The History of Leith

August 31, 2012

The Changes of St Giles

St Giles as it now stands, is a building
including the work of many different and remote
periods. By all men of taste and letters in Edinburgh
it has been a general subject of regret that
the restoration in 1829 was conducted in a manner
so barbarous and irreverent, that many of its
ancient features and its ancient tombs were swept
away. The first stone church was probably of
Norman architecture. A beautiful Norman doorway,
which stood below the third window from the
west, was wantonly destroyed towards the end of
the eighteenth century. ” ^his fragment,” says
Wilson, ” sufficiently enables us to picture the
little parish church of St. Giles in the reign of
David I. Built in the massive style of the early
Norman period, it would consist simply of a nave
and chancel, united by a rich Norman chancel
arch, altogether occupying only a pbrtion of the
centre of the present nave. Small circular-headed
windows, decorated with zig-zag mouldings, would
admit the light to its sombre’ interior; while its
west front wa£ in all probability surmounted by
a simple belfry, from whence the bell would summon
the natives of the hamlet to matins and
vespers, and with slow measured sounds toll their
knell, as.they were laid in the neighbouring churchyard.
This ancient church was never entirely demolished.
Its solid masonry was probably very
partially affected by the ravages of the invading
forces of Edward II. in 1322, when Holyrood was
spoiled, or by those of his son in 1335, when
the whole country was wasted with fire and sword.
The town was again subjected to the like violence,
probably with results little more lasting, by theconflagration
of 1385, when the English army
under Richard II. occupied the town for five days,
and then laid it Imd the abbey of Holyrood in
ashes. The Norman architecture disappeared
piecemeal, as chapels and aisles were added to
the original fabric by the piety of private donors,
or by the zeal of its own clergy to adapt it tothe
wants of the rising town. In all the changes
that it underwent for above seven centuries, the
original north door, with its beautifully recessed
Norman arches and grotesque decorations, always
commanded the veneration of the innovators, and
remained as a precious relic of the past, until the
tasteless improvers of the eighteenth century demolished
it without a cause, and probably for no
better reason than to evade the cost of its repair !”

source-Old ad New Edinburgh

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