St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh – The Thistle Chapel

Filed in Gather Travel Essential by on August 18, 2011 0 Comments
The entrance to the Thistle Chapel is through wrought-iron gates into a low-ceiling ante-room with wonderfully carved bosses:

On the walls there are rows and rows of dates and names of kings, queens, noblemen and knights:

The neo-Gothic Thistle Chapel was built between 1909 and 1911, and it is the spiritual home and meeting place of The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle.  The Order was founded by James VII of Scotland (II of England) in 1687.  When it was initiated, the meeting place was the Holyrood Abbey, next to the Palace of Holyroodhouse; the Abbey was destroyed in 1688 during riots and James VII (Catholic) had to abdicate and go into exile.  Queen Anne established the order in 1703 and for 200 years the Knights of the Thistle had no chapel.  In 1905 the Earl of Leven and Melville donated money to restore the old Abbey chapel and create a set meeting place.  Restoring the chapel turned out to be impossible so it was decided to build a new one attached to St. Giles’ Cathedral.

Early stall plates (1911 on) were enameled by Phoebe Traquair, a celebrated artist of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Robert Lorimer (1864-1929) was the architect of the Chapel.  Louis Deuchars made the models for both stone and wood carvings.  The carving was mostly done by Joseph Haynes in stone and William and Alexander Clow in wood.  The Chapel is an incredible detailed work of art.  The faces of the angels playing instruments and holding heralding shields were modeled after Deuchars’ daughters.  There are animals carved on the armrests between the stalls (dogs, beavers, wild boars, elephant, lion…).  Each panel on the wall resembles folded linen.

The stone bosses on the ceiling (57 in the ante-chapel and 98 in the main chapel) show leaves and fruits of plants and trees native to Scotland, as well as angels holding the coats of arms of early Knights.  The central bosses display saints and symbols important to the Order.  The one symbol repeated over and over again is the thistle, the national flower of Scotland.

The wood carvings throughout the chapel are simply breathtaking…such detail and craftsmanship!  My pictures do not do it justice…the light was very awkward, coming in through beautiful stained windows…it made for a beautiful sight inside the chapel but very difficult for me – with my very limited photography knowledge – to get the settings right.  I hope you can still get a feel of what this place is like!


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