John Knox, leading preacher of the Scottish Reformation (1560), was minister of St Giles’ from then until his death in 1572. He was buried in the churchyard, which was subsequently paved over as Parliament Square. During the nineteenth century, there were various public projects to provide a memorial to Knox, but no agreement could be reached because many people felt that anything portraying him would have been heartily disliked by that vigorous opponent of images. However, in 1902 the Cathedral Managing Board finally approved a plan to erect a statue of him against the north-west wall of the Albany Aisle. The design had been submitted by the well-known Scottish sculptor, Pittendrigh MacGillivray R.S.A., the cost would be £1400 and subscriptions flooded in from all over the world.
Produced by MacGillivray in his studio in Murrayfield, Edinburgh, the bronze statue is six feet tall and originally stood on a stone pedestal beneath an elaborate Gothic arch of red and grey sandstone which was topped by gilded bronze finials. It was unveiled on 21 November 1906 by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and remained in position until 1965, when the Albany Aisle was being converted into a war memorial chapel. Without its arch (disliked by many as being inappropriate), the statue then stood on a stone plinth in Parliament Square, overlooking Knox’s burial place. In 1983 it was feared that the bronze was being damaged by the weather, and so the statue was brought inside again and now stands on the floor against the north wall of the nave, not far from its original position.