Places to Visit in Scotland
- High Kirk of St Giles
King David I> (who reigned from 1124-1153) gave the Lazarite monks royal patronage to establish a church for the people of Edinburgh. The Lazarites were dedicated to caring for lepers which is probably why the church was named after the patron saint of lepers, St Giles>, who also became the patron saint of Edinburgh. Little remains of this first church apart from some fragments built into the wall. The first church was set on fire by the invading troops of King Richard II> in 1385. Following this, the church on Edinburgh's High Street (part of the city's aptly named Royal Mile> which runs from Edinburgh Castle> to the royal Palace of Holyrood House> )developed in a haphazard fashion as wealthy townspeople built on additional chapels attached to the main building.
The last Catholic Mass was sung in St Giles in March 1560 at a time when it housed both the Catholic church and the Protestant Lords of the Congregation. When John Knox> came back to Scotland in 1559 he became minister at St Giles and preached there until his death in 1572. Knox was a leading figure in the Reformation> of the church. In order to provide a suitable space for his sermons, a larger, unobstructed hall was created, with seats spread around the pulpit. In 1637, King Charles I> set up a new diocese in Edinburgh and made St Giles a cathedral. He also attempted to re-introduce the Episcopalian mass which led to a riot in St Giles (and Jenny Geddes supposedly threw her stool with the words "Don't thou say Mass in ma lug"). This led to the signing of the Second National Covenant> in Greyfriar's Churchyard in 1638 which abolished the Episcopal organisation of the church in favour of Presbyterian.
Between 1829 and 1833 the building was "modernised" with a new skin of masonry (apart from the "crown" tower which was built around 1500) which explains the proliferation of stone carvings on the cathedral's exterior (see illustration above). In the 20th century an ornate chapel for the Knights of the Thistle (Scotland's greatest order of chivalry) was added. The lavish carvings in this tiny chapel are delightful but overwhelming. Elsewhere in St Giles there is a striking statue of John Knox, magnificent stained glass windows, a fine memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson> and many other interesting corners and carvings
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