History of the Scottish Episcopal Church

The Church was built in 1818, the chancel in 1882 and the chapel in 1935.

The congregation of St John’s a a member congregation of the Scottish Episcopal Church, a native Scottish denomination, with its own bishops and clergy. It belongs tot he worldwide Anglican Communion, as do the Church of England, the Protestant Episcopal Churches of the British Commonwealth and the United States of America. The services and forms of worship are similar in all these churches.

During the course of the Reformation (1560 onwards) the church in Scotland varied from Episcopal (i.e. with bishops) to Presbyterian (without bishops). For a time Presbyterianism, as represented by Knox, Calvin, Melville and others, was the more powerful. Later, after the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England in 1603, King James VI (of Scotland) and I (of England) and Charles I tried to establish Episcopacy in Scotland, as in England, but this policy resulted in the Puritans of both countries joining together. King Charles I was dethroned and executed in 1649, the monarchy was abolished and an extreme Puritan worship was established within a Commonwealth ruled by Oliver Cromwell.

The monarchy was restored in 1660 under Charles II who was sympathetic to the Roman Catholic faith. His successor, James VII (and II), tied to re-establish the Roman Catholic Church and, as a result, he was forced to flee to France. James’ daughter, Mary II, was proclaimed Queen, to reign jointly with er husband, William of Orange. Although Mary’s brother, James (The Old Pretender) had a prior right to the crown, he was debarred under the Act of Succession, as he was a Roman Catholic. Although the English Bishops recognised the new ing and Queen, the Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church refused to do so. Consequently, the Presbyterian Church became the Established Church in Scotland (in 1689) and the Episcopal Church was driven underground because of the Jacobite sympathies (Jacobus = James).

The Scottish Episcopal Church consistently supported the exiled House of Stuart which was debarred from the throne because of its Roman Catholic faith. In 1715 and 1745there were rebellions in support of James (Old Pretender) and his son, Charles (The Young Pretender – “Bonnie Prince Charlie”). As a result of its support in these rebellions the Scottish Episcopal Church was subjected to penal laws and led a very tenuous existence. Bonnie Prince Charlie died in 1788 and was buried with his father, the Old Pretender, and later his brother, Henry, in St Peter’s, Rome. After his death he Scottish Bishops made a move towards recognising the reigning House of Hanover under George III. Thereafter the restrictions against the Scottish Episcopal Church and against Roman Catholics were gradually lifted.

During the period after 1689 in Scotland there were “tolerated” Episcopal congregations recognising the authority of William and Mary and later, of the Hanoverian Kings. All these congregations have come within the rule of the Scottish Episcopal Church. It was the Scottish Bishops who, in 1784, consecrated Bishop Seabury to be the first Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, as the Bishops of the established Church in England could not consecrate a bishop for the church of a “break-away” colony.

During his attempts to establish Episcopacy in Scotland, King Charles I founded the Diocese of Edinburgh with St Giles Church as the Cathedral. As Episcopacy ceased to be the Established Church in 1689, it was only from1633 to 1689 that St Giles Church has this status. Its correct title nowadays is the High Church/Kirk of Edinburgh. The present Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Edinburgh is St Mary’s Cathedral, Palmerston Place. It owes its foundation to the Misses Walker, the last survivors of a Jacobite family, who bequeathed their estate for the establishment of a cathedral which opened in 1879. There is a Cathedral of the Roman Catholic Church – also St Mary’s – in Broughton Street, at the east end of Queen Street/York Place.

St John’s Windows


When St John’s was built and opened in March 1818, the aisle windows were infilled with clear glass and the east end (then flat) had a window which was literally painted.

The techniques and skills of making and using true stained glass had been lost because of changes in artistic taste and protestant theology. Circa 1850-55 the techniques of manufacture were rediscovered, and slowly the skills were developed to use them.

At this time the fashion arose of inserting stained glass windows as memorials, a practice which was accepted by the vestry of St John’s. In the period 1857-61 nearly all windows were filled with stained glass. Over the following 70 years other stained glass was inserted, making the whole collection one of the finest in Scotland, and especially notable because the majority were the work of one man and his descendants.

Set 1: 1857-61

One studio, Ballantine and Allan of Edinburgh, made and inserted 10 of the 12 windows in the north and south aisles and the windows of the then flat east end. They are important and remarkable because the work was carried out over a short period soon after the rediscovery of the techniques of manufacturing medieval stained glass.

We are fortunate to retain these original windows because the Victorians liked to replace earlier windows with contemporary ones. Note the common features:

  • The alternating of red and blue
  • Gothic architectural canopies
  • Christ as principal figure in red with added richness through diapering (a pattern)
  • Coloured glass separated from stone work by a thin strip of clear glass
  • Shields in bottom panels

Set 2: 1874

Ballantine’s son designed and inserted two windows, one at the west end of each of the north and south aisles. These have a very different style comprising pieces of glass, formal geometrical floral patterns, and colours not so bright and more in the “Arts and Crafts” style.

Set 3: 1882

Two different London studios designed and inserted the three windows of the Chancel. These are in the Gothic 15th century fashion and not in the then popular “Arts and Crafts” style. Although the work of two different London studios, they look the same and use the alternating blue and red colours of the Aisle windows.

Set 4: 1930

Ballantine’s grandson added the bottom panels of the two windows of Set 2.

Set 5: 1935

Ballantine’s grandson designed and inserted the chapel window, using the same style for the window over the entrance arch.


All the windows were taken out in turn, cleaned and repaired by the Salisbury Cathedral Workshop.

