Cathedrals / Edinburgh / Scotland

Photos: St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh – 19 May 2017


Pictorial visit – St Giles Cathedral

In my last post, I promised photos of St Giles taken during my 19 May visit, my escape from the throngs of tourists that have already begun swarming the main thoroughfares. I’ve seen what it looks like in July and August, and though this is nothing compared with the upcoming festival season, I can see it’s gearing up to be another packed summer in the capital city.


Where to find the cathedral


The cathedral is the City Church of Edinburgh – also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh – standing on the Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.


Stunning windows


St Giles was founded c.1124, either by King Alexander I (“The fierce” – ruled 1107 – 1124) or his brother King David I (ruled 1124 – 1153) – sons of Malcolm III (ruled 1058–1093). Malcolm’s father, Duncan I, was killed by Macbeth in 1040.

The royal founder of St Giles was only two generations removed from the history that inspired one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, and one of Scotland’s most notorious assassinations. Stumbling on such serendipitous historical associations – especially literary – is the sort of thing I find thrilling. I didn’t realize the connection the day I wandered through. This will make for an even more starry-eyed gawp next time.


The unicorn, National Animal of Scotland


A fictitious creature may seem an odd choice for a country’s national animal, but perhaps not for a country famed for its love for and long history of myth and legend, and the unicorn has been a Scottish heraldic symbol since the 12th century, when it was used on an early form of the Scottish coat of arms by William I.

  • The Scotsman, 5 Oct 2012




In memory of James M. Bryson – Preston Aisle, St. Giles


Window: Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit

Window of four trefoil-headed lights and one cinquefoiled central light with tracery.

This window depicts the moment of Pentecost, which was the coming of the Holy Spirit to man.

‘They were/all filled with the/ holy Ghost.’

In memory of/James M Bryson/ _____ (Optician?) Edinburgh/ born 21 February 1824/ died 26th January 1894.

From obituary:

James Mackay Bryson was born in 1824 in Buccleuch Place, and was educated at the Southern Academy, and afterwards the School of Arts, an institution founded in 1821 mainly by the efforts of three men – his father, Mr. Leonard Horner, and Mr. James Milne – which was unique in its time, and has been of incalculable benefit to the youth of Edinburgh.He inherited his father’s scientific proclivities, and about 1843 he went to Hamburg, where for some years he studied and worked under Repeold, the distinguished German instrument maker.Thence he proceeded to Munich, and studied, under the famous Mertz, of the firm of Mertz & Mabler, the construction of lenses for astronomical instruments, and other work of a like character.After seven years thus spent in Germany he returned to Edinburgh, and began business as an optician in Princes Street, where he carried on a successful business.

This window was installed at the end of the 19th Century.


James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose



James Graham’s tomb is one of several side chapels, and a popular one. I’ve seen sprigs of heather lying next to the carved body of the Marquess, and heard tell notes are sometimes left. Whether he’s revered for his bravery or the reputation of his poetry, another reason or both, I don’t know. His nickname “the great Montrose” should be a clue. You have to suspect that comes with a certain cachet. Spoiler: his poetry’s not all that great.

Romantic sidenote: Graham was executed with a collection of his poems tied around his neck. Notable or not, his work obviously meant a great deal to him.


James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose (1612 – 21 May 1650) was a Scottish nobleman, poet and soldier, who initially joined the Covenanters in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, but subsequently supported King Charles I as the English Civil War developed. From 1644 to 1646, and again in 1650, he fought a civil war in Scotland on behalf of the King and is generally referred to in Scotland as simply “the Great Montrose”.

His “spectacular” victories, which took his opponents by surprise, are remembered in military history for their tactical brilliance.


Heraldic banners and stained glass


Detail, window


The west window, by Icelandic artist Leifur Breidfjörd, celebrating the poetry of Robert Burns


I’ve never been a Burns fan, but then I’m not as keen on poetry as prose, and romanticism least of all. With due respect to his reputation and place in the Scottish literary canon, it’s only “Auld Lang Syne” I claim to enjoy – and that partly because it’s the weepy ending of one of my favorite films: It’s a Wonderful Life.

Admitting things like this could get me kicked out of the country.

I hasten to add, I do enjoy Robert Louis Stevenson, and James Boswell is as entertaining a character as they come – though, the jury’s still out on Sir Walter Scott.

I mean, I of course love Sir Walter Scott. Wonderful writer. Wonderful. Not overly romantic or sentimental at all.


“The Cotter’s Saturday Night”

From scenes like these old Scotia’s grandeur springs,

That makes her loved at home, revered abroad:

Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,

An honest man’s the noblest work of God.

  • Robert Burns


Detail, west window




I can identify overall gothic and romanesque elements, but would love to know more about cathedral architecture, their overall history and specifics about the actual building of these soaring beauties. Along with castles, churches and abbeys draw me, ruins perhaps most of all.

Notre Dame de Paris is perhaps my favorite cathedral. More impressive to me than even the Vatican, it’s always held a special place in my heart. Perhaps it has something to do with visiting it more than any other, or its literary association with Victor Hugo. It’s so grand, comparing it with St Giles isn’t fair.

Each has a distinctive beauty.


Heraldic flags


Dramatic chandeliers – designed by Campbell & Arnott, architects


Thistle Chapel – the thistle flower is the symbol of Scotland


Thistle Chapel:

Between 1909 and 1911 the Thistle Chapel was added at the south-east corner.   Designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, this tiny chapel measures only 37 feet by 18.  It is richly decorated in neo-Gothic style to commemorate the holders of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Scotland’s foremost Order of Chivalry which was introduced by James VII in 1687.

These wrought iron thistles are the sorts of details that catch my eye. I’m always looking for things others walk right past, sometimes to the exclusion of taking in the literal big picture. I unconsciously frame accents, less so now than when I was much more active with photography, but the tendency’s coming back to me.

Little details can have huge significance.


Looking out front entrance, as I leave


Only a fraction of the history, architectural and artistic details found in St Giles filled an entire post. Much more lies in wait. Each time I visit I see more and more I missed.

For this time, it’s enough.

One thought on “Photos: St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh – 19 May 2017

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