St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh
Edinburgh's city centre (and, indeed, its surrounding areas) are packed with a multitude of churches, their spires and towers rising above the surrounding buildings.
Many church buildings in the city have been converted from ecclesiastical use, but one still functional church rises above (almost) all of them, and can be seen on the skyline from right across the city - I'd go as far as to say it's a more prominent feature than Edinburgh Castle itself!
St Giles' Cathedral is the largest of Edinburgh's Old Town churches, and sits right on the Royal Mile at the heart of the medieval city. The building is named for the patron saint of Edinburgh, St Giles, a Greek hermit who spent much of his life living in solitude in France. The church itself was established in the twelfth century, and the building has been developed and under almost continuous rebuilding until the nineteenth century.
Despite its name, St Giles is actually not technically a cathedral...
In 1560, Scotland changed from being a Catholic country to a Protestant one, and part of this major social Reformation was for the church to get rid of the power structures imposed by bishops. Since a cathedral is (by definition) the seat of a bishop, and as the Church of Scotland no longer has bishops, the building at the heart of the Old Town is the High Kirk of St Giles.
It was the minister of St Giles' at that time, John Knox, who led the Reformation in Scotland, and he is commemorated with a statue in the church, as well as being buried in the former graveyard (now Parliament Square) just outside it.
At other times in its history, as the Church of Scotland underwent a number of shifts and changes, St Giles' became sub-divided and hosted no fewer than four separate churches under its roof, each with a separate congregation and preaching different interpretations of the same basic text.
Today the building is reunited as a single church, and continues to be a popular venue for weddings, regular services, and live music.
The distinctive crown tower at the top of St Giles' - more properly known as a lantern tower - was added in the 1490s, and is one of only a handful of such structures in Scotland. It is this feature which can be seen above the rooftops of the city from miles around.
Other highlights of the building include the Thistle Chapel, a highly decorative chapel at one corner of the building which was built in 1911. Knights of the Order of the Thistle, a chivalric honour bestowed on a maximum of 16 people at any single time, and dating from the seventeenth century, are celebrated here.
Near the entrance to the Thistle Chapel is an original copy of the National Covenant, a document created and signed at nearby Greyfriars Kirk in 1638, demanding freedom and independence for the Church of Scotland from the monarchy.
The church also has a large stained glass window commemorating Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, above the main entrance on the west side of the building. A variety of other figures from Edinburgh's history have memorials inside the church, including the author Robert Louis Stevenson, medical pioneers Elsie Inglis and James Young Simpson, and warring nobles Argyll and Montrose.
Access to visit the church is free, but with donations requested.
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Edinburgh by Numbers: 7 to 9
The third in my series showcasing highlights of Edinburgh's history with a numerical theme - check out numbers 1-3 and 4-6. This week we're getting dangerously close to double digits....
The Number 7: The Edinburgh Seven
A fairly magnificent group of women, assembled by Sophia Jex-Blake in response to her application to join Edinburgh's medical school being denied. The changes required to the course, she was told, to allow a woman to train would so great that for one woman it simply wouldn't be feasible - and as women didn't want to train as doctors it wouldn't be worth the university's effort to do so.
Undeterred, Jex-Blake took out an advert seeking other women who had an interest in joining the medical school, and rounded up another six potential students. Becoming known as the Edinburgh Seven, they applied to join the medical school in 1869 and were successful, becoming the first female students of medicine in Britain.
Alas their places at the university were protested by male students, who formed a riot to pelt the women with mud and rocks as they attended their examinations at Surgeons' Hall, and the university rescinded their admission, forcing Jex-Blake and her fellow women students ti complete their training elsewhere.
The University of Edinburgh finally allowed women to join its medical school in the 1890s.
The Number 8: Town Centres
Besides the main city centre areas of Old and New Town, Edinburgh has eight distinctly defined town centre spaces, many of which have developed from the amalgamation of outlying towns and villages into the city itself as Edinburgh grew and expanded.
The eight town centres are:
This collection of towns happened gradually over a number of years, and was happening until relatively recently - Leith only became formally part of Edinburgh during the 1920s.
