Quietly buzzing

Please be seated

I’m sure I’ve been inside before. I must have…surely. Yet I can’t remember when. And the vague memory flitting round my mind isn’t borne out by the interior. I’ve heard it said that visitors often know places better than local people, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this were true. So much of our surroundings we take for granted, and if we have visited once, small hand clutching the larger hand of parent or grandparent, we somehow never get round to visiting again.

So on that Saturday last summer in the Royal Mile, I stood and photographed the front of St Giles, and wondered whether I had, or hadn’t, seen its interior.

Arches and peaks

Front of St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

The cathedral takes its name from a prince, born in Athens in 650. He then travelled to Nimes in France where he lived as a hermit in the woods nearby. Legend has it that one day a king, Flavius, was out hunting and shot off an arrow at a deer. St Giles caught the arrow in his hand, saving the animal. In the Middle Ages many churches were dedicated to him, as he had become patron saint of lepers and cripples.

Since the reformation Scottish churches have been rather austere places, but in recent years this has begun to change, with the look becoming softer and more colourful. The oldest part of Edinburgh’s St Giles Cathedral, situated at the heart of the Old Town, dates back to the twelfth century. In the fourteenth it was rebuilt in a Gothic style with the following centuries seeing many extensions and restorations. Originally a Catholic church, the Reformation of 1560 saw St Giles become presbyterian, and any fancy trappings disappeared as we believed discomfort and austerity good for the soul.

Colour in austerity

19th century stained glass windows.

Today St Giles has a wonderfully warm welcoming glow, possibly partly because of the sun shining through the colourful stained glass windows that date from the nineteenth century. And it’s quietly buzzing with visitors, voices hushed, exclaiming in muted tones.

Robert Lorimer's oak door

Decorative oak door into the Thistle Chapel of St Giles.

We opted to pay £2 each to purchase a permit allowing us to photograph. Well worth the cost as there is so much worthy of capturing. We forked out another donation for entrance to the famous Thistle Chapel, the place where the sixteen Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Thistle worship. Dating from between 1909 and 1911, and designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, the interior is a confection of intricately carved Scottish oak, with even the arms between pew seats appropriately carved with delightful small animals.

Seats for the Order

Unfortunately light levels in the Thistle Chapel were low making photography difficult. This shows some of the ornate carving.

St Giles is like a story book of Scottish history, marking its twists and turns, its conflicts and political compacts, with graves, tablets, statues, banners, sculpture and references to Scotland and Scots (some assassinated, a few executed, others bitter enemies) over many centuries, with a statue of John Knox (leader of the Reformation in Scotland and minister of St Giles between 1559 and 1572), and a large bronze commemorative plaque to the writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

St Giles roof

The cathedral roof carving

Banners in St Giles

Banners soften the stonework and add colour. Loved the light fittings.

Warm light in St Giles

Interior of St Giles bathed in a warm glow.

A more recent addition that intrudes into the space like a giant modern sculpture, catching coloured light from the windows and reflecting it back into the interior, is the forest of pipes serving the organ, installed in 1992 and made by an Austrian company.

Organ pipes

The imposing battery of pipes for the organ.

Park yourself here

Seat for an important person

The cathedral houses a shop and café. What St Giles and John Knox would have thought about these no-one knows, but they are appreciated by the many visitors who flood through the doors each year.

Sandstone and granite

The modern and the old in St Giles.


About jingsandthings

I am me. What do I like? Colour Shapes Textures Paintings, photographs, sculptures, woven tapestries, wonderful materials. The love of materials probably comes from my father who was a textile buyer, and I grew up hearing the names of mills and manufacturers which sounded magical and enticing. Glass in all its soft and vibrant colours and flowing shapes, even sixties glass which makes its own proud statement. A book I can immerse myself in. Meals with family or friends with lots of chat and laughter (and probably a bottle or two of wine). The occasional trip abroad to experience the sights, sounds, food, conversation, quality of light and warmth of other countries. To revel in differences and be amazed by similarities. I like to create and to experience, to try and to achieve. And then there are words – read, heard, written at my keyboard, or scrawled on sticky notes, or along the edges of dog-eared supermarket receipts excavated from the unexplored nooks of my handbag. What do I dislike? Cold Snow Bad design Fast food Condescension
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6 Responses to Quietly buzzing

  1. Mama Cormier says:

    Wonderful photos. Well worth the money you spent.

  2. Chris says:

    Beautiful photos, and marvellous architecture. Cathedrals are so photogenic. A couple of years ago, I spent hours walking around St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, taking dozens of photos (well, maybe even a few hundred).
    “the arms between pew seats appropriately carved with delightful small animals” — Wonderful.

    • Anywhere with stained glass always provides wonderful light, and when the sun shines their austere interiors glow. We are lucky too, here in the Borders, to have significant ruins of four twelfth century abbeys. Their intricate stonework provides material for lots of photos – there’s something quite magical about such ruins where building and landscape meld into one another. Taking photos is a great way of keeping a record to draw on when writing. I use my database of images regularly.

      • Chris says:

        Those ruins sound wonderful. Magical indeed. A great place to sit and think. Or stroll and think. Not just for the inspiration, but for the silence and calm I imagine the ruins must offer.

      • Yes, Chris, and there’s a curious feeling of history too. If you sit for a while, run your fingers along the stones, you can almost feel a connection with people and events in the past. That feeling inspired me to write a story some years ago.

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