William Chambers.

The Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral online

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Online LibraryWilliam ChambersThe Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral → online text (page 4 of 37)
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whole was repaired by in-
serting fresh hewn stone to
resemble the original. The
result has been a handsome
arch in the style of the
fifteenth century. The lath
and plaster which had been stuck on the walls of the aisle were
wholly removed, and the original character of the stone-work
was developed. A floor supported on
brick arches over a vault completed the

In the process of cleaning the groined
roof of the aisle, which was begrimed with
dirt and coatings of whitewash, a finely
carved bosse was discovered, bearing the
arms of Walter Chepman impaled with
those of his first wife, who had belonged
to the family of Kerkettill. The joint
arms are on a shield held up by an angel. A corbel which
terminated the groining of the roof on the west side bore a
pious symbolic carving. It represents an eagle, the emblem of
St John the Evangelist ; the eagle, in sacred and legendary art,


Chepman's Arms.

Emblem of St John.

S^ Giles' Cathedral Church,

being the symbol of the highest inspiration, because St John
soared upwards to the contemplation of the divine nature of
the Saviour. Close to the eagle is a scroll legend in black-
letter, En :principia, being the two words with which the
gospel of St John in the Latin Vulgate begins — Li priiicipio
erat Verbum: ' In the beginning was the Word.' According to
the charter of endowment, Chepman dedicated the altar in his
chapel to St John, whom he had probably adopted as his
patron saint. The disclosing of these old carvings adds to the
archaeological interest in St Giles'.

It has been thought that as something is due to Chepman
for his service to literature, it would only be becoming to set
up a tablet with a suitable inscription to his memory. A
brass tablet accordingly is now placed in his aisle, bearing
the following inscription : ' To the Memory of Walter
Chepman, designated the Scottish Caxton, who under


As a final improvement, the floor of the Chepman Aisle was
laid with encaustic tiles with suitable devices ; while its entrance
was closed by a fanciful grille in hammered iron after the
antique, with a gate. This tasteful work of art was executed by
Skidmore of Coventry.

The work on the Preston Aisle was the heaviest and
lengthiest part of the second restoration, for the aisle, which
abounds in artistic beauty, was in a sadly deteriorated condition.
The finest carvings had been recklessly broken. The groined
roof, on which immense labour had been expended by the
artificers employed by the magistrates of Edinburgh, in the
fifteenth century, was so thickly covered with whitewash as to
have no appearance of stone-work. The first thing done was


Sf Giles' Cathedral Church.

to clear the groined roof of its odious coatings. Months were
occupied on these repairs ; the result being that the roof of the
Preston Aisle, as now developed, perhaps excels in beauty of
groining anything of the kind in Great Britain, or in the world.
When the roof was finished, repairs were made on the pillars
which stand in a row betwixt the aisle and the choir. These
pillars had been seriously damaged by the insertion of beams
and otherwise. In some instances, the bases and the ornamental
capitals, with portions of the shafts, had to be replaced. The
wall part of the aisle was also repaired in a manner as nearly as
possible to resemble the original. A small arched recess or
shrine, which possibly had some connection with the altar set
up to commemorate Preston's munificence, was opened up in a
creditable style of art. It is not improbable that the recess
had been used as the shrine for the arm-bone of St Giles.
Last of all, the floor was laid with encaustic tiles ; and the
aisle, fitted up with ornamental oak pews, now affords accom-
modation for eighty sitters in addition to those in the choir.
The visitor is invited to look upon the Preston Aisle as a
wonderfully fine specimen of fifteenth-century art. It is the
gem of St Giles'.

In several parts of the Preston Aisle will be seen the arms of
Preston, three unicorns' heads, formerly referred to. On one
of the bosses on the groined ceiling is a shield bearing the arms
of Sir Patrick Hepburn of Hales, a trusted statesman, who was
created a peer with the title of Lord Hales, 1456. His grand-
son, Patrick, third Lord Hales, was created Earl of Bothwell by
James IV. His great-grandson was the infamous Earl of
Bothwell in the reign of Mary Queen of Scots. The arms on
the shield consist of two chevrons, each shewing two lions
plucking at a rose.