Today these suburbs of the city are popular and bustling spaces that are popular with locals. Visitors are encouraged to travel a little further beyond the confines of the city centre itself, to see more of the areas that locals inhabit.
The Number 9: Henry IX
In St Andrew Square stands one of the largest personal monuments in the city, a Grecian column topped with a statue of Henry Dundas. Dundas was a powerful politician in Scotland during the eighteenth century, representing a majority of Scottish constituencies in the Houses of Parliament. He served as Minister for War under William Pitt the Younger, and later as First Lord of the Admiralty, a senior post in the Royal Navy.
Dundas wielded sufficient power across Scotland to gain the nicknames 'King Harry the Ninth', 'the Uncrowned King of Scotland', and 'The Great Tyrant'...
In 1806 Dundas became the last member of the British Houses of Parliament to be impeached, as a result of mismanagement of military funds during his time as political head of the Navy. It was later a matter of some controversy that the 150ft monument to Dundas in St Andrew Square was formally paid for "by contributions from officers and men of the Royal Navy"..!
Today Dundas's reputation as a politician hinges on actions he took to prevent the abolition of the slave trade in the UK - without his interventions, Britain may have abolished slavery around a quarter of a century before it was eventually outlawed.
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Edinburgh by Numbers: 4 to 6
Part two of my Edinburgh by Numbers series brings you digits 4, 5 and 6! You can catch up on the numbers 1-3 here.
The Number 4: Edinburgh's Universities
Although the University of Edinburgh is the largest of the city's academic institutions, there are a total of four universities within Edinburgh.
The University of Edinburgh was founded in 1582, and is one of the oldest universities in the English-speaking world (although there are older institutions even within Scotland - the University of St Andrews was founded in the early fifteenth century). There are several collections of university buildings around the city, most centrally around Bristo Square, but with major campus collections elsewhere too.
Napier University was formerly a technical college founded in the 1960s. Named for mathematician John Napier, the university has one of its campuses in the old Napier family home at Merchiston Castle in the Bruntsfield area of the city.
Queen Margaret University was named for the wife of King Malcolm III of Scotland (known as 'Malcolm Big Head') and has its campus just outside the city centre at Musselburgh.
Heriot-Watt University is another former mechanical and engineering college, named for two major figures: goldsmith George Heriot, and inventor of the steam engine, James Watt. Heriot-Watt has campus far beyond Scotland, in Malaysia and the UAE, and was named International University of the year in 2018.
These four institutions attract students from all around the globe, resulting in about 12% of Edinburgh's population being students.
The Number 5: The Royal Mile
Although the whole backbone of Edinburgh's Old Town is collectively known as the Royal Mile - linking the two royal residences of the castle and the palace of Holyroodhouse - in fact the route is made up of five separate streets. The use of the name 'Royal Mile' only dates back to around 1901, and so addresses for properties along the route are still given by the individual street name:
The Number 6: Number 6 Charlotte Square
At the west end of George Street is still one of the grandest addresses in the city centre. Built as the grand finale to the first phase of New Town development, Charlotte Square is totally almost exclusively commercially owned, with the exception of number 6 Charlotte Square.
This is Bute House, designed by Robert Adam (along with the rest of the square) and today serves as the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland. The First Minister is head of the Scottish Government, following the establishment of a devolved parliament system in the late 1990s. This unassuming building has little security at the front of the building, as the main entrance is around at the back - the front generally is only used for VIP guests and public occasions.
The building has been home to other notable residents, too. Catherine Sinclair, who was a friend of Walter Scott and a children's novelist and is commemorated with a monument nearby, lived in the property with her family, and Queen Victoria would stay at Bute House during her visits to Edinburgh, as an alternative to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which she found rather cold and damp
To find out what life would have been like for the grand families who originally lived in properties like Bute House, pop next door to number 7 Charlotte Square, the Georgian House, which has been fully restored by the National Trust for Scotland, to give a sense of high society living around the end of the eighteenth- and early nineteenth century.
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