Old St Paul's Church


(Old Saint Paul's)

A rather austere facade on Jeffery Street in the Old Town of Edinburgh, Old St. Paul's Church overlooks Waverley Railway Station, but is rather lost between tall buildings. It occupies a narrow sloping site between Carrubber's Close and North Gray's Close, and was built 1880-1905 by less-known local architects Hay & Henderson. This is a Scottish Episcopal church, which worships in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, and is part of the Anglican community of churches. The building stands on the site where Scottish Episcopalianism was established in Edinburgh.

The Scottish Episcopal Church came into being after the Catholic King James VII (1633 - 1701) was deposed during the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688. This allowed the Church of Scotland to return to its presbyterian roots by abolished the church hierarchy and the rule of bishops. The last bishop, Alexander Rose, was expelled from St. Giles Cathedral the following year, accompanied by a section of his congregation. They found a new place of worship in an old wool store here, which remained in use as a church until 1873.

Enough of the new building had been completed by 1883 for services to begin here and, the following year, this church was renamed Old St. Paul's to avoid confusion with St. Paul's Episcopal Church on York Place. The southern section of the nave was completed by 1890, and the Cavalry Stair and Warriors' Chapel added 1924-26 by Matthew Ochterlony (1880 - 1946) as a war memorial. At the head of the Calvary Stair is a sculpture of the Crucifixion by Alfred Frank Hardiman.

The interior is surprisingly spacious and richly furnished, including an iron rood screen, fine altar, and a spectacular gilt triptych featuring a copy of Benvenuto di Giovanni's Madonna and Child (the original is held by the National Gallery in London) surrounded by more than forty figures hand-carved by Sebastian Zwink of Oberammergau. The organ is a 'Father' Willis instrument, installed in 1888, modified in 1936, electrified and enlarged in 1960 and modified once again in 1968. There are regular concerts and organ recitals, and the church becomes a venue for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe each August.

Whilst the Church of Scotland was loyal to the new Protestant monarchy of William of Orange, the Episcopalians remained staunchly Jacobite, loyal to James VII and his descendants. Members of St. Paul's were in the front line of the Jacobite struggle, involved in the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745. This brought a period of repression for Episcopalians.

America's first Episcopal Bishop, Samuel Seabury, worshipped here while studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh (1752-53). The Scottish Episcopal Church went on to consecrate Seabury's appointment as a bishop (at Aberdeen in 1784) when the Church of England refused, in the aftermath of the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence. The Bishop is remembered in Old St. Paul's by the Seabury Chapel. The Most Rev. Richard Holloway, later Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, was Rector here from 1968 - 1980.


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