Before quitting the Preston Aisle, visitors will observe a
baptismal font in Caen stone, executed by Mr Rhind, an
Edinburgh sculptor, on the model of Thorvvaldsen's famous
work at Copenhagen. It represents an angel wreathed with


Sf Giles^ Cathedral Church.

flowers, kneeling on one knee, holding a large shell, intended
to contain the water for baptism. The font, which has been

Baptismal Font.

presented to the church tlirough the munificence of a friend of
the Rev. Dr J. C. Lees, is at present placed in the Chepman

In repairing the Preston Aisle, it was found necessary to
build up the huge doorway in the eastern gable which had been
introduced by Mr Burn ; on which account, some alterations will
require to be executed in this quarter on the exterior of the
building. This will form one of the closing acts in the
work of restoration.

Previous to the repairs being executed, the spacious stone
arch which spans the west end of the Preston Aisle and
divides it from the south transept, was, as a result of Mr Burn's
proceedings, found to be fancifully clothed in stucco. This
stucco coating, which was wholly out of place, was removed,
and the simple beauty of the original stone arch has been

li xlix

»S/ Gilcs^ Cathedral Church.

brought into view. Meanwhile, until the restorations are com-
pleted, the arch is closed by a wooden screen, the door in
which admits to the south transept and aisles.

The work of restoring the south transept and adjoining aisles
on the west, involved some excavations by which it was hoped
a discovery would be made of certain burial vaults that were
believed to be in this part of the building. A search for these
vaults took place on the loth April 1879. Only one vault was
discovered. It was that in which the Regent Murray was
entombed, 1569-70. It was situated close to the west wall of
the transept. The vault measured about sixteen feet in length
from north to south, and was little more than three feet in
width. The search was to a certain extent disappointing. No
coffin of any kind could be found containing the remains of the
illustrious Regent. Three leaden coffins were discovered in a
bad condition. The most perfect of these coffins, as seen by
the arms and inscriptions, contained the remains of Alexander,
fourth Earl of Galloway, born 1670, died 1690. The other
two leaden coffins bore neither arms nor inscriptions, and
seemed to pertain to persons of a slight figure. It was the
opinion of a medical authority present that the remains in one
of the coffins were those of a young man ; and that the remains
in the other were those of a female of middle age. Near these
leaden coffins was found a leaden plate, bearing the engraved
inscription, ' Francis Steuart, Esq., died at Rheims in France,
7th Octr. 1768, Aged 22.' The plate had probably been on a
wooden coffin that lay in fragments, and in which the leaden
coffin had been placed. The Francis Steuart referred to was a
son of the Hon. Francis Steuart of Pittendriech, third son of
Francis, sixth Earl of Moray.

The buiial vault of the Regent, as we learn by a notice in
the Edinburgh newspapers, under date January 23, 1830, had
been disturbed by the alterations then going on, and this may
account for the absence of any coffin recognisable as that per-
taining to the Regent To all appearance, a coffin of some

Sf elks' Cathedral Church.

kind had been emptied of its contents, which now lay as a
confused heap of bones. A skull picked up from the heap was
viewed with much respect. Massive, and with craniological
indications of mental superiority, it was believed to be that of
the Regent Murray. Such, at least, was our own belief, and
that of one or two other persons present. The skull was care-
fully replaced in the heap of bones alongside the leaden coffins,
and to prevent intrusion, the vault was immediately built up.

Attempts to find other burial vaults during the excavations
of 1879 proved unsuccessful. On lifting the pavement of the
crypt eastward from the Regent's tomb, within the compass of
the south transept, there were seen two inclosures formed by
dwarf walls that might at one time have been vaults. They
were found to contain rubbish, with which a few bones of no
significance were mingled. The inclosure farthest to the east
was probably the vault in which the body of John, fourth Earl
of Athole, was entombed, 1579.

