'The Cutty Stool' - Atlas Obscura

'The Cutty Stool'

St. Giles Cathedral

A bronze statue of a low three-legged seat commemorates a piece of furniture that started a riot. 


St. Giles Cathedral, the 900-year-old Church of Scotland, is situated along the Royal Mile in the capital city. This major thoroughfare is a bustling artery that connects Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyrood, the official royal residence of visiting British monarchs. Inside this gothic and ornate house of worship are many objects depicting the long, and often times tumultuous, history of Scotland’s seat of government.

Take, for instance, a bronze sculpture of a rather mundane household object, a stool. Designed by the Scottish artist Merilyn Smith in 1992, The Cutty Stool represents an event that allegedly took place on July 23, 1637. As the story goes, a lay woman by the name of Jenny Geddes objected to the preacher attempting to quote from the bible in English.

At the time, King Charles I, Scottish-born son of King James VI, was striving to introduce an Anglican form of religion, subverting the dominant belief north of the border by the Church of Scotland. Geddes’ outburst led to a riot, and the preacher had to make a quick escape for his life. This event was said to culminate in what is referred to as the Bishop’s War, a decade-long conflict between England, Scotland, and Ireland.

The term “cutty” is a Lowland Scottish expression meaning short. A cutty stool is a small three-legged chair with a leather seat, often referred to as a “Stool of Repentance.” Because of its low position, it was used as a form of punishment for those who had transgressed against the laws of the church. Jenny may have been forced to sit on the stool for acting disobediently or speaking out of turn.

As she threw the folding chair, it is reported that she yelled out something to the effect of: “De’il gie you colic, the wame o’ ye, fause thief; daur ye say Mass in my lug?” (“Devil give you colic in the belly of you, false thief: dare you say the Mass in my ear?”). It has been contested that Jenny wasn’t even a woman, but rather a man disguised in female dress. A male opposition supporter who wanted to cause havoc and discord. Either way, a common domestic piece of furniture led to a momentous event.

Know Before You Go

The 'Cutty Stool' is fairly easy to find, it is just to the left once one has made it up the ramp/stairs on the inside of the church. Entry is free, though donations are gladly accepted. St. Giles is a functioning church, so services may impede viewing. It is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. Hours may differ on religious holidays.

Check the website for updated information regarding events and access.

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