The History of St. Giles’ Cathedral - Part 2

Above: Parliament Square with St. Giles’ to the right, statue of Charles II located in the centre (source photo: wiki commons)

In the first part of this article about St. Giles’ Cathedral (available here), one of the most important historical, cultural and religious establishments from Edinburgh and Scotland, I wrote a brief and concise history of the settlement and presented some of its remarkable stained glassware, which showed key biblical and historical moments in Scottish history such as aspects of the Reformation. We also talked about John Knox, whose presence can be noticed throughout the whole cathedral, whether we are talking about illustrations on glassware or a remarkable statue located near the entrance of the kirk. 

One particular bit of historical trivia related to John Knox is tied to his final resting place. When Knox passed away in 1572, the cathedral had its own graveyard located to the east. Today that space is part of Parliament Square established in the first half of the 17th century (a part of the Royal Mile) which now serves as a parking lot. If one goes to parking space number 23 they’ll see a commemorative plaque reading “The above stone marks the approximate site of the burial in St Giles’ Graveyard of John Knox The Great Scottish Divine who died 24 Nov 1572”. The exact location of Knox’s burial is unknown, considered to be in the perimeter of the square.

Commemorative plaque for John Knox

Thistle Chapel

The Order of the Thistle is an important organization rooted in the early modern period of Scottish History. The current version was created in 1687 by King James VII of Scotland (II of England). For centuries the order did not have its own chapel. This changed as Scottish Architect Robert Lorimer, a native of Edinburgh, designed Thistle Chapel which was constructed in a High Gothic fashion on the south side of St. Giles’ and finished in 1911.

The chapel is a remarkable landmark of Scottish religious and heraldic history. In order to enter it one has to go through the ante-chapel located at the east end of the Preston aisle. There are several stalls: 16 for knights, the two Royal Stalls and the Sovereign’s Stall, which is the most lavishly decorated. The chapel itself has impressive stained glassware. Each stall has its own individual carvings and all in all, Thistle Chapel is one of the most beautiful architectural treasures of Scotland’s history.

Thistle Chapel

To conclude the Thistle Chapel is a visually stunning chamber and a part of Modern Scottish History. In his work entitled The Work of Sir Robert Lorimer (1931), pg.80), Christopher Hussey (one of the chief authorities on British domestic architecture in the 20th century), wrote the following:

“It is a remarkable, and was at the time a unique, example of a true revival of the medieval crafts – traditional yet spontaneous; instinct with the Gothic spirit yet unaffected and of its own age. Its triumphant success was owing primarily to Lorimer's approach to architecture being essentially that of the medieval craftsman-architect…"

Memorials of St. Giles’ Cathedral: Ancient and more recent

There are numerous memorials within St. Giles Cathedral; however, most of them date from the early to mid-19th century. There are two imposing and very notable marble monuments, namely of James Graham, Marquess of Montrose and Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll.

Monument of James Graham
Monument of Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll

There are also several plaques and memorials dedicated to Scottish soldiers who fought in both World Wars.

Memorial dedicated to Scottish soldiers who served in the First World War 

The Pipe Organ

One of the most impressive parts of the cathedral is a more recent addition, that being the Pipe Organ made by Austrian company Rieger Orgelbau in 1992. The organ is located in the south transept. (source of photo: wiki commons)


The History of St. Giles’ Cathedral is complex and vast. Without a doubt it is one of the most important monuments and places of worship in Scottish History, a priceless cultural, historical and religious establishment of Edinburgh, Scotland and the United Kingdom. For anyone visiting the Scottish capital it is a must visit, especially for fans of cathedrals and history.

For more details about the history, general details and updates on opening times and restrictions (if still in place), the website is available through the following link:

*    *    *

Vlad Zamfira

Vlad Zamfira (Masters of Arts in Archaeology & History and Certificate of Postgraduate research in History at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland) is a historian and podcaster interested mainly in the History of the 16th century Mediterranean with particular focus to Venetian, Ottoman and Spanish relations during the period between 1559-1581 and the Fourth Ottoman-Venetian War of Cyprus. Also with a keen interest in the history of the Eighty & Thirty Years' Wars; Scottish and European History as whole.