Sunday, January 11, 2015

Greyfriar's Kirkyard

East Wall
Edinburgh, Scotland is considered one of the most haunted cities in all of Europe, particularly with Edinburgh Castle sitting above the city as a type of haunted sentinel.  The Castle is said to be the most haunted location in Edinburgh, but Greyfriar's Kirkyard could give the Castle a good fight for that title.  Burials have taken place here since the 16th century and the cemetery sits between an old melancholy hospital and a menacing looking prison.  The tombstones and statuary are ornate and beautiful.  The term "kirk" means "church" and so a kirkyard is a churchyard.  A churchyard is a cemetery that is on church property.

The church that sits here is named for the Franciscan Friary that originally was located here and managed by the Greyfriars, an order of Franciscan monks.  The Franciscan Order originally landed in Canterbury from Italy in the 13th century and spread across what we call the United Kingdom today.  The Order was later split into two different groups known as the Conventuals - friars that were in the cities - and the Observants - who wanted to keep the old more isolated ways.  The Franciscans in Great Britain became known as Greyfriars.

Roman Catholicism was pushed out of Scotland in the 16th century.  A group of people signed covenants in Scotland binding themselves to maintain Presbyterian doctrines and denouncing the Pope and the Catholic Church.  They became known as Covenanters and they proved to be a big issue for King Charles I.  The National Covenant (which can be read here) was signed at Greyfriar's Kirk in 1638 and it was an oath to maintain the reformed religion and reject all superstition of the Catholic Church.  When King Charles tried to push new reforms on the Covenanters, they revolted and defeated the King in the Bishops' War.  Wars continued and the Covenanters became the de facto government of Scotland.  Later, Oliver Cromwell, fighting for the English Parliament, would defeat the Covenanters and by 1652, they were decimated.  In 1679, another rebellion was formed, but it was knocked down once again and 1200 Covenanters were taken prisoner and put into the Covenanters' Prison at Greyfriar's Kirkyard.  Conditions were awful and many were executed.  By the end of their imprisonment, only 400 Covenanters were alive and they were sold into slavery, most of them dying when the ship transporting them wrecked. 

Covenanters' Prison
The Martyr's Monument was erected in the kirkyard for those Covenanters who died there.

Martyr's Monument
Sir George Mackenzie, who was a Scottish lawyer, became the Lord Advocate implementing the reforms of King Charles II in Scotland and he was the one who not only imprisoned the Covenanters, but had most most of them executed earning him the title of "Bloody Mackenzie."  Prior to this, Mackenzie had been involved in witch trials.  Mackenzie died in 1691 and is buried, ironically, in Greyfriar's Kirkyard in a large mausoleum.
Bloody Mackenzie's Mausoleum

Reports of Mackenzie's ghost haunting Greyfriar's Kirkyard began in the 20th century after a homeless man decided to seek shelter in Mackenzie's Mausoleum during a rain storm.  He had noticed that he could get through an opening in the back of the structure.  After he entered, he began to rummage through the coffins like a grave robber and he fell through the flooring that had rotted away, into a pit full of bones.  This pit was where plague victims were buried.  As is the case in so many cities in earlier centuries, it was impossible to do individual burials during times of plague and so mass burials were conducted.  The homeless man ran screaming from the building and now the poltergeist of Mackenzie has been taking out his rage about this desecration on visitors.  The ghost injures people to the point of cuts, bruises and even broken bones.  Most of these attacks happen in the Covenanter's Prison area, so apparently Bloody Mackenzie has returned to his roots.  There is a mausoleum inside the prison called the Black Mausoleum and this is where much of the activity occurs.  And if the hundreds of personal reports do not convince people the place is haunted, perhaps the true story of how the Exorcist Colin Grant died shortly after trying to cleanse the entire kirkyard, and particularly the Black Mausoleum, might convince them.

Greyfriar's Bobby is another famous resident at the kirkyard.  The story is told of a night watchman named John Gray who took on a Skye Terrier as his partner and named him Bobby.  Gray eventually contracted Tuberculosis and succumbed to the disease in 1858.  He was buried at Greyfriar's Kirkyard and Bobby took up vigil at his master's grave.  He refused to leave, even in bad weather and so the townspeople took care of the dog, bringing him food and water and Bobby would sometimes leave to have a meal at a nearby shop.  Bobby kept vigil for fourteen years and then he was buried in the kirkyard and a monument was erected in his honor.  The accuracy of this story has been questioned for years and some have surmised that Bobby was just a stray dog that had taken up residence in the graveyard.  At the time, many strays would live in graveyards.  Whatever is the case, a beautiful monument was built or the dog.


Here is the tomb of John Bayne of Pitcairlie:


Tomb of George Foulis of Ravilstoun:


There are so many interesting and wonderful monuments at this cemetery that I cannot wait to visit it in person one day!