Descending by a few steps to the vault underneath the
Chepman Aisle, a rigorous search was now made for the
remains of the Marquis of Montrose, which had undoubtedly
been entombed here in i66i. No coffin nor any fragment of
coffin could be discovered. Only some small pieces of bones
were picked up from the soil. These we placed in a small
box, and reverently deposited it on the spot where the remains
of the Marquis had been ceremoniously interred. The floor
of the vault was then laid with pavement, in which was inserted
a marble tablet with the inscription, ' Montrose, 1661,'

The trenchings and the excavations that took place over the
floor of the southern aisles need not be particularly described.
The quantity of bones dug up was immense, the whole probably
amounting to five tons in weight. After examination, the
whole were placed in boxes, and removed to Greyfriars Church-
yard for interment. It was unsatisfactory to be driven to the
conclusion, that the vaults in which a number of distinguished
personages were entombed, had been rifled of the leaden coffins


Sf Giles^ Cathedral Church.

with their contents in the course of alterations on this part of
the building, 1S29 to 1833, at which time the ancient and
historical tomb of the Earl of Murray was destroyed. The
strange disappearance of the remains of illustrious dead from
the spot in which by history and tradition they are said to have
been placed, raises a painful reflection regarding the indifference
to matters of this kind so lately as half a century ago. Only
in 1879 did the disappearance of the remains become known.

In the general work of restoration a commencement was
made by repairing the walls of that part of the transept which
projects like a recess southwards. The walls were in an
exceedingly bad condition, and to render them at all seemly,
portions were renewed with hewn stone. The floor, raised
two steps to give head-room in the crypt beneath, was laid with
encaustic tiles. A spacious stone arch, the fellow of that
adjoining the Preston Aisle, was stripped of its coating of
stucco, and by sundry mendings brought back to its original

The south transept, as now cleared out and embellished,
forms a recess of about twenty feet square. How it is to be
ultimately appropriated we know not. The design we permitted
ourselves to entertain was that it might perhaps be adopted as
the place of ceremonial assemblage by the Knights of the
ancient and noble Order of the Thistle, and where their banners
may be suitably displayed ; for since the Chapel Royal of
Holyrood fell into ruin, they have possessed no place of
installation, or where their banners could be shewn.

In the course of his operations, Mr Burn had made very
considerable havoc with the southern aisles. As already
mentioned, he had taken away two of these aisles with the
view of improving the access to the Parliament Square, and he
reduced a remaining aisle to half its dimensions. This reduced
aisle he transformed into a staircase in connection with certain
galleries of modern construction. The aisle in its original
state contained an ancient tomb, so called in Dr Laing's

Sf Gives' Cathedral Church.

plan of the building ; and to accomiTiodate this relic of art,
he removed it eastwards into the wall of the staircase.
Obviously, anything like a restoration of this part of St Giles'
was impossible. The site of the missing aisles was part
of the public street. All that could be attempted was to
bring this portion of the building into harmony with the
Preston 'Aisle, the south transept, and other restored parts
of the structure. The diminished aisle with its flight of stairs
was cleared out. The wall that inclosed it was taken down,
and the open space on its north side was arched with stone ;

Mural Tomb or Shrine.

SO that when completed, there was a distinct new aisle as
a recess on the south, and which is now entitled the Moray

This Moray Aisle, forming an acquisition to the church, has


S^ ales' Cathedral Church.

been enriched in various ways. In the first place, the mural
tomb already spoken of was removed from its mean and
obscure position, and so elevated on the wall beneath the
window as to be in front of the spectator. The tomb is in
reality a shrine dedicated to the Passion of Christ, and the
wonder is how it escaped the wrath of the iconoclasts in
1558. Like the similar but less ornamental relic of art in
the choir, it consists of a Gothic arch over a level slab, on
which possibly there had been a recumbent figure. The
emblematic carvings are profuse and minute. They embody

Old Tablet, Earl of Moray's Tomb.

representations of the crown of thorns, the scourge, the nails,
the sponge, and other symbols of the Passion. In the removal
of the shrine, much care was taken to preserve the delicate
carvings, and accordingly this beautiful work of art may be


Sf Giles^ Cathedral Church,

said to be very much what it was in the early part of the
sixteenth century.

