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St Giles Cathedral

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posted by alias Images by Brian on Thursday 13th of October 2016 10:45:16 PM

St Giles' Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh is the principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. Its distinctive crown steeple is a prominent feature of the city skyline, at about a third of the way down the Royal Mile which runs from the Castle to Holyrood Palace. The church has been one of Edinburgh's religious focal points for approximately 900 years. The present church dates from the late 14th century, though it was extensively restored in the 19th century, and is protected as a category A listed building. Today it is sometimes regarded as the "Mother Church of Presbyterianism". The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Giles, who is the patron saint of Edinburgh, as well as of cripples and lepers, and was a very popular saint in the Middle Ages. It is the Church of Scotland parish church for part of Edinburgh's Old Town. St Giles' was only a cathedral in its formal sense (i.e. the seat of a bishop) for two periods during the 17th century (1635–1638 and 1661–1689), when episcopalianism, backed by the Crown, briefly gained ascendancy within the Kirk (see Bishops' Wars). In the mediaeval period, prior to the Reformation, Edinburgh had no cathedral as it was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of St Andrews, whose episcopal seat was St Andrews Cathedral. For most of its post-Reformation history the Church of Scotland has not had bishops, dioceses, or cathedrals. As such, the use of the term cathedral today carries no practical meaning. The "High Kirk" title is older, being attested well before the building's brief period as a cathedral. The oldest parts of the building are four massive central pillars, often said to date from 1124, although there is very little evidence to this effect. In 1385 the building suffered a fire and was rebuilt in the subsequent years. Much of the current interior dates from this period. Over the years many chapels, referred to as 'aisles', were added, greatly enlarging the church and leaving it rather irregular in plan. In 1466 St Giles was established as a collegiate church. In response to this raising of status, the lantern tower was added around 1490, and the chancel ceiling raised, vaulted and a clerestory installed. By the middle of the 16th century, immediately before the Reformation arrived in Scotland, there were about fifty side altars in the church, some of which were paid for by the city's trade incorporations and dedicated to their patron saints. Knox preaching in the High Kirk At the height of the Scottish Reformation the Protestant leader and firebrand John Knox was chosen minister at St Giles by Edinburgh Town Council and installed on 7 July 1559. A 19th-century stained glass window in the south wall of the church shows him delivering the funeral sermon for the Regent Moray in 1570. The reformer was buried in the kirkyard of St Giles on 24 November 1572 in the presence of the Regent Morton who, at his graveside, uttered the words, "There lies one who neither feared nor flattered any flesh". A bronze statue of Knox, cast by Pittendrigh MacGillivray in 1904, stands in the north aisle. During the Reformation the Mary-Bell and brass candlesticks were scrapped to be made into guns and the relic of the arm of St Giles with its diamond finger ring (acquired in 1454) and other treasures were sold to the Edinburgh goldsmiths Michael Gilbert and John Hart, and the brass lectern to Adam Fullerton, for scrap-metal. By about 1580, the church was partitioned into separate preaching halls to suit the style of reformed Presbyterian worship for congregations drawn from the quarters of Edinburgh. The partition walls were removed in 1633 when St Giles became the cathedral for the new see of Edinburgh. In that year King Charles I instructed the Town Council. Whereas (...) we have, by the advice of the chiefest of our clergy (...) erected at our charges a bishopric of new, to be called the Bishopric of Edinburgh; and whereas to that purpose it is very expedient that St Giles Church, designed by us to be the Cathedral Church of that bishopric, be ordered as is decent and fit for a church of that eminency (...) and not to be indecently parcelled and disjointed by walls and partitions, as it now is, without any warrant from any of our royal predecessors. Our pleasure is that with all diligence you cause raze to the ground the east wall in the said church, and that likewise you cause raze the west wall therein, between this and Lammas ensuing. The effect was only temporary. The internal partitions were restored in 1639 and, after several re-arrangements, lasted until the Victorian 'restoration' of 1881-3. On Sunday 23 July 1637 efforts by Charles I and Archbishop Laud to impose Anglican services on the Church of Scotland led to the Book of Common Prayer revised for Scottish use being introduced in St Giles. Rioting in opposition began when the Dean of Edinburgh, James Hannay, began to read from the new Book of Prayer, legendarily initiated by the market-woman or street-seller Jenny Geddes throwing her stool at his head. The disturbances led to the National Covenant and hence the Bishops' Wars; the first conflicts of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which included the English Civil War. The 18th-century historian of Edinburgh, William Maitland, relying on the records of Edinburgh's Town Council, described the scene in the following passage which reflects his monarchist sympathies, The St Giles Riot of 1637 King Charles I. being resolved to put in execution his darling scheme, of having all his people of the same religion, ordered a liturgy, or service book, with one of canons, to be prepared, for the use of the Scottish Church, which being accordingly performed, his Majesty, without further ceremony, issued a proclamation for the due observance of them throughout Scotland. This being impolitickly done, without the Privity of the Secret Council, or general approbation of the clergy; they were regarded as foreign impositions, devised by Archbishop Laud, and forced upon the nation by the sole authority of the King; which occasioned great heart-burnings and mighty commotions amongst the people. (...) And the twenty third [of July] being the day appointed for its reading in St Giles’s Church; in the morning of that day, the usual prayers were read by Patrick Henderson the common Reader; which were no sooner ended, than Henderson, by way of farewel, said to his auditory, Adieu good people; for I think this is the last time of my reading prayers in this place, which occasioned a great murmuring in the Congregation. (...) No sooner had James Hannay, Dean of Edinburgh, appeared in his surplice, and began to read the service, than a number of women, with clapping of hands, execrations, and hideous exclamations, raised a great confusion in the church, which Dr. Lindsay Bishop of Edinburgh willing to appease, stept into the pulpit, and reminded people of the sanctity of the place: But this, instead of calming, inraged them to such a degree that Janet Geddes, a furious woman, ushered in the dreadful and destructive civil war, by throwing a stool at the Bishop’s head: And had it not been for the magistrates of Edinburgh, who turned out the frantick multitude, they would probably have murdered him; but such was the noise without, by knocking at the doors, throwing stones in at the windows, and incessant cries of Pape, Pape, Antichrist, pull him down, that the said magistrates were obliged to go out to appease their fury. But the populace watching his return homewards, renewed the assault, that, had he not been rescued by a superior force, they would undoubtedly have dispatched him. Thus began those horrible troubles, which ended in the destruction of the King, subversion of the Church and State, and loss of the rights and liberties of the people.

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  • Published 12.02.21
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