Cemetery of the Week #172: Greyfriars Kirkyard

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Greyfriars Kirkyard
Also known as Greyfriars Churchyard
Address: 26A Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh, Scotland
Founded: 1562
Size: 5 acres
Number interred: 250,000

In 1447, Franciscan monks (called the Gray Friars for the color of their robes) built their friary at the north end of the Grassmarket on a slope with a lovely view of Edinburgh Castle. The Franciscans, a medical order, served the poor there until they were chased out of Scotland by the Reformation in 1558.

Their friary yard was claimed by Queen Mary in 1562 for a public burial ground. Just in time, too. The graveyard was used “extensively” during the Black Plague of 1568.

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Photo by my friend Jeff. Used by permission.

The first peer buried there was James Douglas, Earl of Morton, executed in 1581 after being accused of the murder of Queen Mary’s husband. The next year, he was followed to the graveyard by historian George Buchanan. Both graves went unmarked, common practice at the time. Painters George Jameson (died 1644) and Sir John Medina (died 1710), and poet Allan Ramsay (died 1758) also lie in unmarked graves.

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Photo of the Covenanters Monument by Kim Traynor, wikimedia commons.

At the foot of the cemetery’s east walk stands the Covenanters’ Monument — also called the Martyrs’ Monument — which remembers Scottish Presbyterians who died for their faith rather than convert to the Anglican Church founded by Henry VIII in England in 1534.

The scourge of the Covenanters was Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh.  He was a highly educated member of the Scottish Parliament, a lawyer, and a member of the Privy Council of Scotland.  In 1677, he became Lord Advocate in the service of King Charles II of England, in charge of punishing anyone who refused to swear loyalty to King Charles or rejected the Church of England.

By Mackenzie’s command, 400 Covenanters were imprisoned in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard in 1679.  The guards abused them. They suffered from the weather, lack of shelter, and starvation. Many ended up buried anonymously in a mass grave in the Kirkyard. In all, Mackenzie is blamed for the deaths of nearly 18,000 people during the eight years dubbed “the Killing Time.”

Mackenzie himself died and was buried in the Kirkyard in 1691.  His tomb stood quietly until 1998, when a homeless man broke into it.  When the thief ransacked the coffins, the floor collapsed beneath him, spilling him into a plague pit full of bones beneath the mausoleum.  The man managed to haul himself out, then ran screaming into the night.

Something had been unleashed.

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By Jonathan Oldenbuck [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

For the past twenty years, Greyfriars Kirkyard has been considered one of the most haunted graveyards in the world. Visitors have been scratched, bruised, and bitten near Mackenzie’s mausoleum.  Blasts of cold air chase some visitors away.  Others become nauseous and disoriented or are struck with splitting headaches. One woman was found unconscious near the mausoleum with bruises like finger-marks around her neck.

In 2000, spiritualist minister Colin Grant attempted to exorcise the mausoleum.  He felt the presence of hundreds of souls in torment and a presence of overwhelming evil.  He fled the Kirkyard, but it was too late. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack several weeks later.

YouTube is full of videos of people showing off bite marks and bruises received while touring Greyfriars Kirkyard. Enter at your own risk.

IMG_3073As a matter of fact, there is a history of grave robbing at Greyfriars Kirkyard, to supply dissection specimens for the medical students at the University of Edinburgh. The cemetery is overlooked by watchtowers built to protect the sanctity of the dead here. Wealthy families also had cages of iron bars built over their loved ones’ graves, to prevent their bodies from being disturbed. That’s grim enough, even without the poltergeist.

Useful links:

The cemetery’s homepage:  https://greyfriarskirk.com/visit-us/kirkyard/

Welcome to The Most Haunted Graveyard: https://www.thedailybeast.com/welcome-to-the-most-haunted-graveyard-in-the-world-safety-not-guaranteed?ref=scroll

Grave robbers at Greyfriars: https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/television/programs/evening/2015/10/30/grave-robbers-greryfriars-kirkyard/74880434/

Greyfriars Kirkyard’s connection to the Harry Potter books: https://www.pottertour.co.uk/blog/greyfriars-kirkyard-harry-potter-peter-pettigrew.html

Night tours of Greyfriars Kirkyard: https://www.cityofthedeadtours.com/tours/city-of-the-dead-haunted-graveyard-tour/

Greyfriars Kirkyard is one of the 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die. You can get a copy from your favorite bookstore or via Amazon: https://amzn.to/2CojtVR

More of Jeff’s Greyfriars photos are here: https://cemeterytravel.com/2016/08/19/vacation-in-edinburgh/

 

 

About Loren Rhoads

I'm the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, as well as a space opera trilogy. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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2 Responses to Cemetery of the Week #172: Greyfriars Kirkyard

  1. Greyfriers Kirkland sounds really spooky!

    Liked by 1 person

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