St Giles’ Cathedral - History and Facts | History Hit

St Giles’ Cathedral

Lucy Davidson

13 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles’ Cathedral (also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh) is a 14th century church in the Old Town of Edinburgh.

The cathedral is closely associated with many events and figures in Scottish history, including John Knox, who was the church’s minister after the Scottish Reformation. As a result, the cathedral is often referred to as the ‘Cradle of Presbyterianism.’

History of St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles’ Cathedral is located on the famous Royal Mile, in the heart of the Old Town of Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh.

St Giles’ foundation is normally dated to 1124 and attributed to David I, King of Scotland. It is dedicated to Saint Giles, who was a hermit active in the Rhone in the 6th century.

The first church on the site was a small, Romanesque building, of which only a few fragments remain. In the 14th century it was replaced by the current building, which was enlarged between the 14th and early 16th centuries.

The cathedral was elevated to collegiate status by Pope Paul II in 1467.

The church became Protestant in 1559 with John Knox, a foremost figure of the Scottish Reformation, at its helm. After the Reformation, the cathedral was adapted to serve a number of different congregations, as well as function as a prison and meeting place for the Parliament of Scotland.

In 1633, Charles I made St Giles the cathedral of the newly created Diocese of Edinburgh, and in 1637, his attempt to impose a Scottish Prayer Book in St Giles caused a riot which catalysed the beginnings of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

The church was later altered between 1829 and 1833 in the hope of making it the ‘Westminster Abbey for Scotland’, by enriching and expanding the church and adding memorials to notable Scots.

Between 1909 and 1911, the famous Thistle Chapel was added.

St Giles’ Cathedral Today

Today, St Giles’ Cathedral is a popular tourist attraction that holds regular religious services as well as a plethora of cultural events such as organ recitals.

Volunteer guides are available to answer questions, and can conduct guided tours upon request.

As a deeply historic city, there is a huge amount to do in Edinburgh, so we’d recommend that you stop in at St Giles’ Cathedral as part of a walking tour or programme of many events.

Getting to St Giles’ Cathedral

From the centre of Edinburgh, St Giles’ Cathedral is an 8 minute scenic walk via North Bridge/A7 and High St. By car, it also takes 8 minutes, though parking along or near to the Royal Mile will prove difficult. There’s a regular bus service that stops on the nearby North Bridge.

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