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Palaces & Buildings

Royal Chapel inside St Giles’ Cathedral closed because of thieves

The Thistle Chapel inside St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh has been closed to the public for the first time since 1911, after a series of thefts.


A notice at the entrance reads: “We regret that due to continuous theft we have to keep the Thistle Chapel locked.” This measure has come into effect following the discovery that a number of ceremonial items, including an ornamental tassel from The Queen’s throne cushion were stolen. The tassel in question belonged to the cushion in the Sovereign’s Stall, which is where Her Majesty sits while overseeing official ceremonies.

Among the missing artifacts are a decorated hanging curtain commissioned by George VI, a Knight of the Thistle seat cover, a 19th-century alms, and plate altar cloth.

Just last week, someone managed to unscrew and steal a plaque commemorating Alexander Bruce, the 6th Lord Balfour of Burleigh. Lord Balfour was appointed a Knight of the Thistle by King Edward VII in 1901, and invested in Marlborough House in March of the same year.

St Giles’ Cathedral has tightened its security, and though visitors are still allowed to see the chapel, it is only under strict supervision. Veronika Kallus, the cathedral’s visitor services manager, said: “Locking the Thistle Chapel was a difficult decision, but it was felt that we did not have any other option.”

“I am very saddened indeed that someone would stoop so low as to steal from this holy place,” said The Very Rev Prof Iain Torrance, Dean of the Order of the Thistle. “It would be a great pity if, for security reasons, access to this historic and beautiful chapel had to be restricted. Temporarily at least, it has been closed while we assess the situation.”

St Giles’ Cathedral or the High Kirk of Edinburgh, is the primary place of worship of the Church of Scotland in the capital. The cathedral dates back to the 14th century and is dedicated to St Giles, the patron saint of Edinburgh. Located on the Royal Mile, which runs between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, this iconic landmark welcomes thousands of visitors ever year.

The Thistle Chapel was designed by Robert Lorimer and built in 1911. It serves as the chapel for the Order of the Thistle, one of Scotland’s highest Orders of Chivalry. The Order was founded by King James VII of Scotland (King James II of England) in 1687. Today it consists of the Scottish monarch, and 16 other knights who are appointed by the Sovereign. In the United Kingdom, the Order of the Thistle is second only to the Order of the Garter.

The Thistle Chapel consists of stalls for the Sovereign, the 16 knights, and two royal stalls for members of the British Royal Family. The current Knights of the Order of the Thistle include The Duke of Edinburgh, The Duke of Rothesay (as Prince Charles is known in Scotland), The Princess Royal, and The Earl of Strathearn (as Prince William is known in Scotland), who was invested in 2012.

Photo credit: Edinburgh, Scotland via photopin (license)