Allusion has been made to a modern monument of the
Regent Murray. It stood on the west side of the south
transept. Its site, on examination, having been found to be
insecure, it was removed to the west side of the Moray Aisle,
which was in all respects more appropriate. The monument is
a wall structure of Caen stone, erected by the late John, twelfth
Earl of Moray, i864r. Near the top is placed the old brass
tablet, which, besides the arms of the Regent, with the motto,
Salus per Christum (Salvation through Christ), bears on one
side an emblematic figure of Faith or Piety, with the words,
PiETAS SINE viNDiCE LUGET (Piety mourns without defence);
on the other side a figure of Justice, with the words, Jus
EXARMATUM EST (Justicc has been disarmed). Date beneath,
'23 Januarii 1569,' followed by Buchanan's admired Latin
inscription : ' Jacobo Stovarto MoRAViiE comiti Scotia


coMMUNi Patria mcerens posuit.' Translation : ' To James
Stewart, Earl of Moray, Regent ,of Scotland, a man by far the
noblest of his time, barbarously slain by enemies, the vilest in
history; his country mourning has raised this monument as
to a common father.'

Adorned with this modern monument, the Moray Aisle has
been further enriched by filling the window with stained glass,
representing an important historical circumstance, the assas-
sination of the Regent, and the impressive scene at his inter-
ment in St Giles', with John Knox preaching the funeral sermon.
At the base of the window there is the inscription : ' In memory
of the Regent Murray ; presented by George Stuart, fourteenth
Earl of Moray, 1881.'

Closed in by a hammered iron grille by Skidmore of Coventry,
and laid with encaustic tiles, the Moray Aisle may be considered
the vestibule to the crypt and vaults already mentioned. The

Si Oiks' Cathedral Church.

crypt, gained by a flight of steps and doorway, is lighted by
small Gothic windows to the south.

The work on the south aisles generally was completed by
mending the walls with hewn stone, and by laying pavement in
small squares. A new doorway, designed principally as an
entrance to the Judges of the Court of Session, but to be used
also as a door of exit, was constructed in the western gable.
The jambs and lintel of the doorway are in the fifteenth-
century style of Gothic art. The carvings over the door
embrace a royal Scottish shield bearing a lion rampant, environed
by the inscription : ' Robertus Secundus Rex Scotorum,
1387,' such being the date of construction of the southern
aisles by the community of Edinburgh.

One of the objects aimed at by the restoration of the building
has been to give an opportunity for the erection of monuments
to distinguished Scotchmen of past and future times. Where-
fore, St Giles', in a sense, might be viewed as the Westminster
Abbey of Scotland. In furtherance of this idea the wall of the
south aisles underneath the two windows has been prepared
and set aside for marble tablets commemorative of eminent
Scottish poets, beginning with the royal poet James I., author
of Peebles to the Play, Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, and
others. When the nave is opened up, portions of the walls will
be appropriated to monuments for distinguished historians,
statesmen, divines, lawyers, soldiers, scientific discoverers,

The restoration of the southern aisles was concluded, so far as
practicable, early in 1880. From first to last the work of
alteration had gone on very quietly, but not unnoticed. Great
numbers of visitors flocked to the building to see what had
been eflected, and we are glad to say that, including observa-
tions by the press, the feelings expressed .were those of general
approval. No prejudice had been roused. There were no
objections on the score of removing galleries prized by
traditions and recollections. A building that had for the last


Sf Giles^ Cathedral Church.

three hundred years been unsightly and repulsive, was now
seen to possess claims to artistic beauty, and to have become
an object of considerable attraction. Conducted purely on the
grounds of restoring a grand, old, historical monument, our
operations, happily, did not incur anything like the hostile
criticism that might have ensued had they been promoted
for denominational purposes.

Pleasing as the results may be, we have never disguised the
fact that the operations did not come up to what is called a
thorough restoration. Clearly, in the circumstances, such could
not have been attempted. We had no authority to deal with
the exterior of the building, nor to restore the ancient entrance
porches. Mr Burn, as already shewn, had removed much that
could not be brought back. Besides, in executing the restora-
tions in the choir, the Committee in charge of the works
were embarrassed by a short-coming of funds. At the same
time, let it be understood that there has not on any occasion
been a pedantic attempt to imitate what was old without suffi-
cient grounds for doing so. The restoration of ancient struc-
tures must be accepted under reasonable qualifications. Modern
science and art, if only for sanitary reasons, must be taken into
account. Accordingly, in all that concerns ventilation, heating,
and artificial lighting, the restored St Giles' will be found
immensely in advance of its prototype of the fifteenth century.
For example, in the matter of artificial lighting, we could not
have left the congregation to depend on candles and oil-lamps
according to the fashion of by-gone ages. Nor could we have
neglected artificial lighting altogether, as has been the case with
certain restored ecclesiastical buildings ; for that would have
been to render the church valueless for public worship in the
evening, and on Sunday afternoons during the winter. A com-
promise in the sentiment of restoration was therefore indis-
pensable. The whole church is lighted with gas by means of
brass standards from the floor, with ornamentation after the
antique, the effect being very satisfactory.


