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We arrived in Edinburgh around two in the afternoon, which after unpacking is enough time to book it up the hill to Edinburgh Castle and squeeze in a quickie visit. The problem is that Edinburgh Castle deserves more than just a quick time-filler visit before dinner, so instead we decided to meander up the Royal Mile to see what we could see. Luckily, St. Giles Cathedral was open and the late-afternoon sunshine was just right.

Battle flags at St. Giles Cathedral. Photo by deannanmc

It’s free to enter (there is a suggested donation fee of 3GBP), but there’s a 2GBP fee for a photography license which I happily paid. St. Giles is the patron saint of Edinburgh, but the building contains numerous other monuments to the city and its famous citizens: Robert Louis Stevenson; James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose; the Order of the Thistle, Scotland’s highest chivalry order; and James Young Simpson. Who is James Young Simpson? He was a very important fellow indeed:

VIP. Photo by deannanmc

Doubtless the Scots were thankful to have something other than…well, Scotch to numb the pains of surgery.

In other icky and painful stories, the kindly docent explained at the marble monument to James Graham–drawn and quartered for loyalty to an overthrown regime–that while he was killed in 1650, his remains were not “collected” to be interred at St. Giles until 1661. I think after eleven years in the elements serving as a warning to others, “remains” might be too charitable a word. There are, literally, hundreds of other monuments in the cathedral to various folks, but those two were my favorites.

Light. Photo by deannanmc

Another thing that grandmotherly docent told us was that the photo above is the only real stained glass in the cathedral and was a fairly recent acquisition. Most of the stained glass is painted and has been restored since the mid-19th century. The blues and purples of the North Window were inspiring, but the light coming through the real glass had a touch of true divinity.

Arches. Photo by deannanmc

I didn’t spend as much time preparing for Edinburgh as I normally do; having guests in town and other commitments kept me busier than usual and I slacked on my travel research. Luckily, many of the most famous sights of Edinburgh can be found just off the Royal Mile and St. Giles is no exception. I think that a lot of people, particularly ones like myself who were raised around ordinary New England Protestant churches, can lose sight of how truly grand a place of worship can be. St. Giles is small compared to York Minster or Westminster Abbey, but it has that certain cheeky charm and vibrance that Scotland does so well.

Have you ever stumbled upon something unexpectedly grand in your travels? Where?

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