A royal connection – Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh

You expect that a royal wedding, especially in a reigning royal family, takes place in a big church. However Zara Phillips in 2011 choose a rather modest sized and simple church: Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh. Situated at the Royal Mile, not far from the Holyroodhouse Palace, it is the official place of worship for the palace and Edinburgh Castle.

The history

When looking up before entering, above the entrance door it says “In 1688 King James VII ordained that the mortification of thos. Moodie granted in 1649 to build a church should be applied to the erection of this structure”. On top of the text are the coat of arms and the initials of the mentioned Thomas Moodie. Even further up is the coat of arms, not of James (VII of Scotland, II of England), but of his successor King-Stadtholder William III, with the emblem of Nassau placed in the centre. When the church was completed in James had lost his throne and had gone into exile.

A merchant called Thomas Moodie had left money at the disposal of the Crown. King James VII ordered that the money should be used to build a new church building, while the old church adjacent to the Holyroodhouse Palace would become the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle and the private chapel of the monarch. Building works started in 1688, and were finished in 1690/1. The end gable of the Canongate Kirk has a Dutch Style and is topped with a golden cross inside a pair of antlers. In 1824 it was first placed on the apex of the roof. In 1949 it was replaced by the antlers from a stag shot by King George VI at Balmoral.

In 1817 the interior of the church was completely reorganised. In 1863 the building was heavily damaged in a fire. Between 1882 and 1950 the church had galleries, now there is only a gallery over the entrance. In 1938 a renovation was announced, but there was only enough money collected towards the end of 1945. Only in 1952 the work was finished.

Above the nave are banners, the Colours of several regiments, the standards of former Governors of Edinburgh Castle and others. One banner commemorates the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Royal Connections

Inside visitors regularly are reminded of the strong royal connections. Each year the Kirk is presented with a Christmas tree from Balmoral.

When the church renovations were finished, Queen Elizabeth II, visited the church on 25 June 1952 during her first visit as a monarch in Edinburgh. She is not the only royal who has visited the church. Above the bracket is the royal coat of arms, that was unveiled by the Queen in 1991 after the last renovation was completed.

The two pews in front of the church are rather special. One bears the coats of arms of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales (or Duke of Rothesay as he is known in Scotland). The pew is surmounted by a model of the honours os Scotland: exact representations of the crown, sceptre and sword that can be seen at Edinburgh Castle The other pew is meant for the greatest officers of the Royal Household.

Two prayer desks have been given by the St Margaret Chapel Guild. There is a small statue of St Margaret, Queen Margaret, seated with her gospel book in her hands. There is also a tapestry in that corner dedicated to St Margaret.

The wedding of Zara and Mike

The wedding of Zara Phillips and Michael Tindall on 30 July 2011 at Canongate Kirk was the first royal wedding in Scotland for almost 20 years. The previous wedding had been the small one of Zara’s mother, the Princess Royal, and Timothy Laurence at Crathie Kirk on 12 December 1992.

I was actually surprised how small the church looked for a royal wedding. Still 400 guests, including Zara’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, attended the wedding. Hundreds of well-wishers lined the Royal Mile. The bride arrived with her father Mark Phillips at 3pm in the afternoon in a black Bentley. On the steps to the church entrance the couple shared a kiss when they left after the wedding. The service was a private one. A reception was held at the Holyroodhouse Palace.

Reportedly Zara and Mike wanted to marry in Edinburgh because of Zara’s strong connections to Scotland. She attended Gordounstoun School in Morayshire and of course spent many holidays at her grandmother’s estate Balmoral.

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