Hidden in the trees to the western end of Princes Street Gardens is the solid and imposing bulk of St Cuthbert’s Parish Church. The present church was built in 1892-94 when traces of at least six earlier church buildings were found. The cupolas and older steeple peep out at you along Princes Street, or from the train into Waverley Station, yet the church feels removed from the bustle of the West End.
Inside, the basilica layout with its apse and rounded vault, is complemented by the use of coloured stone for a rich and warm effect. Together, the design of the Communion Table (1894), the marble and alabaster Pulpit (1897) and the ceiling paintings (by Hope and Moira), give a Byzantine feel to the interior.
When St Cuthbert’s Church was decorated, the Italian Renaissance was considered to have been the high point of civilization, so it is not surprising that it was decided to copy some of the best works of that style for the magnificent new interior of the church.
In the apse at the eastern end of the Church is a modified version of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper from Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. To fit in to the building here, the design has been split in three parts and made to curve around the wall. It is made from alabaster by Bridgeman of Lichfield.
Above the Communion Table there is a mural of Christ in Glory (by Robert Hope) while the Four Evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – (by Sir Gerald Moira) are on the ceiling over the Chancel.
The whole effect of the east end of the Church is very rich and warm, with subtle colours from the different stones.
The font design is based on that of Jacopo della Quercia’s font in Siena Cathedral but in place of the Tabernacle used there, St Cuthbert’s font has a bronze Mother and Child sculpture. The sculpture is a copy of Michelangelo’s marble ‘Bruges Madonna’ statuette which is in Notre Dame Cathedral in Bruges.
The original Siena font is very deep, but to fit the statue on top of the one in St Cuthbert’s, it was changed and therefore the water is only around the edge. The font was designed by Thomas Armstrong – who was then keeper of Fine Art at the South Kensington Museum, London (now the Victoria & Albert Museum).
The pulpit was designed by the architect of the Church, Hippolyte J. Blanc, with some columns from San Ambrogio in Verona, and a relief panel of the Angel of the Gospel. When the angel panel was being brought ashore at Leith it fell and became trapped in the gantry and it took several hours of careful labour to free the panel without causing damage.
Old Testament scenes (on the north side) and scenes from the Gospels (on the south side) are shown in the windows installed between 1893 and 1912. They have rich decorative borders and an ornamented style.
The exception is a panel showing David on his way to slay Goliath (Tiffany glass). It was installed to commemorate a soldier of the Boer War and is strikingly modern in contrast to the other windows, relying on the deep colours of the glass and a simplicity of design.
The three Apse windows depict the Nativity, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.
In 1990 the worship area of the church was reduced to give new rooms and make access easier for the elderly and disabled.
In the Lammermuir Hall is the bookstall, and it is also where you will find displays about the church and meet the stewards who will be happy to show you around (please see the Visit Us tab for more information).
The Lindisfarne Room, sumptuously decorated with the huge mural of St. Cuthbert on Lindisfarne (by Gerald Moira ) provides a bright and lofty space for groups and conferences.
The Nor’ Loch Room is lit by three spectacular stained glass panels showing scenes from St Cuthbert’s life. It is also a smaller space for meetings and seminars.