History Blog

Advent Day 9 - St Giles in Edinburgh

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The High Kirk of St Giles is one of the landmarks of Edinburgh. But despite it's size, the church isn't a cathedral. Before the reformation the Cathedral for Edinburgh was actually at St Andrew's, while the reformed Church of Scotland has no bishops, and therefore cannot have a cathedral. The name "High Kirk" has been in use in Scotland for some time, and so St Giles' is known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, rather than Edinburgh Cathedral.Ceiling of St Giles, Edinburgh

The building dates from the late 14th century, with the usual Victorian-era restoration work. It was in the 19th century that the windows were replaced with stained glass depicting figures and stories from the bible, with more windows being added in the 20th century. One window in particular is dedicated to the Scottish saints, including the country's patron saint St Andrew, and St Giles himself. The top of the tower is unique due to it's crown steeple, a set of flying buttresses that are built on top of a tower, giving the effect of an open crown.

The inside of St Giles is really pretty. Looking up in particular is lovely as the ceiling has been painted a lovely shade of blue and cream, with golden stars painted around the centre. The walls are neither plastered nor whitewashed, making it one of the few churches I've been to with completely exposed brickwork. The contrast of grey stone with multi-coloured stained glass windows and blue ceiling gives a lovely effect between the church's history - plain simplicity of Protestantism, and the more colourful Catholic origins.

There are several memorials to famous Scots dotted around the church. One of the largest is a bronze memorial dedicated to Robert Louis Stephenson, who was buried on the island of Samoa after he died suddenly aged just 44. A much smaller brass memorial is placed on one wall in memory of Sophia Jex Blake, the first woman to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh's medical school (as with her contemporary in England, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Jex Blake had an uphill struggle), and the first woman to practise medicine in Scotland. Her first clinic was set up in Edinburgh, and she pioneered the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women.

Next time you're in Edinburgh, make sure you pop in to St Giles, the ceiling alone will be worth your time! 

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