The Church of Scotland is presbyterian in government, and St Giles’ Cathedral is often called the mother church of world presbyterianism. It has uniquely reflected the life and religion of Scotland and incorporated the dynamic vision of the 16th century Reformation in the continuity of a developing and catholic church.
St Giles’ is a living church with a congregation of several hundred people who live across the city and beyond. The congregation is led by some fifty elders who share with the Minister the administration of the church and the care of the congregation and parish.
As the High Kirk of Edinburgh, St Giles’ is Edinburgh’s “town church” and as such is host to the annual Kirking of the City Council and other civic and national events. The church has been at the heart of the city’s religious life for at least 1,000 years. A living church with an active congregation, it is host to some 400,000 visitors every year, who come to experience its unique atmosphere of continuing worship and history.
There are five services every Sunday and on average fourteen acts of worship in St Giles’ every week. Worship at St Giles’ upholds Christian tradition alongside openness to contemporary thought and action. Holy Communion is the central act of worship in St Giles’ and is celebrated several times each week. The Daily Service is a simple quarter-hour service of readings and prayers each weekday at noon. Visitors are welcome to join with the congregation in worship. Members of all churches are invited to participate fully in Holy Communion at St Giles’.
St Giles’ touches the hearts and minds of the many people who come into the church at all times of the day. Although the church may be full of bustle, a peaceful corner for quiet reflection can always be found. The Albany Aisle in the north west corner of the church is reserved for prayer and meditation.
The Treasures of St Giles’
St Giles’ contains almost two hundredmemorials honoring distinguished Scots and remembering Scottish soldiers. Most of these memorials date from the 19th century and early 20th century.
St Giles’ has a notable collection of stained glass windows. They date from the 1870s onwards and show a broad range of traditional and contemporary styles.
Origin of St Giles’
There is record of a parish church in Edinburgh by the year 854, served by a vicar from a monastic house, probably in England. It is possible that the first church, a modest affair, was in use for several centuries before it was formally dedicated by the bishop of St Andrews on 6 October 1243. The parish church of Edinburgh was subsequently reconsecrated and named in honour of the patron saint of the town, St Giles, whose feast day is celebrated on 1 September.
That St Giles, a 7th century hermit (and, later, abbot) who lived in France, became the patron of both town and church was probably due to the ancient ties between Scotland and France.
According to legend, Giles was accidentally wounded by a huntsman in pursuit of a hind and, after his death in the early 8th century, hospitals and safe houses for cripples, beggars and lepers were established throughout England and Scotland within easy reach of the impoverished and the infirm. St Giles is usually depicted protecting a hind from an arrow, which had pierced his own body, a fine relief of which rests in the tympanum over the west (main) doors of the Cathedral.