Edinburgh’s historic cathedral will hold Scotland’s farewell to The Queen
Published on 12 September 2022 6 minutes read
St Giles' Cathedral, the High Kirk of Edinburgh, will see one of the most memorable events in its almost 900-year history with a Service of Thanksgiving for the life of the late Queen Elizabeth, the first reigning monarch to die in Scotland since James V in 1542.
Following the journey from Balmoral yesterday (Sunday), The Queen's coffin remained in the Throne Room at the Scottish royal residence the Palace of Holyroodhouse overnight where a vigil was kept by Her Majesty's Chaplains in Scotland, overseen by the Dean of the Chapel Royal in Scotland, the Very Rev Prof David Fergusson.
Following the arrival of King Charles III at Holyrood, Professor Fergusson, who is Regius professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge and has been a personal chaplain to The Queen since 2015, will lead prayers alongside Rev Neil Gardner, minister of the Canongate Kirk and Domestic Chaplain, in the Throne Room before the funeral procession began its journey along the Royal Mile to St Giles'.
The royal hearse will be flanked by the Royal Company of Archers, The King's Bodyguard for Scotland, and its progress will be marked by the firing of a salute every minute until the procession reaches the cathedral.
Professor Fergusson will join his fellow Church of Scotland ministers and Royal Chaplains, Rev Kenneth Mackenzie, the minister at Crathie Church near Balmoral, and Rev Neil Gardner, minister at Canongate Church, the kirk of the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Edinburgh Castle, in following the procession to St Giles where Rev Kenneth Mackenzie and Rev Neil Gardner will join the other royal chaplains.
Professor Fergusson will continue to represent the Church of Scotland alongside the Moderator of the General Assembly, the Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, and Rev Calum MacLeod, the minister of St Giles', in the final procession while The Queen's coffin is laid to rest in the chancel in the East Nave of the cathedral.
Rev Calum MacLeod will lead the Service of Thanksgiving, with Dr Greenshields giving the homily.
Following the service, the cathedral will be open to the public for a period of 24 hours to allow people to pay their final respects to The Queen before her coffin leaves for London on Tuesday where a state funeral will be held in Westminster Abbey in the following days.
Cathedral's long royal association
The service marks the end of a long association between St Giles' and Queen Elizabeth which dates back to the earliest days of her reign.
Her Majesty first attended St Giles' as monarch in 1953 for a Service of Thanksgiving just three weeks after her coronation. She was blessed by the Dean of the Chapel Royal in Scotland and the Moderator of the General Assembly and presented with the Honours of Scotland, the Scottish crown jewels. The occasion was depicted by the artist Sir Stanley Cursiter in a painting which now hangs in Holyrood Palace.
St Giles' Cathedral also houses the Thistle Chapel, the home of Scotland's highest chivalric order, the Order of the Thistle, which was opened by The Queen's grandfather, King George V, in 1911.
As Sovereign of the Order, The Queen would attend the installation of new knights as they were appointed. These visits were always warmly welcomed by the St Giles' congregation and members of the order will mount a vigil at St Giles' while The Queen's coffin is present. Her Majesty's grandchildren are also expected to hold a short vigil in the cathedral.
Reflecting on The Queen's association with St Giles', Rev Calum MacLeod commented: "As the nation mourns a beloved sovereign, the congregation gives thanks for her life of service rooted in her abiding faith.
"We pray for the King and members of the Royal Family in these days of loss and look forward to continuing our relationship with them into a bright future, giving thanks to God."
Central role in Scottish history
St Giles' has played an important role in the history of Scotland since it was founded around 1124 by either King Alexander I or his brother David I.
It was instrumental in Scotland's move towards Presbyterianism as the church of John Knox, although attempts by King Charles I to force the church to use the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer led to a riot at the church which led to the signing of the National Covenant and the first conflict in what became the War of the Three Kingdoms.
A more positive royal connection came with the visit of King George IV in 1822. The visit of the first reigning monarch in almost 200 years drew attention to the poor state of the building, eventually resulting in a programme of restoration which has ensured its survival into the 21st century and its continuing relationship with the royal family.
Queen's affection for the Kirk
Unlike the Church of England, which recognises the ruling monarch as its Supreme Governor, the Church of Scotland is a Presbyterian denomination which in its form of Church government maintains a stricter separation of Church and state. The reigning monarch attends Church of Scotland services as an ordinary member, while appearing at the General Assembly either in person or through an appointed Lord High Commissioner as an honoured guest. However, each new monarch takes an oath to protect and uphold the Protestant religion on ascending the throne, as King Charles did on Saturday following the official proclamation.
The late Queen spoke frequently of her respect and affection for the Church of Scotland.
She attended the Kirk's General Assembly on a number of occasions, most recently in 2002, where she spoke of how highly she valued the Royal Family's close connection with the Church of Scotland.
"I think especially of my great-great Grandmother Queen Victoria who was devoted to the Kirk, not least because of its straight-forward, practical Christianity. This characteristic of the Church of Scotland has also had a special influence on my own faith," she said.
The Queen's affection for the Church has been noted by those Kirk members who met her.
The Very Rev Professor Iain Torrance, a former Dean of the Chapel Royal and Moderator of the General Assembly, recalled The Queen's "exhaustive knowledge" of the Church, which stemmed from a genuine and deep interest.
"This is because it is her church too and her faith means an enormous amount to her," he said.
His fellow former Moderator, the Very Rev David Arnott, also spoke of The Queen's real concern and love for the Church of Scotland and her knowledge of its activities, while the Very Rev David Lunan said: "What came across to me in meeting the Queen is that she is a person with a deep faith in God. I believe it is that which is the source of her graciousness, her high sense of duty, and her capacity to have a concern for everyone."