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St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh

Updated on December 18, 2016

If you appreciate historic architecture and beautiful religious buildings, make sure to add St Giles’ Cathedral to your itinerary when you visit Edinburgh. Dating all the way back to the late 14th century, the cathedral is an impressive Gothic building. It’s located right on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, so you won’t miss its distinctive spire as you enjoy site seeing in the city.

History of St Giles Cathedral

St Giles’ Cathedral is the seat of worship of the Church of Scotland within Edinburgh, and its history connects with religious worship all the way back to the 9th century. A modest parish church was established in Edinburgh around 850. Then, in the 12th century, the Scottish royal family had a Norman Catholic church built. The current building dates back to 1385, after a fire destroyed the 12th-century church. The new church was built in the early Gothic style and underwent many additions over the following centuries. Throughout the Middle Ages, there were added numerous chapels, the lantern tower, and a clerestory.

St Giles played a prominent role in the Scottish Reformation, the movement of Scottish churches from Catholicism to Protestantism. John Knox, the famous Protestant leader became the minister of Edinburgh at St Giles in 1559. From the cathedral, Knox led Scotland’s religious reformation.

Today, there is a stained glass window and statue within St Giles depicting Knox. It wasn’t until the 17th century that St Giles became a cathedral. In 1635, King Charles I appointed a bishop of Edinburgh, with St Giles as the bishopric’s cathedral. By the early 19th century, St Giles was in poor repair. Two rounds of restoration created the cathedral that is familiar today, with a single open interior space, bright stained glass windows, and impressive exterior.

Current Worship

St Giles is an active place of Presbyterian worship as the High Kirk of Edinburgh. Services are open to visitors if you would like to worship while travelling. St Giles hosts daily services every weekday at noon and five services every Sunday. There are also frequent musical performances at the church. Every Sunday, there is a musical performance at 6:00 pm with a wide range of musical groups. St Giles also regularly hosts concerts at lunchtime. The church is an absolutely beautiful setting in which to listen to music.

What You’ll See

St Giles is open to visitors all year round. It is free to visit, although the church suggests a donation of £3.00 and asks for £2.00 for a photography permit if you’d like to take pictures. If you decide to visit, you’ll enjoy beautiful gothic architecture. One of the most popular parts of the cathedral is the Thistle Chapel, a chapel built in 1911 for the Order of the Thistle, Scotland’s order of chivalry.

The chapel features exquisite sculptures and carved fittings. You’ll also be able to see many bright stained glass windows that were installed beginning in the 19th century. There are many small chapels to explore, and you can spend a while taking in the serenity and beautiful architecture of the building. For more great places to visit in Scotland and Edinburgh, read this.


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