On a recent visit to Edinburgh I wandered into St Giles’ Cathedral on the Royal Mile. The church has been the focal point of worship in Scotland for 900 years since moving on from a small affair and being formally founded, and is formally know as the High Kirk of Edinburgh. There is record of a parish church in Edinburgh since the year 854.
The name St Giles came from the hermit and abbott that lived in France. His country and Scotland had great ties in the 7th Century and this was the probable reason his name means so much in Edinburgh. After his death many hospitals and houses were built for the poor, diseased and disabled throughout England and Scotland.
The oldest parts of the building now are four massive central pillars, said to date from 1124. The thing I found most striking was the beautiful colours – the flags, walls, porch panels and painted ceilings, all lit by the beautiful sunlight streaming in through the stained glass windows.
The stained glass was only put in during the latter 19th century. Before that the windows had been largely clear or plain since the Reformation. Putting in the colourful stained glass was a radical move in a Presbyterian church where such decorations were regarded with great suspicion. They were finally allowed on the basis that they illustrated bible stories and if they were an aid to teaching, and not flippant decoration, or worse could be perceived idolatry.
Only a small number of windows were completed as part of the 19th-century restoration, but this began a process that resulted in the vast majority of windows containing stained glass by the middle of the 20th century. The windows were planned to form a continuous narrative starting in the north-east corner and finishing on the north-west side. Personally I’m glad they added the stained glass as the light threw abstract patterns on the walls was awesome – my pictures got a bit abstract as a result.