St. Margaret’s Chapel is a small chapel located on the grounds of Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is the oldest building in the city of Edinburgh. Built by King David I, King Malcolm III and Queen Margaret’s fourth child, it is very old and very lovely. King David built the chapel in memory of his mother who died at Edinburgh Castle in 1093 and was canonized by the Catholic Church by Pope Innocent IV in 1250.
Margaret was a very interesting and strong-minded lady. She was born in 1046 in Hungary, where the English royal family was living in exile after the Danes, headed by King Canute, had overrun much of England. As an English princess, she was sister to the uncrowned Edgar Atheling and traced her ancestry back through Edmund Ironside and King Alfred.
Royal lineage didn’t do Margaret much good, however; in 1066 England was again under attack, this time from the Normans. To escape them, Margaret and her family boarded a boat from Northumberland and set sail for the continent, but strong winds took them north to Scotland, where they made landfall in the south of Fife.
The royal party was met by Malcolm III of Scotland, who offered them protection and immediately fell in love with the beautiful and devout Margaret. They were married in Dunfermline in 1069.
Margaret soon became known for her kindness and for her devotion to her faith. Although Malcolm never learned to read or write, Margaret would apparently read to him from the scriptures, and she helped to soften his warlike nature.
Margaret bore Malcolm eight children, including six sons. Three of them, Edgar, Alexander and David, would become kings of Scotland in their time. But tragedy struck Margaret’s blessed existence in 1093 when Malcolm was killed in a raid on Northumbria, a territory which he had long believed was the rightful property of the Scots. Their eldest son, Edward, was also killed. Heartbroken, Margaret took to her bed and died within a month.
In 1124 David became the last of Margaret’s sons to succeed to the throne of Scotland. In her honor, he founded the little chapel on top of the castle rock in Edinburgh. With echoes of early Christian chapels elsewhere in Scotland, its walls are two feet thick, and it has an internal width of only ten feet, with a 16-foot nave. Originally, the chapel may have been incorporated into a larger part of the castle that has since been demolished.
Despite the fact that Edinburgh Castle suffered repeated attacks and, in 1314, almost complete destruction by forces acting under Robert the Bruce, St Margaret’s Chapel has somehow survived. In fact, on his death bed in 1329, Robert the Bruce paid tribute to Queen Margaret and issued instructions for the upkeep of her chapel.
There are records of the chapel being used regularly as a place of worship in the 1300s, but from the 17th century until about 1845 it fell into disrepair and was used as a store for gunpowder. Restoration work was carried out in 1853, and in 1922 the small round-headed windows were adorned with beautiful stained glass by Douglas Strachan, illustrating St Andrew, St Margaret, St Columba, St. Ninian and William Wallace.