The table here shows the location of each window with a brief description of its content.

You will find information about the persons com-memorated by each window on the plaques below, together with the Bible reference for each scene.

Touring St John’s


Look towards the altar. The style is Gothic and the ceiling, marked by striking pendant and fan vaulting, is modelled on King Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey, London. The original building ended just beyond the pulpit, where the stone arch is. The sanctuary was added on in 1882. A rood screen was put up in 1912 and removed in 1974, but the road cross which hung above can still be seen.

Turn left and walk into the North West corner of the Church.


Facing you is a stained glass window of Jesus as Pantocrator, flanked by angels. All the windows in the north and south aisles were designed by James Ballantine, his son and grandson. Some people consider the stained glass in St John’s to be the finest collection of Victorian stained glass under one roof in the whole of Scotland.

Turn right and walk up the north aisle.

There are a further five windows –

  • St Peter at the gates of heaven Jesus and the children. Pilgrimage of the faithful. Below this ‘Forbes window’ a brass plaque recalls John Stuart Forbes, killed in 1876 at the Battle of Little Big Horn (Custer’s Last Stand) America’s most celebrated Native American battle victory, during the Sioux uprising.
  • The Wedding at Cana. Jesus giving sight to the blind. Jesus raising Lazarus.
  • Jesus with Nicodemus. Teaching humility. Mary anointing Jesus’ feet.
  • Jesus the ‘man of sorrows’. The Last Supper. Gethsemane.
  • Jesus walking on the water. Jacob wrestling with an angel. The Good Samaritan.

Between and below the windows are memorials to men killed in accidents at sea, the Boer War, and the Crimean War.

You come to the pipes of the organ – one of the last of the famous ‘Father Willis’ organs, rebuilt in 1903 and most recently in 2003.

Turn right and enter the CHANCEL up the steps on your left.

The Chancel was added in 1882. Its pulpit, choir stalls and oak panelling were carved in 1910 and based on the 1520 stalls in King’s College Chapel, Aberdeen.

At the top of the Church, the apse contains a reredos above the high altar made of Caen stone which repeats the pictorial symbols in the three stained glass windows above – Mary holding a lily and a book; Jesus with shepherd’s staff and Eucharistic cup; St John holding his gospel with his symbol the eagle at his feet, holding an ink horn in its beak. The large sanctuary lamp above the altar was designed by D Y Cameron, the well-known Scottish landscape painter.

On the wall to the right is a bronze and enamel memorial to Dean Ramsay. Next to the altar is a display case containing the model church given to St John’s by the Ethiopian Church to mark the return of the Holy Talbot in 2002.

Pause to look at the kneelers at the High Altar. These were made by members of the congregation for the 150th anniversary of the church. (1968) Discover the Light of God, represented by the sun and created earth represented by a succession of scenes: the moon, a primitive earth, the animal kingdom, the fishes and birds and humankind. Humanity’s contemporary environment is represented by agriculture and mining, science and shipbuilding, sport, education and the arts, computers, the threat of nuclear war, and the conquest of space.

The reverse side of the kneeler depicts men and women in their loneliness, kneeling before Christ on the Cross, from which His light shines on them.

Walk back out of the Chancel and see the communion table, made in 1984 by local craftsman Christopher Holmes, designed to show life and vitality in the form of trees rising from the ground. The matching chairs were presented in memory of Rosemary Mackenzie Ross.

Go down the steps and look up tot he gallery where the willow sculpture depicts Mary holding out the Christ Child to the world.

Then turn left into the south east corner of the Church. You pass the lectern, in the form of the eagle of St John.

Bear left towards the Chapel. On your right is a sculptured group of the Holy family by a contemporary Scottish sculptor, Lesley-May Miller.


This was built in 1935. Above it is a window with St John writing his Gospel, with angels and symbols of the four Evangelists. The chapel itself evokes a sense of tranquility. Its east window shows Jesus praying by the Sea of Galilee. The regular-shaped pieces of glass and blue-green colours create the effect of seeing the scene through the sea itself. Kneelers here further represent the eagle of St John, the sea, moon and sun – wonders of creation.

Notice the wooden angel frieze overhead, where every angel is different.

Walk back towards the entrance door, passing the Font and the Prayer corner.


There are six windows on the south aisle.

  • Visiting the stranger. Feeding the hungry. Visiting the sick.
  • Feeding the thirsty. Clothing the naked. Visiting the prisoner.
  • The resurrection.
  • Building the temple.
  • Mary and Martha.
  • Jesus and the Good Shepherd. Jesus in the temple. Catching an excess of fish.

Facing you at the end is a painting of the deposition from the cross, Dark Intervals, by the Scottish painter Ian Hughes.

You pass the display boards with information about the church and the Terrace users.

To the right of the porch you can find a bust of Dean Ramsay, who was curate at St John’s from 1827-1830 and Rector from 1830-1872. He did more than any other person of his day to promote ecumenical relations.


As you leave the Church, note the granite sculptures to the left (Famine) and the right (The Mark of the Nail) by local sculptor Ronald Rae. (Hand carved with hammer and chisel). Turn left onto the pavement and left again down the steps to the Terrace, where the former Church vaults have been converted into shops. Turn left at the end of the Terrace, and as you go up towards Princes Street, pass the Dormitory on the left, with memorials to the renowned painter Sir Henry Braeburn and Sir Walter Scott’s mother. Finally, on your right, is the Dean Ramsay Memorial cross, made of granite.