Thousands visit Royal chapel within days of re-opening

Gary Wilson is one of two new guards who will keep a watchful eye over the Thistle Chapel in St Giles Cathedral.

A Royal chapel considered to be one of Scotland's architectural jewels has finally re-opened to the public after being shut for more than a year due to a spate of thefts.

St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh has hired Gary Wilson and Andrew Barr to provide security in the Thistle Chapel, which is the spiritual home of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle - Scotland's order of chivalry.

More than 5,700 people have visited the Cathedral since the ornate room, which contains stalls for the 16 knights and Lady, the Sovereign's stall and two Royal stalls, was re-opened to the public on Monday.

Mr Wilson, 26, an ancient history graduate from Edinburgh University, said he was delighted to be playing a part in ensuring visitors were once again able to marvel at the unique, ornate carvings.

The Thistle Chapel was locked in February last year following a spate of thefts.

Ceremonial items including a seat cover, a 19th-century Dutch alms plate, an altar cloth, a tassel from the Queens's throne cushion and a plaque which commemorated Alexander Bruce, the 6th Lord Balfour of Burleigh, were taken.

In addition to being responsible for the security of the Thistle Chapel, designed by famed architect Robert Lorimer and built in the style of the High Gothic architecture of the 15th century, Mr Wilson and Mr Barr are also providing visitor information.

Mr Wilson said: "People have been disappointed that they have been unable to visit the Chapel in the last year so I am very pleased to be playing a part in ensuring that it is once again open for visitors to enjoy.

"It is a core part of St Giles Cathedral and visitors come from around the world to see it because the carvings are quite profound - particularly the Angel with Bagpipes."

St Giles Cathedral was rated in the top five free attractions in Scotland by a recent study published by Glasgow Caledonian University. More than one million people visited the building on the Royal Mile in 2015.

Visitor Services Manager Sarah Phemister said she was delighted that open public access to the Thistle Chapel had finally resumed.

"It is one of the architectural jewels in Scotland's crown and St Giles' Cathedral is passionate about preserving it for future generations," she added.

"Being able to once again provide open access to the public is fabulous.

"There is only one Thistle Chapel in the entire world and now people can come in and see it.

"Feedback from visitors has been very positive and we thank everyone for their patience over the last 12 months.

"We are looking forward to once again encouraging visitors from near and far to explore such a remarkable space.

"We are extremely grateful to the public for their generous donations which are very important to the upkeep of St Giles Cathedral and the Thistle Chapel."

Membership of the Order of the Thistle, which was likely established in the 15th century, is considered to be one of the country's highest honours and bestowed on Scots or people of Scots ancestry who have given distinguished service.

Members include the Duke of Edinburgh Prince Phillip, the Duke of Rothesay Prince Charles and the Earl of Strathearn Prince William.

Appointments are entirely in the personal gift of the Sovereign and the current Dean of the Thistle is the Very Rev Professor Iain Torrance, a Church of Scotland minister.

Entered through a low-vaulted vestibule or ante-chapel at the east end of the Cathedral's Preston aisle, the chapel, which was completed in 1911, is a rectangle of three bays, with a polygonal eastern apse and a stone vault encrusted with a rich pattern of ribs and carved bosses.

The effect is greatly enhanced by heraldic and figurative stained glass in the windows.

Along the sides of the chapel, which has a wealth of detail, both religious and heraldic, including an angel playing a bagpipe, are the stalls, which are capped by lavishly carved canopies with the helms and crests of the knights rising above.

Each seat is decorated with fantastic carvings - no two are alike- and the owner's coats of arms are enamelled on metal plaques and fastened to the backs of their seats.

In the centre of the west wall is the Sovereign's stall, the grandest seat in the chapel.

It bears the royal arms on the single stall plate, and the same arms are shown in the window directly above and on the bookrest, which is carved and richly painted.

On the sides of the book rest are the royal arms of King James VII and Queen Anne, as founders of the order.

The Thistle Chapel is open seven days a week between 10am-4pm Monday to Saturday and 1pm-5pm on a Sunday.

Entry is free of charge although donations are welcome.