Excited in Edinburgh

Monday 7th September 2015

Today we left the leafy avenues of Harrogate and rejoined the M1 travelling north towards Scotland on yet another balmy sunny blue sky Summer day in Autumnal England.  We travelled wistully past the mighty Durham Cathedral perched on its hill on the Wear River and equally regretfully past the Holy Island of Carnaervon protruding above the horizon from the very blue North Sea. Our goal was Edinburgh and it was a beautiful drive as from Newcastle onwards there were steadily increasing views of the ocean and northern England and Southern Scotland’s rolling green pastures and sheep of all kinds.

We landed in Edinburgh, found our Premier Inn in Edinburgh East with the help of the faithful satnav and then ventured by bus into the middle of Edinburgh on yet another perfect day weatherwise in the UK.  Edinburgh was in festive mode in the sunshine with a rock band performing in the square outside the Art Gallery, and the Scots sunning themselves on the lawns in the old glacial valley (now beautiful lawns) below the two street ridges which are the two major shopping drags in the city.

View of the ocean from North Bridge in Edinburgh

View of the ocean from North Bridge in Edinburgh

View from the Art Gallery square in Edinburgh with locals sun-baking on the lawns in the

View from the Art Gallery square in Edinburgh with locals sun-baking on the lawns in the “valley” below street level and Scott’s monument over all

View of Edinburgh university from George St Bridge next to the Art Gallery

View of Edinburgh university from George St Bridge next to the Art Gallery

Neo-Gothic buildings of Edinburgh University

Neo-Gothic buildings of Edinburgh University

We have been in Edinburgh previously, visiting the Castle and being amazed by the Scottish Crown jewels as well as visiting a school and doing some shopping in Princes St. I think 17 years ago I was less interested in architecture than I am now.  This time around I have been amazed by the Gothic splendour of St Giles Cathedral in the Royal Mile, the Classical and neo-Gothic towers and domes of the University and the older C17th homes in amongst the newer buildings. All of this set against the grass covered surrounding hills and vistas of the ocean beyond. There is a vibrancy and energy about the city which is very attractive. I have to say though that there were more beggars on the streets of Edinburgh than any other European city we have visited. This was disturbing and heart breaking. The folk on the street we approached for direction were unfailingly friendly and helpful. It was quite an uplifting afternoon.

C19th Neo-Gothic Scottish Episcopal church of St Paul and St George in Edinburgh

C19th Neo-Gothic Scottish Episcopal church of St Paul and St George in Edinburgh

Another view of St Paul's and St George's Scottish Episcopalian Church

Another view of St Paul’s and St George’s Scottish Episcopalian Church

Scottish National monument and Nelson monument on Carlton Hill in Edinburgh

Scottish National monument and Nelson monument on Carlton Hill in Edinburgh

A closer  view of the monument

A closer view of the monument

Sir Walter Scott is everywhere. This monument in Princes St is absolutely huge. Scott's work as a novelist, historian, creator of clans, politician and statesman cannot be overestimated in the formation of modern Scotland

Sir Walter Scott is everywhere. This monument in Princes St is absolutely huge. Scott’s work as a novelist, historian, creator of clans, politician and statesman cannot be overestimated in the formation of modern Scotland

Another monument to Scott looking down at us from the square outside St Giles Cathedral

Another monument to Scott looking down at us from the square outside St Giles Cathedral

Edinburgh's Welllington monument. (There is also one in Glasgow. The Scots are happy to celebrate English heroes ..they just want their independence also recognised.

Edinburgh’s Welllington monument. (There is also one in Glasgow. The Scots are happy to celebrate English heroes ..they just want their independence also recognised.

The major cathedral in Edinburgh is St Giles Presbyterian Cathedral in the Royal Mile. It is a very large traditional Romanesque/Gothic cathedral with many interesting modernising features and of course now sitting firmly in the Reformed tradition with many catholic features either removed completely or sidelined.

St Giles Presbyterian Cathedral in Edinburgh

St Giles Presbyterian Cathedral in Edinburgh

St Giles Cathedral is remarkable for the transformation of its interior following the Reformation.  Originally a C12th Romanesque church  it was transformed into a Gothic structure in the C14th with the result that there is an interesting mix of columns supporting the structure.

