St Giles’ in the Middle Ages
In the 12th century, St Giles’ would have been a small, rectangular stone building, probably standing on the site of the present day nave. The narrow windows were round-headed and the elaborately carved Romanesque doorway survived until 1798.
According to tradition, the church was burned by an invading English army in 1322, and rebuilt in a much grander Gothic style by the wealthy Edinburgh merchants. The present nave, transepts and chancel date from this reconstruction, with the four great pillars supporting the tower. The sandstone used probably came from a local quarry and although there are masons’ marks, the names of the builders are unknown. However, the architecture is advanced and the decorative features are sophisticated, with fine vaulted ceilings and many carvings of Green Men.
During the next 150 years, side chapels were added by prominent members of the community, both by individuals, such as the Duke of Albany, son of King Robert II, and by the prosperous Merchant Guild and the craft incorporations. When Sir William Preston bequeathed to the church an arm bone believed to be a relic of St Giles, an additional aisle was built in his memory in 1455. The relic has long since vanished, but Preston’s carved coat of arms of three unicorns’ heads can be seen in the aisle. By the middle of the sixteenth-century, there were about 50 side altars in thee church, in addition to the High Altar at the east end, dedicated to St Giles’ himself.