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Scotland: St. Giles Cathedral

After visiting Edinburgh Castle in the last morning, we headed a bit farther down the Royal Mile toward St. Giles Cathedral ….

The Cathedral is just maybe ½ to 3/4 mile down the hill from the Castle.

On the entrance side is a big open square where one of the Edinburgh Festival street performers was doing his juggling fire and sharp objects show.

Also in the square was a few rows of booths selling handmade goods/art/etc. My mom ended up buying a watercolor – a little ironic since it was raining so much.

We elected to go into the Cathedral first, and then find lunch.

I love cathedrals – and it turns out Chelsea does too!

Even without knowing ANY of the history of the location, the beauty of the architecture and the details of the tiny side chapels and stained glass windows give cathedrals such an air.

And walking into a cathedral that is still actively in use is always fun – especially if you come across a service (like we did at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome).

From RICK STEVES:

St. Giles Cathedral

This is Scotland’s most important church. Its ornate spire – the Scottish Crown steeple from 1495 – is a proud part of Edinburgh’s skyline.

Today’s façade is 19th century Neo-Gothic, but most of what you’ll see inside is from the 14th and 15th centuries.

Just inside the entrance, turn around to see the modern stained-glass Robert Burns window, which celebrates Scotland’s favorite poet. It was made in 1095 by the Icelandic artist Leifur Breidfjord.

The oldest parts of the cathedral – the four massive central pillars – date from 1120. After the English burned the cathedral in 1385, it was rebuilt bigger and better than ever, and in 1495 its famous crown spire was completed. During the Reformation – when John Knox preached here (1559-1572) – the place was simplified and whitewashed. Before this, when the emphasis was on holy services provided by priests, there were lots of little niches. With the new focus on sermons rather than rituals, the grand pulpit took center stage.

At the back end of the church, see the Neo-Gothic Chapel of the Knights of the Thistle and its intricate wood carving. Built in two years (1910-1911), entirely with Scottish materials and labor, it is the private chapel of the Knights of the Thistle, the only Scottish chivalric order. It’s used about once a year to inaugurate new members. Scotland recognizes its leading citizens by bestowing upon them a membership. The Queen presides over the ritual from her fancy stall, marked by her Scottish coat of arms.

Upon entering the St. Giles Cathedral, there was a big sign advertising “Photography permits” for ₤2.

Now, this is clearly just a way to get money from tourists without charging admission.

I’m totally OK with this. Especially since Westminster Abbey cost about ₤11 and I still wasn’t allowed to take photos!

I don’t know how much they enforce the photography permit, but I do think I saw a guide start to walk toward me when I was videoing, but stop when I (casually) turned so he could see my photo-permit-sticker.

Who knows ….

We happened upon St. Giles Cathedral just in time for a mid-day concert.

According to the “Music at St. Giles” pamphlet I found, the concert was put on by a Scotland/South Africa cultural exchange program group.

Singing as they walked down the main aisle, they performed a few African songs, but more were traditional worship songs – many of which I knew! Of course, the fact that I knew the songs made the errant notes from some of the sopranos even more apparent.

Nonetheless, having live music made the whole experience of exploring the Cathedral even fuller…

The other interesting and noteworthy part of St. Giles Cathedral was the Chapel of the Knights of the Thistle.

This is a small chapel in the back corner of the (huge) Cathedral – the private chapel of the only Scottish chivalric order (the Knights of the Thistle).

There was this sweet older woman back there – a guide of the Cathedral – answering questions and providing all kinds of details about the Knights of the Thistle and what they used the chapel for..

It’s only used once a year or so to inaugurate new members – but that only happens when a former member dies.

The Queen chooses one of the leading citizens of Scotland – a judge, the head of Education or similar…

The Queen presides over the ritual from her chair (ornately carved) at the end of the room. Her chair is marked by the Royal family’s coat of arms. As that chair is only ever occupied by the monarch, there is only one coat of arms. All the other chairs have several (in general 4+) coats of arms, designating all the different men/women who have been inducted into the order and assigned to that seat over the last 100 years since the chapel was completed.

It’s a lovely room, but without a guide there to explain the details, that’s all it would have been.

After St. Giles Cathedral we went to lunch.

Kevin had been talking about Thai food for a couple days, and Andrew knew I wanted REAL vegetables, so we found this Thai restaurant: Thai Orchid. It was a bit warm inside, so I started feeling a little bit sick, but all in all it was pretty good.

It wasn’t spicy AT ALL (I got a mostly broccoli veggie dish) … and snagged a couple bites from the others.

Next? Our underground ghost tour!!

Leave a Comment

  • Nancy January 27, 2012, 2:02 pm

    The tiny Chapel of the Knights of the Thistle was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip! It was so cool to hear the guide explain how the knights were chosen and how their coats of arms were created, etc. And the fact that only the people who are in the room during the ceremony ever get to really see what’s going on because they don’t video tape or anything makes it even more intriguing. I LOVED IT!

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