St Giks* Cathedral Church.


When the restoration of the southern aisles was completed to
the extent described, there still remained to be put in decent
order the whole of the nave, the Albany Aisle, with other aisles
on the north side of the building, and the whole of the transepts
except the portion on the south. Such will be the third step
in the restoration of St Giles'. And to give an idea of its
extent, we refer to the following wood-engraving, which
represents a ground-plan of the building as it now exists.

parliame:n t



Ground-plan of St Giles'.

From this plan it appears that the whole edifice measures a
hundred and ninety-six feet in length within the walls, by a
hundred and twenty-five feet across at the transepts. The nave
may be spoken of as about a hundred and twenty feet square
in measurement. To effect a restoration of the nave and parts


iS/ Giles' Cathedral Church.

adjoining will involve some heavy work, with a number of
delicate details connected with the arches and pillars. Certain
stone and lime walls which block up arches will need to be
removed in order to open up the entire structure from end to
end and from side to side, and thus, if possible, to bring back
the interior of St Giles' to that architectural state it possessed

Albany Aisle.

previous to the Reformation. The bulky partition walls here
alluded to are principally those which had been removed by
command of Charles I. on the institution of the bishopric of
Edinburgh in 1633, but which were re-erected on the resump-
tion of Presbytery in 1639.


Sf Giles^ Cathedral Church.

One of the contemplated improvements is the opening up of
the western doorway of the nave (at present shut up), and con-
stituting it the principal entrance to the entire cathedral church.
Some characteristic architectural ornaments will be executed
over this the great doorway, to express the date of the building,
1 1 20, in the reign of Alexander I,, king of Scots; for strange to
say, if any such date was ever sculptured on the walls of St
Giles', it has long since been obliterated.

Among the lesser but essential improvements will be the
restoration of the stone arches and pillars in the nave and
its aisles. The painted stucco ornaments which form the
capitals of the pillars will be replaced by carved ornaments in
stone. A special satisfaction will be experienced in restoring
the Albany Aisle to its original artistic beauty. This interesting
aisle, hitherto shrouded from observation, occupies the north-
west corner of the nave, and causes a projection into High

In the centre of this beautiful aisle stands a light and
graceful pillar, which sustains a groined roof all around. The
aisle takes its name from Robert, Duke of Albany, the second
son of King Robert II., who, having been intrusted with the
custody of his nephew, David, Duke of Rothesay, cruelly
starved him to death in 'a dungeon in the castle of Falkland,
1402. Though escaping punishment for this atrocious act,
Albany and his prime associate, Archibald, fourth Earl of
Douglas, seem to have been haunted with a consciousness of
guilt. According to the practice of the period, they are said to
have built the Albany Aisle in St Giles' as a chapel expiatory
of their crime. The capital of the pillar in the centre of the
aisle bears two shields. One of these bears the Albany arms,
in which the Scottish lion is quartered with the fess cheque of
the Stewarts. The other shield has the heart and other
armorial bearings of the Earl of Douglas. This remarkably
fine pillar, surviving as a memento of a terrible tragedy in
Scottish history, and of the remorse which it occasioned, has


Sf Giles^ Cathedral Church.

for ages been almost buried and lost amidst the gallery and
seating of the church.

The steps taken towards proceeding with these concluding
restorations may now be adverted to. The nave being occupied
as a church by the congregation of West St Giles', nothing
could be done in the way of alteration until another church was
provided. This was a matter in which we could not possibly
interfere; the solution of the difficulty lay with the public

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersThe Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral → online text (page 4 of 37)