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.
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).
The Angels praise God with the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy).
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.
We are currently re-assessing how to maximise public access to this magnificent work of work. In the meantime, we may be able to arrange occasional visits for groups, particularly those with a special or academic interest. Please contact us here, and we will reply as soon as we can.
In addition, the Song School may be booked for Saturday weddings. More information is available at Weddings.
In the meantime, please see below a video tour of the Song School, with some more explanation of the paintings and their meaning and significance.