St Giles' Cathedral - Notable Cathedrals

The distinctive crown steeple of St Giles' cathedral dominates the Edinburgh skyline.
The distinctive crown steeple of St Giles' cathedral dominates the Edinburgh skyline.

St Giles' Cathedral is the central worship place of the Church of Scotland which is in Edinburgh. Also known as High Kirk, St Giles' Cathedral has a distinctive crown steeple which dominates the city’s skyline. High Kirk has been the city’s religion focal point for over nine hundred years, and the current church structure dates back to the 14th century.


The four massive central pillars are the oldest parts of the church which are believed to have been erected in 1124. Fire damaged the building in 1385, but it was rebuilt later. The workers restored the interior part of the Kirk during this period. Pope Paul II established the church as the collegiate church in 1466, and this resulted in the erection of the lantern tower in 1490. By the mid-16th century, there were approximately 50 side altars at St Giles'.

In 1580, St Giles' was partitioned into two preaching halls which suited the reformed Presbyterian worshipping style for the people living in Edinburgh. The church removed the partitioning walls in 1633 when the church became a cathedral. During the late 17th century, James Meikle made the carillon for the Kirk. The high Kirk was divided into four sects known as the Haddo’s hole, old or mid, east or new, and Tolbooth kirks.

After the demolition of the Luckenbooths at the high street and removal of the shops around the parliament close, the exterior part of the cathedral was exposed, and it was in poor condition which embarrassed the city. Therefore William Burn was hired to restore, beautify, and help preserve the Kirk. William demolished some of the chapels to help improve the asymmetry of the exterior appearance while adding newer standard window openings. He also encased the outer part of the cathedral with smooth ashlar.

From 1872 to 1883, Sir Chambers financed the further restoration of the building with his primary goal of building a national church. Therefore, he approached Robert Morham, the city’s architect, to help with converting the subdivided spaces within the cathedral into a single space. He even contracted George Henderson and William Hay to oversee the project.

Unique Features

St Giles' Cathedral has a thistle chapel which is the oldest and highest order of thistles. The chapel was envisioned in 1909 and then constructed in 1911 at the southeast corner. Numerous knight stalls featuring the coat of arms of the knights on the stall plates are in the cathedral. The cathedral also features stained glasses which were installed during the 19th century. The glasses illustrate numerous biblical stories. Some of the notable monuments within the cathedral’s grounds include those of Robert Stevenson, Marquis of Argyll, Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Montrose, and James Graham.


The conservation project of renewing the interior and fabric of St Giles' started in 1998. The church concluded the project in January 2011 with thanksgiving service. The conservation project was centered on the restoration of the crown spire, the medieval tower, and the exterior part of the building. Experts were contracted to work on the stained glass windows, and also repair the stonework and the roof. The west door entrance was renewed to enable wheelchair user access the church with ease. For the first time in a century, the conservation team restored the Thistle Chapel.


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