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Song School

The Song School is one of the Cathedral's most treasured buildings.  Purpose built in 1885 for the choir, and used daily by the choristers to this day, it is home to some of the finest murals in Scotland.

Jump to Visiting the Song School

Designed by John Oldrid Scott, son of the Cathedral's architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, the building was built to harmonise with Old Coates House, the 16th-century townhouse (and one of Edinburgh's oldest-surviving houses) immediately to the east.


Phoebe Anna Traquair painted the murals from 1888–92, according to a complex schema.  On the East wall are various scenes from the Gospels, as well as a portrait of the choir and clergy, each figure an individual from the Cathedral choir of the day.  Indeed, the various angels are also modeled directly from congregation members, or Traquair's friends and family.


The North and South Walls illustrate various Biblical songs which were, and remain, part of the choir's daily liturgy,  including the Benedicite, in which all parts of Creation (cattle, whales, seas, 'fowls of the air', and so on) praise God.  Additionally, there is a fantastic group portrait of various famous faces (including poets Tennyson and Dante, artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and historian Thomas Carlyle), as well as various craftsmen, decorators and artisans who she worked with and taught at the Edinburgh Social Union.  She has also painted herself in a wry, modest self-portrait in a corner of the room, sleeping with a painter's palate.

Finally, the West Wall is painted to illustrate, amongst other things, the Biblical song of the angels Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy).  The style is very different, and influenced by William Blake and her contemporary trip to Florence (home to some of the finest mural-work of the Renaissance).

Visiting the Song School

Since the Song School is in continuous use by the choir, it is not possible to open it to the public on a regular basis.


The Song School is open regularly in August as part of the Cathedral's Festival programme. Visits by groups and individuals can be arranged at other times - please contact the Cathedral Office in the first instance.  (We also have a video tour of the Song School below.)

In addition, the Song School may be booked for Saturday weddings.  More information is available at Weddings.

The Mansfield Traquair Centre

You can also view other Phoebe Traquair murals at the Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB (not a part of St Mary's Cathedral).  The building is a former Catholic Apostolic Church designed by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson. The outstanding feature is the scheme of mural decorations by Phoebe Traquair, painted between 1893 and 1901. The murals include scenes from the Old and New Testaments, and illustrations of the journey of the spirit.

The Friends of Mansfield Traquair Centre run open days throughout the year, and particularly during the Festival. For details see:

mansfield traquair.jpg
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