John Knox and the Reformation
The Scottish Reformation was part of the movement throughout western Europe which led to national churches breaking their ties with Rome. Its leader in Scotland was John Knox who was greatly influenced by John Calvin, the Reformer of Geneva. The Leaders of the Reformation: At the forefront of the Reformation were the Lords of the Congregation, a group of powerful nobles who were in favour of the Reformed faith. John Knox (1505-72) was the most prominent Scottish churchman involved. He had been born near Edinburgh and had been ordained as a priest. He had studied at St Andrews University and entered the priesthood. Because there were too many priests in Scotland for the size of the population, he found work in East Lothian as a notary and during his time there became a follower of the protestant leader, George Wishart, who was burnt at the stake in 1546. Knox was captured in a French attack on St Andrews Castle in 1547 and taken prisoner as a galley slave. After his release in 1549, he remained in exile from Scotland, principally in England and in Geneva until September 1555.
St Giles' during the Reformation
In 1559, Knox led the Lords of the Congregation into Edinburgh and was elected minister of Edinburgh. Knox played a principal role in establishing the styles of worship and administration that were to be accepted throughout the country. Knox served as Minister at St Giles' until 1572.
Although it is commonly assumed that St Giles' and most other Scottish churches were "cleansed" by riots, there is little evidence to support this. Burgh records show that it took over a year to convert St Giles' for Reformed worship. The building was not looted, and few if any windows were destroyed immediately.
The Reformers partitioned the interior of St Giles', dividing the congregation of Edinburgh and allowing the building to be used for a wide range of purposes. During the next 300 years the building housed a police station, a fire station, a school and a coal store. The Scottish guillotine, the "Maiden", was housed in the church, and in one corner was a prison used for "harlots and whores". The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met in the building, as did the Parliament and the Town Council.