Although the present building dates from the 19th century, Old Saint Paul’s stands on the site of the original home of the Scottish Episcopal Church in Edinburgh.
The first congregation of Old Saint Paul’s was a breakaway group from Saint Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh. In the anti-Catholic climate of 1689 the Church of Scotland chose to abolish the rule of bishops, and Alexander Rose was forced to leave the Cathedral as its last ever Bishop. Followed by much of his flock, they set up a new place of worship in an old wool store in Carrubber’s Close not far from our current home.
While the Church of Scotland supported the new Protestant monarchy, the Episcopalians remained Jacobites, loyal to James Stuart and his descendants. Members of Saint Paul’s were in the front line of the Jacobite struggle, with some taking part in the Risings of 1715 and 1745.
As a result of the Risings, the ‘Piskies’ were treated with suspicion and laws were passed to restrict their worship. Saint Paul’s survived by interpreting the laws creatively, until the restrictions were slowly repealed after the death of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1788.
Church revival and identity
In 1873, the dilapidated Saint Paul’s was closed until our current home was finished in 1883. The following year, to avoid confusion with another Saint Paul’s in York Place, the Carrubber’s Close church was renamed Old Saint Paul’s.
At this time the Anglo-Catholic movement began to have a more lasting influence on worship in this church. Much of this shift in identity took place during the tenure of Albert Ernest Laurie. Rector of OSP from 1898 until his death in 1937, Canon Laurie was known for his caring and faithful ministry in the slums of the parish.
In 1989, Old Saint Paul’s celebrated its tercentenary. A joint service with Saint Giles’ Cathedral included a procession up the Royal Mile to retrace the path of Bishop Rose. High Mass was celebrated in the old Cathedral for the first time in 300 years.
Old Saint Paul’s continued its ministry amongst the destitute by becoming a home for soup kitchens – ‘The Ritz’ then and Souper Saturday now.
A guide to Old Saint Paul's
The current Chair of the Property Committee has produced a guide to OSP, its history and architecture. As the oldest episcopal church in Scotland, it houses many artworks and other objects with interesting stories. You are welcome to download the guide while touring the church, or simply to find out more of our rich history in the city.