St. Giles Cathedral
Edinburgh Old Town's most impressive building
St. Giles Cathedral has a history spanning 900 years and a layout and architecture so intricate and unusual that you can't help feel that you're standing in front of one of Scotland's most impressive buildings.
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Its rounded hollow-crown spire has dominated Edinburgh's skyline for five centuries and it's been the spiritual heart of Edinburgh at times when key moments have shaped Scotland's history.
This cathedral so massive in appearance and yet smaller in size than other much larger cathedrals was named after St. Giles, a popular French saint, in support of the Scottish-French Alliance against their common enemy, England.
In its long history St. Giles witnessed riots, celebrations and executions that marked Scotland's history. It also suffered fire damage, restoration and significant architectural changes.
The Edinburgh church that was once divided into four
St. Giles was at one time divided by thick interior walls into four separate churches, an assembly hall and a fire engine station. St Giles was suffocated by surrounding buildings and additions and, until early 19th century, it had known only decay.
Fortunately, St Giles was restored in the 19th century and is today one of Edinburgh's most famous landmarks.
What to see in St. Giles Cathedral
The interior of St. Giles has many aisles, chapels and stained glass windows, each unique in style and significance. From the two hundred memorials in St Giles commemorating famous Scots and Scottish soldiers, the most famous figures remembered here are those of John Knox, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns.
The sermon preached by John Knox at St. Giles ignited the wave of Reformation that swept Scotland in the 16th century. His statue in St Giles gives an eerie feeling of a man of extraordinary energy and faith.
Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, is remembered through the Great West Window completed in 1985. The stain glass window celebrates some of Robert Burns' most important themes.
St. Giles' Organ
This huge organ is one of the features that makes the cathedral seem massive. With its 4,000 pipes it is one of the finest in Europe.
The Thistle Chapel
The Order of the Thistle is Scotland's great order of chivalry and one of the country's highest honours. The Queen is the only one who can give the Order and only those Scots -- or of Scottish ancestry -- who have given distinguished service receive this gift.
The Chapel of the Thistle in St. Giles Cathedral was completed in early 20th century and although small in size, it is the most extraordinary piece of artwork. Despite being completed in the 20th century, the Thistle Chapel in St Giles Cathedral blends in wonderfully with the rest of the cathedral.
The carvings and fine woodwork in St Giles are of incredible detail and illustrate themes associated with Scotland -- like angels playing the bagpipes. Many tourists come here if only to see the angel playing the bagpipe above the entrance door as you look towards the exit from within the chapel.
When to go to St. Giles
St. Giles is at its best when sunlight fills the stain glass windows, especially through the great windows. For some amazing light effects through the stained glass windows visit the cathedral between 11am and 16pm (during the summer) and walk around the back of the great organ.