The Great East Window
On 3 November 1877, the new Great East Window of St Giles’ was viewed by an invited group of local dignitaries. For the first time since the Reformation, it was made of stained glass. At 40 feet high, it is an impressive sight. In the lower section, the Crucifixion is depicted, the figure of Christ on the cross occupying the centre. Mary Magdalene kneels at his feet, with the Virgin Mary and St John in the foreground, while the mocking enemies of Jesus jeer on the right. In the upper part of the window is the Ascension, the apostles grouped around in awe as Christ rises in brilliant robes towards a golden glory. The tracery at the top is filled with angels.
The window was the work of the firm of Messrs Ballantine, who supplied the others in the St Giles’ sequence illustrating the life of Christ. The design had been supervised by Robert Herdman, the well-known Scottish artist specialising in history pictures and portraiture. It had been difficult to find a donor for this window, because its size made it very expensive, but finally the retiring Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir James Falshaw, decided to commission it and gift it to the Cathedral. A prominent railway engineer, he had been born in Leeds, but his work had taken him to Scotland. He oversaw the building of the Caledonian Railway, employing a force of 8,000 men, and he would eventually become Chairman of the North British Railway Company. In the same year that the new window was inserted, Robert Herdman painted Sir James’s portrait.