Consecrated in 1879, it became the largest church built in Scotland since the 16th century.
St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral sits at the west end of Palmerston Place, a wide attractive Edinburgh New Town thoroughfare named after Viscount Palmerston, a former prime minister, and University of Edinburgh graduate who died in 1865.
The Cathedral is only a short walk to the Water of Leith and the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art at one end of Palmerston Place and around a mile to Princes Street at the other end.
The distinctive three spires are clearly visible from Princes Street and an impressive ring of twelve bells which ring out before Sunday services, special occasions and on practise days will guide you to the Cathedral.
St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral is an inspiring building outside and inside
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) described the building as, “a great monument of Victorian faith and industry.
As occasionally happens, the Episcopal Cathedral should not be confused with the lovely St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh’s York Place.
Worldwide Anglican Communion
St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral is the mother church of the diocese of Edinburgh and is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Scottish form of worship
During the, often violent religious turmoil of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Scottish form of worship alternated between Presbyterian and Episcopal.
In what is an immensely complex story, this statement from The Scottish Episcopal Church brings some clarity. It said, “The 1689 revolution established the National church of Scotland as Presbyterian and an independent Scottish Episcopal Church was formed.”
The 1689 Revolution in question was the ‘Glorious Revolution’ which saw the overthrow of Catholic King James s II of England, and James VII of Scotland. His protestant daughter Mary and William of Orange her Dutch husband were proclaimed joint sovereigns.
Foundation of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral Edinburgh
Funded by a bequest from sisters Mary and Barbra Walker, part of a wealthy Edinburgh family, Sir George Gilbert Scott, the winner of what seems to have been an acrimonious architectural competition, designed the Cathedral.
“Auld Lang Syne”
Scott entered the competition using the pseudonym “Auld Lang Syne.” Following his death in 1878 his son John Oldrid Scott continued the work.
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. (RCAHMS) said in what was a fairly long commentary that Scott’s design was one of “severe northern early Gothic style best suited to its Edinburgh New town context.”
This paper from RCAHMS says more about the Cathedral’s history.
The foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Buccleuch in May 1874 and the building was consecrated in 1879 eventually becoming the largest church built in Scotland since the 16th century Reformation.
Inside, the Cathedral is full of artistic treasures. Perhaps the most prominent is the Rood (Cross), suspended over the Nave Altar has a figure of Christ on a field of Flanders poppies
The cross was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer and originally proposed for the National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle.
Reredos, St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral
© Wikimedia Commons Steven Dickenson
A painting described by Edinburgh World Heritage (EWH) as, “haunting” hangs in the Cathedral. It shows a woman kneeling in prayer. Bathed in light, she is being comforted by the presence of Jesus.
Stained glass windows by Paolozzi
The Cathedral’s stained glass windows, designed by Leith born Sir Edward Paolozzi and based on the theme of the Ascension are true masterpieces.
Their geometric patterns allow the Edinburgh sun to flood through and cover the floor with vibrant blocks of colour. However, visiting St Mary’s Episcopal cathedral is an uplifting experience whatever the Edinburgh weather.
Of course, to make the best of it you have to visit on a sunny day.
Easter Coates House,
Easter Coates House, built as a small tower house, in 1615, which might well make it the oldest building in Edinburgh’s New town now much restored stands in the Cathedral close
It now houses part of St Mary’s Music School (song school) This world-renowned organisation, Scotland’s only choir school has ambitious plans for the future.
The walls are decorated with colourful murals from Phoebe Traquair a leading artist in the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The Cathedral and its Walpole Hall are registered Fringe Festival venues and regularly hold events and concerts in August.
Note about St Giles’ Cathedral
No discussions on cathedrals in Edinburgh can overlook St Giles’ Cathedral on the Royal Mile. St Giles’ is not technically a cathedral because, with a Church of Scotland congregation, it has no bishop.
While not always on every visitor’s itinerary or thought of as one of those must-see things to do in Edinburgh, St Mary’s Cathedral is open every day and invites people, visitors and locals to enjoy the tranquillity and time for reflection.
Further information about St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral.
For further information about the Cathedral including the best times to visit click the button below to visit the official cathedral website.