Parish Church of St Cuthbert, Edinburgh
The Parish Church of St Cuthbert is a building of the Church of Scotland within the Presbytery of Edinburgh. The church building is situated off Lothian Road in central Edinburgh at the foot of the castle, well below the level of Princes Street, surrounded by its churchyard. It was throughout the 19th century a fashionable church preferred by the rich burghers of the developing New Town.
A chapel dedicated to St Cuthbert is first mentioned in the 8th century. It is believed a church has definitely stood on the same site as currently used since 850 AD, making it Edinburgh's oldest building in terms of foundation. A mediaeval St. Cuthbert's church is mentioned in 1127 (possibly rededicated by St. Margaret). The parish boundaries of the church were somewhat eccentric, encompassing outlying villages such as Stockbridge and Canongate (originally a separate burgh distinct from Edinburgh) but oddly also taking in Edinburgh Castle (resulting in many soldier burials over the centuries). After the Scottish Reformation the long nave, with a staged tower in its south flank, became the 'Little Kirk', and the choir was submerged in a mass of additions of which one - the Nisbet of Dean vault of 1692 - survives on the north side.
In 1754 a Chapel of Ease was proposed for the South side of the parish, and approved by the Kirk Session. This chapel was opened in 1756 and accommodated 1200 people, having cost £640 and 10 shillings to construct. It was later renamed Buccleuch Parish Church and is sited at 33 Chapel Street, not far from the Old College of the University of Edinburgh. The building was remodelled and extended in 1866. The church closed in 1969, and the preserved building is now used by the university for storage.
By 1772 St. Cuthbert's kirk was dangerous, and in 1773–1775 (following a competition) the architect-builder James Weir of Tollcross built a preaching box with two tiers of galleries reached by stairs in the pedimented western projection.
Between 1787 and 1790 the ground to the north of the church was drained for an extension of the burial ground, and in 1789–1790 Alexander Stevens built the spire which he probably designed himself. By 1888 the church had become unsafe, and Hippolyte Blanc was appointed as architect to address the situation. He first proposed to recase it, but eventually a rebuild was decided upon, maintaining the general proportions but greatly increasing the size. The result, with a pair of Baroque west towers flanking the domed apse, and is best seen from the lower level of Princes Street Gardens. In 1893 the Kirk Session decided upon 'a general and harmonious scheme of scriptural subjects applying to the stained glass windows of the whole church', not often seen in Church of Scotland kirks. These were executed, again a departure for Presbyterianism, in early Renaissance tabernacle frames almost all from the same firm, Ballantyne & Gardiner. The notable exception is the window depicting David going out to meet Goliath, which is by Tiffany Glass Company of New York (after 1900), one of only two or three Tiffany windows in the UK.
The architecture and, especially the interior decoration of the current church building is very unusual in a Presbyterian Church, especially of this period. It is particularly ornate, reflecting the influence of the 'Scoto-catholic' movement and many influences more associated with Roman Catholicism and the ‘Tractarian’ movement within Anglicanism. As a result the building proved very controversial in its initial period occasioning comment in both national newspapers and at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.