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. Â The Order was founded by James VII of Scotland (II of England) in 1687. Â 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. Â Queen Anne established the order in 1703 and for 200 years the Knights of the Thistle had no chapel. Â In 1905 the Earl of Leven and Melville donated money to restore the old Abbey chapel and create a set meeting place. Â Restoring the chapel turned out to be impossible so it was decided to build a new one attached to St. Giles’ Cathedral.
Apart from the stalls of the Sovereign and two members of the Royal Family, there are 16 stalls for the Knights and Ladies. Â On each one, the heraldic devices of its current holder are displayed: Â the coat of arms on the stall plate at the back of the seat and helm and crest on the top. Â The helm and crest are taken down on a Knight’s death, but the stall plate with the coat of arms stays in its position.
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. Â Louis Deuchars made the models for both stone and wood carvings. Â The carving was mostly done by Joseph Haynes in stone and William and Alexander Clow in wood. Â The Chapel is an incredible detailed work of art. Â The faces of the angels playing instruments and holding heralding shields were modeled after Deuchars’ daughters. Â There are animals carved on the armrests between the stalls (dogs, beavers, wild boars, elephant, lion…). Â 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. Â The central bosses display saints and symbols important to the Order. Â 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! Â 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. Â I hope you can still get a feel of what this place is like!