Edinburgh Bookshelf

Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


CHAPTER XI. ECCLESIASTICAL ANTIQUITIES. EXT to the Castle of Edinburgh, the ancient Parish Church of St Giles, and the Abbey of Holyrood, form the most prominent objects of interest in the history of the capital. The existence of the first Parish Church of Edinburgh is traced to the second century after the death of its tutelar saint, the Abbot and Confeseor St Giles, who was born in Greece, of illustrious parentage, in the sixth century, and afterwards abandoning his native land, and bestowing his wealth on the poor, retired into the wilderness of Languedoc, and founded the celebrated monastery which long after bore his name. To some wandering brother from the banks of the Rhone, we probably owe the dedication of the ancient Parish Church of Edinburgh to St Giles, a favourite saint who owes his honours in the southern capital to Matilda, the Queen of Henry I. of England, and daughter of St Margaret, Queen of Malcolm Canmore, who founded there St Giles’s Hospit.al for lepers, in 11 17. The Bishopric of Lindisfarn, which comprehended Edinburgh, dates so early as A.D. 835, and Simeon of Durham, in reckoning the churches and towns belonging to the see in the pear.854, mentions EdminsburcA among the latter.’ We can only infer the existence of the Church, however, from this notice, as it is not directly mentioned, nor can we discorer its name in any authentic record till the -reign of Alexander 11.-who succeeded his father, William the Lion, in 1214-when Baldredus, Deacon of Lothian, and John, Perpetual Vicar of the Church of St Giles, at Edinburgh, a f b their seals in attestation of a copy of certain Papal bulls and other charters Maitland, p. 270. VIGNETTE-chapel of Robed, Duke of Albany, St ades’s Church. 3 B
Volume 10 Page 414
  Enlarge Enlarge     Pictures Pictures
3 78 MEMORIALS OF EDINBURGH. of the Church of Megginche, one of the dependencies of the Abbey of Holyrood.L It is again mentioned in an Act of the reign of Robert the Bruce, dated 1319, wherein the Bishop of St Andrew’s confirms numerous gifts bestowed at various times on the Abbey and its dependencies. One of these is a gift of all her possessions made by the Lady Donoca, with the consent of her husband and son, in presence of a full consistory held at Edinburgh in St Giles’s Church on the Sunday before the Feast of St Thomas, in the year 1293.’ Still later we find evidence of additions to the original foundation in 1359, when David II., by a charter under his great seal, confirmed to the chaplain officiating at the altar of St Katherine’s Chapel in the Parish Church of St Giles, all the lands of Upper Merchiston, the gift of Roger Hog, burgess of Edinburgh, There can be no question, however, of its existence at a much earlier date, as is proved by some of its original architectural features, described hereafter, of which we possess authentic evidence. The Collegiate Church of St Giles, as it‘ now stands, is a building including the work of many different periods, and though no part of its architecture indicates an earlier date than the fourteenth century, its walls probably include masonry of a much more remote era. The prevalence of Norman remains among such of the ancient Parish Churches of Midlothian as still retain any of their original masonry, proves that a very general impetus had been given to ecclesiastical architecture about the period of the founding of Holyrood Abbey, in the 12th century. This entirely accords with what is usually found in the architectural chronology of any populous district in the neighbourhood of an important ecclesiastical foundation; and, indeed, the history of the erection of St Giles’s Church is almost entirely comprised in three periods, each of which was marked by the founding of other ecclesiastical buildings. The first of these is the early part of the 12th century, when the example of David I., derived from his experience at the splendid court of Henry I. of England, led to the founding or enlargement of numerous religious housea. The next is 1380- soon after which Dalkeith Church was founded-when numerous chapels were added to the Parish Church ; and again, during a succession of years ending in 1462-the year in which the charter of foundation of Trinity Collegiate Church is dated-when the choir of St Giles’s Church seems to have been enlarged and completed in its present form ; in anticipation, no doubt, of its erection into a collegiate church, which took place a few years thereafter. It must be a subject of unfailing regret to every true antiquary, that the restoration of St Giles’s Church in 1829 was conducted in so rash and irreverent a spirit, in consequence of which so many of its peculiar features have disappeared, along with nearly all those traces of its adaptation to the ceremonial of Roman Catholic worship, which had escaped the rude hands of the equally irreverent, but far more pardonable, Reformers of the sixteenth century. Had its restoration been delayed even for a few years, the increasing study of Gothic architecture, which is already so widely diffused, would in all probability have secured the preservation of much that is now beyond recall. All that can now be done is to endeavour to convey to the reader such idea of the original edifice, and of the successive alterations and additions that it had received, as seemed to be indicated by the building previous to its remodelling in 1829.3 Liber Cartarurn Sande Crucis, p. 55. Ibid, p. 81. ? The restoration of the original edifice is now (1872) being proceeded with, under the auspice8 of n number of public-apirited citizens.
Volume 10 Page 415
  Enlarge Enlarge