Canongate Church

(Canongate Kirk)

Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh
©2023 Gazetteer for Scotland

Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh

On the north side of Edinburgh's Canongate is the Canongate Kirk, built in 1688 by James Smith (c.1645 - 1731) for a congregation displaced from a church in the nave of the old Holyrood Abbey which King James VII (1633 - 1701) had decided to convert into a royal chapel. The plan was unusual for a post-Reformation Scottish church in that it was Roman Catholic in form, with a chancel and transepts. The frontage is a fine curvilinear gable in ashlar, with a small Doric portico. The pulpit was brought from the West Port Church, where it was used by Rev. Dr. Thomas Chalmers (1780 - 1847), prominent in the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843. Following unsympathetic internal alterations in the 1880s, restorations followed in 1950 and 1991. The Very Rev. Dr. Ronald Selby Wright (1908-95), who served as Minister from 1937-77, was responsible for the Post-War restoration which gave the church its distinctive white and powder-blue interior. His memorial was the new organ, installed in 1998, which comprises two manuals, 20 stops and 1241 pipes. This was built by Frobenius of Denmark and represented their 1000th instrument, as well as their first in Scotland. The inaugural concert was given on 16th November 1998 by Dr. John Kitchen (b.1950).

As the parish church for the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the royal family regularly worships here when in Edinburgh. It was also in the Canongate Kirk that Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720-88) held his prisoners following the Battle of Prestonpans (1745). A 'royal wedding' took place here in 2011, when Queen Elizabeth II's granddaughter Zara Phillips married English rugby player Mike Tindall.

Buried in the Kirkyard are many famous citizens of Edinburgh, including poet Robert Fergusson (1750-74), economist Adam Smith (1723 - 90), Agnes Maclehose, Robert Burns' Clarinda (1759 - 1841), medic James Gregory (1753 - 1821), philosopher Dugald Stewart (1753 - 1828), publishers James (1772 - 1833) and John Ballantyne (1774- 1821) and reforming Lord Provost George Drummond (1687 - 1766). Also buried here is David Rizzio, the secretary of Mary Queen of Scots, who was murdered in 1566. English author Charles Dickens (1812-70) explored the kirkyard in 1841 and noted the grave of Ebenezer Scroggie (1792 - 1836), a 'meal man'. Dickens misread this as a 'mean man' and was inspired to create Ebenezer Scrooge as the central character in his novella A Christmas Carol (1843).

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