St Giles Cathedral is the most famous cathedral in Edinburgh. It's an
impressive building, and without doubt of those, you must see and
visit while in Edinburgh. It's actually quite curious that St Giles is
the most famous cathedral in the Scottish capital, because, actually,
it's not a Cathedral! Wait, what?! Don't worry, we will explain
The exact origin of St Giles Cathedral is unknown. We have evidence
that around the 12th century, near the year 1120, a chapel was
erected in the same place the cathedral is today. That very ancient
chapel would have been a small building, probably rectangular-shaped
and made of stone. We believe that there is nothing left from that
time, except perhaps the pillars.
After Robert The Bruce achieved Scottish Independence in 1322, it's
believed that the chapel was burnt in a fire caused by a failed
English invasion that didn't manage to conquer Scotland. In that
same 14th century, another fire happened a few decades after the one
mentioned earlier, and the cathedral had to be rebuilt. Luckily, we
still have some parts of the interior of that reconstruction.
The Reform and Presbyterianism in St Giles
The Cathedral will undergo many changes through time. During the
Protestant Reform, some elements of the building were removed. The
Presbyterian church advocated very strongly in favour of austerity,
and costly pieces didn't match well with this ideal.
It wasn't until the 17th century that the church of St Giles will
gain the title of "cathedral". The English imposed their religion
and made it a bishopric. However, the incredible and bizarre "Stool
War" that Jenny Gueddess started soon ended with this, as we explain
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Since there are no bishops in the Presbyterian Church, there can't
be any cathedral. However, it seems that the name "cathedral" sticks
too well with the people in Edinburgh, so that's why they still call
it St Giles Cathedral, although, in reality, it's a High Kirk.
Visit St Giles Cathedral
The entry to St Giles Cathedral is free (although donations are
welcome), and it's one of the best attractions to see in Edinburgh.
A lot of people wonder what it's inside the cathedral. Here we will
leave a guide with some of the details that you shouldn't miss when
visiting St Giles Cathedral.
What to see outside St Giles Cathedral
The architect William Burn supervised a major restoration that the
cathedral underwent in the 19th century. One can easily see the
obsession of the Victorians in the neo gothic style. In the 20th
century, there was also another restoration, but the latter didn't
bring significant change.
The Bell Tower
Without a doubt, the tower in St Giles Cathedral is one of the
things that calls our attention. In England and Scotland, there were
a few bell towers built that tried to emulate a crown. The one in
Edinburgh's cathedral is one of the oldest, and its origin dates as
back as the late 15th century, although it has undergone some
What to see inside St Giles Cathedral
The origin of the Order of the Thistle goes back to the Medieval
Age. According to legend, it dates back to the times of Charlemagne,
and it stills is in the reach of very few to join the order today.
Its members are traditionally Scottish or people with Scottish
heritage with merits acknowledged by the royals.
Knowing this, you can expect that the Thistle Chapel must be up to
this institution. And you are right. Concluded in 1911, the Thistle
Chapel is the most excellent part of the cathedral. As an anecdote,
it hides one of Edinburgh's secrets: the sculptures of three little
angles playing the bagpipe.
Note: Sometimes the Thistle Chapel is
not open to the public.
John Know statue
You can't miss seeing the statue of the father of the Presbyterian
church and former minister of St Giles Cathedral. However, this
sculpture carried more polemic than you can imagine. John Knox was
so much against the images of saints and other catholic cults that
some people thought that a statue would have offended him.
The stained glass in St Giles was destroyed in the Protestant
Reform. By the end of the 1800s, the fury of the Presbyterian
religion against the stained glass was almost gone. That's why
Edinburgh's mayor, lord Chambers, took advantage of the situation
and order a restoration.
Today we can see a truly beautiful stained glass narrating from
chapters of the Old Testament to honouring the poet Robert Burns.
Tour, views and other activities
Since the Covid pandemic we are afraid that tours and activities are
with limited availability. Please, ask members of the stuff when
visiting the cahtedral.
How to get to St Giles Cathedral and Opening Times
Getting to St Giles Cathedral is very easy. The building is located
in the Royal Mile, next to where the
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