Hard to see in pic but the column on the left is shorter and much fatter than the two on the right which are later and inspired by Gothic design

Hard to see in pic but the column on the left is shorter and much fatter than the two on the right which are later and inspired by Gothic design

Ancient Gothic ceiling bosses in vestry room of St Giles cathedral

Ancient Gothic ceiling bosses in vestry room of St Giles cathedral

Following the Reformation a massive change took place in the sanctuary of St Giles with all of the Sanctuary furniture being removed completely..high altar, statuary, images, rood screen and reredos as well as choir stalls. Some remnants of this furniture is scattered around the cathedral and in their place are chairs for worship with a new modern communion table placed in the centre of the crossing. Elsewhere other elements of pre-reformed architecture including various side chapels with tombs of church benefactors etc have been simply partitioned off and left as historical remnants.

Modern communion table in the very centre of St Giles Cathedral. Stark, simple and highly effective

Modern communion table in the very centre of St Giles Cathedral. Stark, simple and highly effective

Edinburgh St Giles startling entrance feature

This is the illuminated Celtic carving which welcomes you into the cavernous St Giles Cathedral. It is a good mix of ancient and modern and looks like a very effective worshipping space. The following photos are various aspects of the interior. It was quite dark inside so difficult to photograph.

Edinburgh St Giles view from centre to front A view from the centre to the front door with massive Romanesque pillar on the left

Edinburgh St Giles ceilingAmazing blue painted ceiling in the nave shows off the ancient fan vaulting

Edinburgh St Giles another angleScattered in the aisles in suitable places are former furniture pieces including the old wooden pulpit, the reredos, choir stalls and prayer desks

Hard to see but this photo has the cleared out sanctuary now filled with chairs and magnificent Victorian stained glass

Hard to see but this photo has the cleared out sanctuary now filled with chairs and magnificent Victorian stained glass; ;Unlike any former Gothic cathedral we have seen ..the Scots have simply solved the English rood screen problem by removing it altogether

View of the classy new choir stalls quite close to the centre of the action

View of the classy new choir stalls quite close to the centre of the action

When I studied Church History Reformation we focussed on the English, German and Swiss reformers and paid little attention to John Knox and yet he was a key figure in Scottish history. Because of the at times anti English pro French state of Scottish politics and the strength of the Stuart claim to the English throne including the claim of Mary Queen of Scots there was every chance that Scotland could become a Catholic stronghold. John Knox had “trained” in England during the reign of Edward VI and was an influence on the English prayer book. When Mary came to the throne after the death of Henry VIII Knox fled to Switzerland and studied with Calvin. Returning to Scotland he became a fierce reformer transforming the nation and opposing Mary Queen of Scots rule. He gave his life to this course and permanently changed the understanding of the Christian faith in Scotland. He is honoured in St Giles with a major statue

Statue of Reformer John Knox in St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh

Statue of Reformer John Knox in St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh

And here is John Knox's future opponent. David Hume was the darling of the C18th Enlightenment and his devastating critique of the intellectual basis of Christian faith has struggled to find adequate rebuttal even today. Hume was not aggressive towards Christianity as a person, apparently  being a charming, witty and very approachable person and not necessarily opposed to worship. But his modern day followers especially the new atheism still rely on his arguments. Scotland has produced so many intellectual giants in many areas..Economics, theology and especially philosophy.  I personally value James Denney's writing about the Cross as much as any book I own.  Three cheers for Scotland and their thinkers..they keep us honest!

And here is John Knox’s future opponent. David Hume was the darling of the C18th Enlightenment and his devastating critique of the intellectual basis of Christian faith has struggled to find adequate rebuttal even today. Hume was not aggressive towards Christianity as a person, apparently being a charming, witty and very approachable person and not necessarily opposed to worship. But his modern day followers especially the new atheism still rely on his arguments. Scotland has produced so many intellectual giants in many areas..Economics, theology and especially philosophy. I personally value James Denney’s writing about the Cross as much as any book I own. Three cheers for Scotland and their thinkers..they keep us honest!

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