in St Giles history, as well as Scotland as a whole. He served as minister at St Giles during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, and is seen as the founder of Presbyterianism in Scotland.
The stained glass windows
The main highlight of St Giles for me is the huge collection of stained glass windows. The coloured light streaming through complex works of art make walking through St Giles an absolute joy on a sunny day.
While a fair few of the windows depict biblical scenes, in one of them you’ll spot our old friend John Knox, still preaching away over 400 years after his death.
A huge range of artists have contributed to their designs over the years, however perhaps the most notable windows include the crossing of the Jordan River by Edward Burne-Jones, and the Great West Window by Icelandic artist Leifur Breidfjörd, which as the name aptly suggests celebrates the works of Robert Burns.
The cathedral is also home to a mighty organ, built in 1992 by Austrian firm Rieger Orgelbau and made from sturdy Austrian Oak. There are regular celebrity recitals on the organ, so be sure to check St Giles’ website for the date of the next concert.
Wandering around St Giles Cathedral is a great way to spend an hour or two, and it doesn’t cost a penny. On dreich days you can take shelter from the rain, but the sunshine will make you really appreciate the beauty of the intricate stained glass windows. A great way to spend an afternoon, whatever the weather.
St Giles Cathedral is located on the Royal Mile at 194 High Street, EH1 1RE. You can get there by bus on the 23, 27, 28, 41 and 42 and getting off at George IV Bridge. Entry is free of charge, but they do recommend you give a small donation of £3 per head, if you can.