Old St Paul's Scottish Episcopal Church stands only a hundred yards or so from Edinburgh's Waverley Station. Despite this, and despite its considerable size, we suspect it is one of the least well know of the churches in central Edinburgh. The reason for this can be seen from the header image. The church stands end-on to Jeffrey Street and is flanked by Carrubber's Close. Its imposing size is simply lost among the even larger Old Town buildings that crowd it in on both sides and at one end.
You can enter Old St Paul's from Carrubber's Close, which links Jeffrey Street with the Royal Mile; or you can enter from Jeffrey Street before climbing the 33 steps of the Calvary Stair that leads past a beautiful statue of Christ on the cross flanked by angels and into the north-west corner of the nave. Either way your first glimpse of the interior of the church is a surprise: how can something so large occupy what seems to be such a small piece of the city? The Calvary Stair has a stairlift fitted, overcoming what would otherwise be significant access problems for the less mobile.
Internally the church comprises a large open nave which occupies most of the church's footprint, with a much more intimate chancel at the north end. The nave has an imposing font and a large balcony at its south end. The marble floored chancel leads the eye to the high altar, beneath the stained glass windows in the north gable. On the west side of the nave you find the Lady Chapel, built in 1905; and the Memorial Chapel built in 1926 to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Great War.
Old St Paul's is in the diocese of Edinburgh of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The Scottish Episcopal Church had its origins in 1582 when the national Church of Scotland rejected government by bishops (episcopal government) in favour of government by elders (presbyterian government).
This was no minor matter in the 1600s when James VI/I and Charles I tried to enforce rule by bishops on the Church of Scotland (thus bringing it into line with the Church of England), resulting directly in the two "Bishops' Wars" between England and Scotland, effectively the opening act of the 20-year Wars of the Three Kingdoms that included the English Civil War and the Cromwellian occupation of Scotland that followed.
Following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Charles II tried again to impose bishops on Scotland. After James VII/II. was deposed (largely because of his Catholicism) by William and Mary in 1689, the Church of Scotland was allowed to become fully presbyterian, and the displaced bishops refused to recognise the new regime, supporting instead the "legitimate" (albeit Catholic) King James VII/II, giving the church a common cause with the Jacobites who sought to retake the throne on a number of occasions until 1745.
Old St Paul's Scottish Episcopal Church had its origins in 1689, when the displaced Bishop of St Giles' Cathedral, Alexander Rose, set up a new place of worship in an old wool store in Carrubber’s Close, pretty much on the site of the church you see today. He was followed by many of his flock. Members of the congregation played a prominent role in the 1745 Jacobite uprising, and in the years that followed, the Episcopal church in Scotland was subject to repressive restrictions. It was only after the Jacobite claim on the thrones of Scotland, England and Ireland had disappeared altogether towards the end of the 1700s that the Scottish Episcopal Church freed itself of its Jacobite overtones.
Among the congregation of the church in 1752 was a young American, Samuel Seabury who later became the first Bishop of the United States. In 1784 he returned to Scotland (to Aberdeen) to be consecrated. The Lady Chapel is dedicated to Seabury's memory.
By 1873 the original "St Paul's" was dilapidated and closed pending the building of a replacement. The replacement church was designed by the architects William Hay and George Henderson and cost £3,500. Work was completed in 1883, though since then the nave has been extended twice, trebling the original length of the church, and the chancel floor has been raised and paved in marble.
The year after it reopened, the new St Paul's Episcopal Church was renamed Old St Paul's Episcopal Church to avoid confusion with another church of the same name elsewhere in Edinburgh.
St Paul's Episcopal Church is a wonderful haven in which to retreat from the bustle of modern Edinburgh. And while you are here, keep a lookout for one very unusual architectural feature, the lines of gargoyles that run down the upper reaches of inside walls of the nave rather than, as you would normally expect, the exterior of the church.